Singapore Elections 2015: The Rising Star?

September 15, 2015

COMMENT: It is rather unusual to me that Reuters should highlight Mr. Shanmugaratnam’s influence on the recent resounding victory in the recently concluded General Elections.

As someone who followed this election coverage on Channel News Asia, I get the distinct impression that voters in Singapore gave Mr. Lee Hsien Loong and his team a strong mandate because the PAP had a very outstanding track record of governance over the last 50 years, and because they believe that PAP will be able to guide their country through a period of uncertain and difficult times ahead. One man could not have made such a decisive difference. Even the affable and erudite Mr. Shanmugaratnam will acknowledge it.


Farewell, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew (May Almighty God Bless his soul) left a very good system of recruiting talent for  the PAP (I read he used the Shell system which identifies people with character and a helicopter view on things). He ensured there was an abundance of brilliant talent (philosopher-king types) to take over from him. Mr. Shanmugaratnam happens to be among them.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is  the leader of the current crop of able and competent ministers.  By sheer talent, hard work and dogged determination, he is the first among equals (primus inter pares) and has the confidence to hold his own against the best in his Cabinet. That is what it takes to be a successful leader in a merit-based society like Singapore.

These men and women in PAP leader did not burst onto the political scene in Singapore by chance. They were carefully selected, nurtured, mentored, tested in practical politics and governance and evaluated over a period of time before they are placed in positions of high responsibility in government. That is what happens in a culture founded on meritocracy where integrity, honesty and competence matter.–Din Merican

 PAP’s rising star–Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Singapore’s ruling party is celebrating a resounding re-election victory, thanks partly to its economic Tsar, an ethnic Tamil politician whose voter appeal poses an awkward question for its leaders: can a non-Chinese ever become Prime Minister?

As the People’s Action Party (PAP) settles down to another five years in power, the guessing game of who will succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has begun – and the name of keeps coming up.

DPM TharmanThe odds of Shanmugaratnam, who is Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, making it to the top job should be long. All three of Singapore’s Prime Ministers to date have been of Chinese origin and, in a country where three-quarters of the residents are ethnic Chinese, it would be hard to break that tradition. Just one in 10 Singaporeans can, like Shanmugaratnam, trace their roots back to South Asia.

PAP officials declined to comment on the question of who will come after Lee, 63, who has hinted that he may step down by 2020, because it is a sensitive subject in a party that is in any case instinctively secretive.

Lee has said that the chances of a non-Chinese becoming Prime minister are better for the new generation of leaders but a lack of Mandarin, widely spoken here, could be a problem.

For some Singaporeans, though, the idea is as outlandish as a non-Malay Prime Minister in Malaysia or an Indonesian from outside the political heartland of Java becoming President.

In a book published two years before his death this year, Lee Kuan Yew, Lee’s father and the deeply respected first Prime Minister of this tropical city-state, listed four ethnic Chinese men as the new generation of up-and-coming leaders.

Still, Shanmugaratnam’s hustings performance in the run-up to last week’s election was so impressive that even an opposition candidate, Paul Tambyah of the Singapore Democratic Party, openly longed for him to lead a grand coalition of parties.

“People would like to see Tharman around to set the tone for a new PAP leadership,” said Catherine Lim, a long-time political commentator and critic of Lee Kuan Yew.

“It’s time now for a completely different one, and the only person whom I can think of to set that tone convincingly and who can appeal to Singaporeans across ethnic groups would be Mr Tharman,” she said.

Shanmugaratnam, 58, said in July he was not keen on the Prime inister’s job, though he expected Singapore to have a leader from one of its minority ethnic groups at some point. He was not available to comment for this article.

A transitional Prime Minister?

The PAP won almost 70 percent of the popular vote in the election, a stunning recovery from its record low of 60.1 percent in 2011. In his own district, Shanmugaratnam led a handful of lawmakers to a win with about 80 percent of the vote.

Analysts say that rebound was helped by a wave of patriotism after the death of Lee Kuan Yew and independent Singapore’s 50th birthday celebrations, but also by a slight shift from unbridled capitalism to Western welfarism that was led by Shanmugaratnam.

