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Opposition at a loss to explain drubbing

SINGAPORE — In a stunning victory, the People’s Action Party (PAP) romped to a landslide in the country’s 12th General Election (GE) since Independence, reversing its performance in 2011 and winning 83 out of 89 Parliamentary seats yesterday.

Opposition at a loss to explain drubbing

PAP candidate Tin Pei Ling (right) being congratulated by colleagues Janil Puthucheary and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean after her win in MacPherson SMC. Photo: Raj Nadarajan

SINGAPORE — In a stunning victory, the People’s Action Party (PAP) romped to a landslide in the country’s 12th General Election (GE) since Independence, reversing its performance in 2011 and winning 83 out of 89 Parliamentary seats yesterday.

The ruling party improved on its showing in all constituencies, compared with the previous elections four years ago, and even wrested the Punggol East Single Member Constituency (SMC) from the Workers’ Party. In Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency (GRC), which was being contested for the first time since 1991, the party won 77.71 per cent of the vote. Even in defeat, the PAP polled well: The Workers’ Party retained Aljunied GRC, but with a razor-thin 50.95 per cent majority. In winning the first GRC by an Opposition party in 2011, the WP polled 54.7 per cent of the vote. The picture was much the same in the WP’s traditional stronghold in Hougang SMC.

Some 2.3 million votes were cast in the election, which saw all constituencies contested for the first time since Singapore’s independence.

The PAP’s crushing win saw it significantly improve its vote share to 69.9 per cent — the highest since 2001 — from 60.1 per cent in 2011 GE. In more than half of the 29 constituencies contested, the PAP won by more than 70 per cent of the popular vote, with the biggest margin — 79.28 per cent — coming from Jurong GRC, which is helmed by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Shell-shocked Opposition leaders spoke of a nationwide swing towards the PAP that they struggled to reconcile with. They said the feedback and response garnered from voters made yesterday’s result a veritable bolt from the blue, and most who spoke to the media had few answers, saying they needed more time to do a post-mortem to fully comprehend what went wrong.

At a press conference that began after half past three in the morning, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanked Singaporeans for the strong mandate. He added that he was particularly satisfied with recapturing Punggol East from the WP. “To Singapore, this is a great result,” he said.

“I wholeheartedly thank voters of all backgrounds and races ... without your support, we wouldn’t have such a good result. We also successfully got many young voters’ support,” Mr Lee said. “I’m very glad that our overall votes have gone up, but we won’t be complacent, because you’ve given us a great responsibility and we will continue to improve and work for the people. We will do our best and fulfil our responsibility with all our hearts ... For those who didn’t vote for us, we too need to work with you, because this is our Singapore, this is a home that belongs to everyone.”

Mr Lee also paid tribute to the PAP’s Aljunied GRC team for putting up a valiant fight. “I’m very pleased with the results ... We missed by only 0.9 percentage points, and that’s it. But next time, we will get there,” he said.

Mr Lee said he looked forward to having the elected WP candidates “coming fully prepared to engage” in Parliament for a “robust exchange on significant issues, including all the issues they’ve raised in the hustings”. He noted that the minimum wage issue was one that was raised for the first time by the WP during campaigning.

WP chief Low Thia Khiang had set a goal of at least 20 Opposition Members of Parliament to achieve what he described as a “balanced” legislature.

In the end, the party wound up with its representation in Parliament cut by one, to six. After the final result — for Aljunied GRC, which had a recount — was announced, Mr Low said a lot of people, including the PAP itself, did not expect the “massive swing” of votes.

He was asked whether the WP’s weaker showing could be due to the financial management lapses at the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council, which the PAP had brought up during the hustings. In response, Mr Low said he was “not able to assess conclusively”, but noted that the vote swing was across the board, and did not affect only the constituencies that WP was contesting in.

“We could have lost our seats, given that massive swing of (about) 10 percentage points, and we won (in Aljunied GRC),” he said. WP chairman Sylvia Lim pointed out that the swing was less than four percentage points in Aljunied GRC.

Nevertheless, Hougang MP Png Eng Huat, who successfully defended his seat, felt that the AHPETC issue had an impact “to a certain extent”. “But we have done our best ... We have been rushing our accounts (to get them ready),” he said.

Mr Low said he was satisfied with his party’s performance. “I wish to congratulate the PAP (for having) a strong mandate to configure the fourth generation of leaders and I hope they will do well to secure the future of Singapore,” he said. “What I want to remind the PAP is this: It is important to build trust between the people and the national institutions ... including the civil service, the judiciary, and the mainstream media.”

Adding that he hoped the PAP would reflect on this issue, Mr Low said: “They have to ... not only act fairly but to be seen to act fairly ... I think it is important for the future of Singapore ... Any politicisation of these institutions to gain political advantage, to me, is against the national interest.”

There will be three Non-Constituency MPs in the next Parliament. WP candidate and former Punggol East MP Lee Li Lian, who was the best loser, said she would not be taking up the NCMP seat. “I should give this chance to my other WP colleagues. We really have some good people who deserve the slot,” she said on Facebook.

‘A PERFECT CONVERGENCE OF FACTORS’

This election was the most intensely fought in Singapore’s history, with a record 181 candidates vying for 89 seats in Parliament. In all, eight Opposition parties took part in the polls, which also saw the return of independent candidates for the first time since the 2001 GE.

Former Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo, whose team in Aljunied lost to the WP in 2011, took to Facebook to express his surprise at the result. “Amazing landslide for the PAP. Singapore crosses a watershed,” said the chairman and executive director of Kerry Logistics Network.

Political scientist Lam Peng Er, from the National University of Singapore’s East Asia Institute, went as far as describing the results as a “PAP electoral tsunami” that surprised even the ruling party’s supporters.

Dr Lam cited a “perfect convergence of factors” including the death of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and the celebrations of the country’s 50th anniversary of Independence. He said the PAP had been on “campaign mode” for the past four years, rolling out policies to address voter dissatisfaction on issues such as housing, foreign workers and transport, which led to a large swing against it in the 2011 GE. “The PAP has been responding in a concerted and aggressive manner to address issues which Singaporeans have,” he said.

Dr Felix Tan of SIM Global Education said the PAP campaign could be deemed a success. The results “clearly demonstrate that Singaporeans believe that the PAP has made significant efforts to ensure that they place resident needs above populist demands”, he said.

“The PAP campaign strategy this time, besides highlighting the problems of AHPETC, has been to remind Singaporeans of the good things that the party has done and can do, despite some setbacks,” he added. “Singaporeans have given a huge boost to the PAP to lead the country forward, at least for the next five years. This will mean that there will be some level of stability and continuation of the PAP policies thus far.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JOY FANG, NG JING YNG, SIAU MING EN, KELLY NG AND ALFRED CHUA

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