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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Singapore’s long-time rulers retain power

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In the general election hold in Singapore on July 10th, 2020, the People’s Action Party (PAP), in power since independence in 1965, won 83 of 93 parliamentary seats. Due to the large amount of foreigners residing in the wealthy city sate, only 2.65 million out of a population of nowadays 6.2 million could participate. At least, 96% of those allowed to cast a vote did so.

While strict social distancing rules remain in place and wearing surgical masks is compulsory in public, additional safety measures were taken on the occasion of the polls. Voters needed to sanitize their hands and put on disposable gloves before receiving their ballot paper. To avoid crowding, two-hour voting slots were recommended by the competent authorities. Simultaneously, mobile polling teams brought ballot boxes to citizens recently returned from abroad, currently in hotel quarantine.

The PAP took 61.2% of the vote, down from nearly 70% it had in the 2015 poll and only slightly more than the 60.1% in 2011. The Workers’ Party, the only noticeable opposition force, obtained 10 seats-its best result since its foundation by the son of Sephardi Jewish immigrants from Iraq, David Saul Mashal, in 1957.

The election was a referendum on the current government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Singapore, with more than 45,000 cases one of the worst hit countries in the Asia-Pacific region. So far, the pandemic that spiked in April has killed 26 people. Almost all of them were guest workers from Bangladesh, Burma, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand, living in special accommodations.

Reelected Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, eldest son of founding father Lee Kuan Yew and in office since August 2004, has indicated that he will probably not finish the forthcoming term and step down after he turns 70 in February 2022. Due to the somehow disappointing outcome, the party leadership is expected to start some soul-searching concerning the clearly diminished popular support.

A still comfortable majority gives Lee a free hand in passing bills, though more changes to the Constitution can no longer be made. To deal with the looming recession, Singapore will spend close to 70.4 billion US dollars, almost 20% of the country’s GDP, on four stimulus packages to help businesses and households manage the serious impact on the economy. Even for one of the world’ richest nations, rough times seem to be ahead. It’s the biggest challenge the PAP has had to face so far in the 21st century.

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