In his campaign speeches, Shanmugaratnam pressed the right buttons for an electorate that has in recent years begun to question the hard-nosed growth-at-all-costs policies of the PAP that left many marginalized and struggling to make ends meet.

In a calm baritone and with his trademark avuncular style, he crunched numbers to show how social welfare is working.He also explained changes the PAP has embraced after 50 years of unbroken rule, but conceded still more were needed.

“It used to be a top-down government, often quite heavy-handed,” he told one rally. “It’s no longer that way … Strong leadership is listening, engaging, moving with people.”

Shanmugaratnam spoke some Mandarin on the campaign, and when he quoted from an ancient Chinese poem at one rally the crowd exploded with cheers.

He was educated at the London School of Economics, Cambridge and Harvard, and spent most of his career at the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the island state’s central bank and financial regulator.

He got into a legal tangle in the 1990s when he was fined for failing to protect the secrecy of official information after economic data was published in a newspaper ahead of its release. Shanmugaratnam had pleaded not guilty.

He is also well known on international circuits: a darling of international investors, he was appointed chairman of the International Monetary Fund’s policy steering committee in 2011.

Eugene Tan, a law professor at Singapore Management University and a political commentator, said one obstacle for Shanmugaratnam is that he is seen as part of the Prime Minister’s generation, when perhaps ideally a new generation would be coming forward.

“However, if it is assessed that a transitional prime minister is needed while the fourth generation is ready to take over, then … Tharman is well-positioned to step up,” Tan said.

– Reuters

Singapore and the Future of Democracy

September 13, 2015

Singapore and the Future of Democracy

Is the landslide election victory of the long-ruling People’s Action Party’s a reverse for democracy?

The voters have spoken. In Singapore’s GE2015, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) won an overall vote share of 69.86 per cent of the votes, up almost 10 percentage points from their overall vote share in 2011.

In addition, the PAP also wrestled back the Punggol East Single-Member Constituency (SMC) from the main opposition Worker’s Party (WP). There will be only six elected opposition members of parliament, down from seven, out of a total of 89 MPs.

By all accounts, this was a totally unexpected landslide victory for the PAP.[1] Many close observers of Singapore politics had expected the PAP’s vote share to increase marginally by at most 5 percentage points, on account of the new and weak opposition political parties, and the “feel-good” feelings from the nation’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

The passing of Lee Kuan Yew earlier in the year may also have brought the ruling party some votes from voters who were sympathetic to the argument for the need of a strong mandate for the PAP. But certainly no one expected a bumper increase of nearly 10 percentage points, much less contemplated the loss of one seat for the WP.[2]

The WP was actually expected to make further seat gains through Fengshan SMC and East Coast Group Representative Constituency (GRC). In the end, the PAP won both constituencies comfortably, with its vote share at 57.52 per cent and 60.73 per cent in those constituencies respectively.

These results came against the odds of anecdotal readings of online media, as well as popular imaginations on the ground. The WP’s rallies were very well attended, with the final rally filling the entire Bedok Stadium.

Much was also made of the surprising rehabilitation of Dr Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). His rally speeches posted online drew positive remarks, and there were long queues for his signature in his books after SDP’s rallies.

A four-part series of blog posts by writer Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh calling for greater opposition representation in parliament went viral on cooling off day.[3] Even an unofficial list of “bookies’ odds” that circulated widely on the popular messaging app Whatsapp predicted large WP gains.

So how did these surprising results came about? That is the key puzzle that will capture the attention of analysts over the next few days, weeks and months.

There is already speculation that the voters’ “flight to safety” herd behaviour was observed because of the broader context of regional and global economic uncertainties, among other reasons.[4] As always, in the absence of critical polling data, there will be plenty of theories but little evidence to adjudicate them.

In any case, these results call into question some of the claims that commentators and scholars have made recently about trends in Singapore politics. At the moment, there is no systematic evidence that the youth vote significantly affects political change in the country in any way.[5]

There is also scant evidence that Singaporeans support a gradual movement towards a more democratic society.[6] Moreover, Michael Barr’s recent claim[7] that the PAP’s elitist narrative of Singapore’s exceptionalism has “collapsed” or has been “mortally wounded” appears overwhelmingly premature. If anything, the results from GE2015 have demonstrated that Singaporeans are entirely comfortable with an elite group of “natural aristocrats” governing them for the next 50 years.[8]

The implications of these results are clear for the PAP.Singaporeans have fully bought into the trustee-ship model of political governance.[9] The party are legitimate stewards of the country.

