Economist: Singapore’s incumbent power wins a striking mandate
GENERAL elections in Singapore are not supposed to spring surprises. But the size of the victory handed on September 11th to the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has won every national poll since the 1950s, caught many on the hop. Having fallen to an historic low of 60.1% at the previous polls in 2011, its share of the vote bounced back to nearly 70%. It snapped up 83 of 89 seats in parliament, thumping an opposition which was widely thought to be on the rise.
The PAP’s clear mandate brings to a close several years of soul-searching that followed the big losses it suffered at the ballot box four years ago. Under pressure, the PAP found a populist streak: it dug out more cash for Singapore’s oldest citizens; sponsored a construction spree designed to temper house prices; and promised to slow immigration, which had lately rocketed. Action on those contentious issues, and on others, appears to have satisfied many of the voters who had set out to punish the party four years ago.
The result also vindicates the electoral strategy chosen by the prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, who called the poll a year before it was required. His party doubtless benefited from patriotic celebrations of Singapore’s 50 years of independence, which fell on August 9th—and also from the national mourning which followed the death in March of Lee Kwan Yew, Mr Lee’s father. The senior Lee had been Singapore’s prime minister for more than 30 years, and embodied the country’s pride in its own accomplishments. Under his son this time, the PAP he built conducted a breakneck campaign, allowing only nine days of politicking, the minimum required by law.
This election was the first in which opposition parties contested every seat. Hardly anyone thinks that they are ready to govern, and their own members say as much—but this time around they failed even to convince voters that having a few more of them in parliament would help to keep the PAP on its toes. Of eight opposition outfits, only the Workers’ Party took any seats; and it came very close to losing Aljunied, a large multi-member constituency which accounts for five of its six elected representatives. The opposition has long struggled to field more than a handful of credible candidates, in part because of the ruling party’s dominance.
Its sense of authority restored, the PAP must now decide what version of itself will govern for the next five years. Mr Lee, who has led the country since 2004, is thought to be considering stepping down before Singapore next returns to the polls, and is said to be concerned about grooming a successor. Policy wonks would probably like to undo some recent decisions, especially tougher restrictions on importing foreign workers: Singapore’s tightening labour market is a burden for small businesses and multinationals alike. But any course-change will need to be judged carefully. Clumsy missteps could yet reanimate the opposition which the PAP has so handily vanquished.