“And the death of first prime minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew last March led to a significant uptick in support for the PAP, its polls found” (PAP Won GE2015 Before Campaign Began: Polling Firm Blackbox Research, Charissa Yong).
Much has been made of the importance of election campaigns – for voters to learn about candidates and to hear about proposals for the constituency or even policy recommendations, and for parties to canvass for support – with questions about whether the minimum of ten days (including one for the Cooling-Off Day) are adequate. The concern was again raised by Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general Chee Soon Juan who, at a discussion on opinion polls and sentiment towards the government at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, “told reporters that it was difficult for opposition parties to push their policy proposals to voters in the short nine-day campaign” (ST, Feb. 5).
At the same discussion, market research company Blackbox Research argued that while the campaign performance of the People’s Action Party (PAP) did not help to secure the 69.9 per cent win, the ruling party had already won back its core constituents through policy changes, such as the Singapore Budget in 2014 and 2015 – described as the “seeds of recovery” and “an extraordinary year” respectively – and the passing of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew changed perceptions too. In particular, Mr. Lee’s death “created a much stronger narrative for the younger people”, allowed Singaporeans “to thank [him] at the ballot box”, and ultimately boosted support for the PAP.
But what next for the other political parties who wish to challenge the hegemony of the PAP? A convenient answer, beyond calls to extend the campaign period, would be for these parties to take a longer-term view, planning endeavours in advance of the next elections. Notwithstanding structural challenges against the opposition parties, resources made available to the government, as well as the personal obligations of aspiring parliamentarians – since most voters appear to have made up their minds in advance – focusing on socio-economic issues such as the cost of living and managing the inflow of immigrants could be useful. These policy-driven efforts, premised upon an understanding of ground sentiments, perhaps through polling, could be useful.
The notion of opposition unity could also be significant. According to the findings by Blackbox Research, when respondents were asked to envision local politics in 2065, seven of 10 said that the opposition parties needed to work more closely together if they were to challenge the PAP. In two other questions, respondents were split when asked about interest in a multi-party political system or a Western-style democracy with strong opposition. The implication, therefore, is for groundwork and collaborations – if any – to take root early, so as to gather momentum to challenge the status quo.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.