Esteemed journalism Professor Cherian George suggests that the results should be interpreted as a “massive triumph” for the PAP, that it should stay its course in its economic policies, and that the results justify and legitimize its arbitrary powers in suppressing its liberal critics.[10]

More liberal commentators like Sudhir argue that PAP’s stronger mandate means “the continued dominance of the rich and the elites,” although it is also likely to be “the surest road to social instability in the country.”[11]

There are also major implications for the numerous opposition political parties in Singapore.The smaller opposition parties, like the National Solidarity Party, the SingFirst party, the People’s Power Party, the Singapore People’s Party, the Reform Party, the Singapore Democratic Alliance, and the Democratic Progressive Party, should openly recognise and admit their own flaws – unrecognisable party brands, niche policy platforms, an inability to attract credible candidates, and ill-disciplined internal organisation. They were simply no match for the PAP machine.

The respective party leaders will have to decide whether to coalesce to present a united front, or close shop altogether. Either way, it will be a difficult choice to make.

For the more ideologically coherent Singapore Democratic Party, its priorities lie in attracting more credible members and candidates like the well-respected Dr Paul Tambyah, Professor of Medicine at the National University of Singapore. If and when it is able to assemble a credible ‘A’ team, then it may snag a chance of winning its own GRC, just like the WP did in Aljunied.

The results have been most disappointing for the WP. It hung on to its prized Aljunied GRC only by a thread, garnering only 50.95 per cent of the votes in the constituency.

It is now back to the drawing board for them for the next five years.

Elvin Ong is a PhD graduate student in the Department of Political Science at Emory University. He can be reached at


End notes

[1]  and








[9] Kausikan, Bilahari. 1997. “Governance that Works.” Journal of Democracy. 8(2): 24-34




Singapore swing

September 13, 2015

Comment: Winning elections involve building an outstanding track record of governance, combined with a very astute sense of timing. Singapore’s elections are free and fair. I watched the coverage on Channel News Asia and was impressed with its balanced and thoroughly professional commentary and analysis.

Singaporeans realised that with a regional economic crisis looming, they could rely on the din and kamsiah at klinik2leadership of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his PAP team to guide them. I congratulate and wish them well. They can look forward to the future. 

I cannot say the same of Malaysia. We are in a state of political crisis led by a purposeless and corrupt Prime Minister and his team of incompetent ministers. It is going to drift into a state of chaos so that by 2018 when we are supposed to hold GE 14, we will be in a complete economic and political mess.

Our elections will be rigged again since we are stalling electoral reforms. We are of course assuming that we will have elections. In all likelihood, we could have emergency rule since UMNO-BN cannot win despite massive electoral fraud. I could be wrong since I am not a sage.  –Din Merican

Singapore swing

by Dr Bridget Welsh

The People’s Action Party’s election victory is the optimal pendulum swing, argues Bridget Welsh.

Victorious PM LeeHis Own Mandate

Singapore’s ruling party led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong secured a decisive victory in the country’s 12th General Elections overnight.

By all accounts – including my own – they won 69.9 per cent of the popular vote, cutting into the 2011 election gains of the Worker’s Party who lost one of its seats, as well as soundly defeating the opposition as a whole.

The result came as a surprise. My best scenario for the PAP was reaching 65 per cent of the popular vote and potentially picking up Punggol East. They exceeded this, almost winning back the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) in a close margin.

The electoral outcome raises important questions ranging from why the election mood was misread to what the implications will be for the policy landscape. Here are some initial observations.

Silent majority speaks

The results show that a majority of Singaporeans want the PAP to be in government. Many of those are the ‘silent majority’. While not vocal or active in political life, they expressed themselves at the polling booths yesterday.

