Singaporean politics are definitely “Uniquely Singapore” with most elections a walk over for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), that has been in power since 1959, before Singapore’s independence. However, the 2011 election is starting to look very different with more opposition candidates than previous elections, contesting 82 out of the 87 seats. In fact, if it were not for some last minute delays from the opposition then all 87 seats would be contested. In the last election in 2006 only 47 out of 84 seats had opposition candidates. This means that many Singaporeans have never had their seat contested before and will now have to vote (it’s mandatory) for the first time in their life!
From a foreigner’s perspective this election is shaping up to be quite a bit more entertaining than the previous one. To be honest the last election was a forgone conclusion before voting even began. This time however, is different. Sure, the PAP will still win the election, but there could be a big shake up in the parliament with a number of opposition candidates likely to be voted in.
Singapore has an interesting concept of Group Representation Constituencies (GRC), which groups a series of candidates together (up to 6), often with a very strong candidate that people respect together with weaker candidates that are new or have no track record. This allows people with practically no support to walk into parliament on the coat tails of the strong candidate. The voting is counted by party, not for an individual. It also makes it much more difficult for the opposition to contest a GRC as they have to put so many good candidates into one place. It seems the opposition is taking a gamble on Aljuneed GRC this time, even moving the leader of the Worker’s Party (WP) from his safe seat of Hougang to the Aljuneed GRC.
Based on what I’ve been reading online and from talking to Singaporean friends the general consensus is that they would like the opposition to win an GRC so that the government gets a strong message with the level of dissatisfaction of their recent performance, and that there are more opposition representatives in parliament to provide checks and balances to the ruling party.
If you were to take an opinion poll from the online community you would think that the opposition parties are about to sweep to power in Singapore and bring massive reforms. However, the reality is much more benign. There are still many PAP supporters, especially from the older generation, who believe in the party that has provided a solid set of policies to develop Singapore to the modern, safe, finance and manufacturing centre that it is today. Then there are the apathetic people who after so many walk over elections couldn’t care less about politics and will just vote the same party back into power so that they don’t have to worry about change.
What’s the difference this time that is making this election more interesting then you ask? It’s that the PAP seems to have lost its way. The politicians seem more arrogant than ever, appearing elite and out of touch with the average Singaporean. There is anger over the increasing cost of living in Singapore, the large number of “foreign talent” being brought into Singapore to help with the poor reproduction rate and to keep wages lower, and the lack of transparency of the government.
Another factor is the Internet and the government’s inability to control the dissemination of information as per with its total control of TV, newspapers, and radio. This means that the traditional media has had to open up its coverage of the opposition candidates and their policies to keep the public interested. Otherwise more and more Singaporeans will simply log on to the Internet and get uncensored information.
All in all I’m looking forward to this election and the slow, but sure change in Singapore’s political environment.