Singapore’s silent majority is especially large due to the compulsory voting required of all its citizens. It is large also because the political climate does not have a clear sense of their views. Despite considerable opening up in political discourse, a tradition of not speaking out about politics still permeates parts of Singaporeans society, especially among older generations.

Political polling remains limited. Yesterday this group made itself heard.

Opposition blowback

Campaigns in Singapore do shape the electorate, and this one was no exception.

As polling day approached, the opposition’s messages and prominence in the media gained traction. The prominent messages and large crowds provoked a counter-reaction that boosted the PAP performance, an opposition blowback.

For some this was about unease with the opposition itself, be it disappointment in performance or distrust. For others it was about balancing, as the PAP was seen to be less favoured and facing a tough challenge. The stronger the opposition became, the stronger the response against the opposition, especially among the silent majority.

Opposition blowback contributed to a greater pendulum swing in PAP’s favor, as the incumbent party took on the mantle of the disadvantaged. The PAP fanned this effectively by stoking fears that it might be replaced in government.

Right timing

Timing played a large part in enhancing the PAP victory. The obvious markers involve the impact of the passing of Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore’s 50th anniversary of nationhood this year, which evoked sentiment and appealed to the heartstrings of many Singaporeans.

In supporting the incumbent, this was an acknowledgement of the governance of the Lee family, as the father helped the son (in part) to secure a strong mandate.

There were other facets as well, notably economic conditions. Singaporeans are acutely aware of the dark clouds over the region’s economy and have experienced the slowdown themselves. In times of economic insecurity, as occurred in the 2001 election, Singaporean voters go where they are most secure and to whom they have the most trust in managing the uncertainties. This advantaged the PAP.

Anger dissipation

The interventions of the PAP in areas such as subsidies and health care made a difference among voters. This was credited at the polls, but the move in the electorate was a broader dynamic. The anger of voters had dissipated.

Even in opposition rallies, the pull of supporters was as much about the positive messaging of empowerment and a more open society that appealed to that segment of the electorate as it was about the negative anti-PAP messaging.

While anger still exists and nearly one-third of the electorate supports alternatives, the level of acrimony in the middle ground particularly reduced. It is not a coincidence that the opposition parties that adopted the most confrontational and angry stances in their campaigns performed comparatively the poorest.

His own mandate

The biggest winner in this campaign is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He has secured his own mandate and will have the space to carve his own legacy without his father’s shadow and to set the path ahead for the leadership transition in his party. He deserves to be congratulated on his victory.

The PAP leaders are now HIS team. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam – whose policy interventions in expanding social welfare contributed to Lee’s victory– will be particularly prominent.

The main attention however will focus on the younger entrants who now will define the fourth generation of PAP leadership. There will be intense competition among this group for position, and Lee will be able to use this to his own advantage to strengthen his governance and shape his own legacy.

Raising standards

For both sides of the political divide, the election has strengthened their engagement with a more demanding electorate and offers the promise of raising standards further.

While performing below expectations, the opposition has given voters clear choices. Worker’s Party and to a lesser extent the Singapore Democratic Party have resonated among a larger share of the electorate compared to other opposition parties. But their appeals failed to dent the PAP base and lost support in the middle ground, notably the silent majority.

The burden is now on the opposition to move beyond ‘walking the ground’ in specific constituencies and capitalising on anger, to developing a broader appeal that reaches those not politically active. Improving performance in parliament and focusing less on personality will be essential ingredients in this process.

For the PAP, one of the biggest challenges will be complacency. The effort that was invested in securing the outcome and the timing of the 2015 polls will not be replicable. The large margins in many seats – even mistakenly perceived close seats – and the almost 10 per cent swing toward the incumbent party should not be seen as an ‘easy win’.

Singaporeans expected to be heard and felt at least in part they were reasonably so. The PAP’s optimal victory in swinging the pendulum in its favour was hard work in an intense contest. It will also require hard work ahead.

If anything the 2015 election shows is that the pendulum can indeed swing back.

Bridget-Welsh-2Dr.Bridget Welsh is a Senior Research Associate of the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University where she conducts research on democracy and politics in Southeast Asia. She is also an Associate Fellow at The Habibie Center and University Fellow at Charles Darwin University. 

70 NGO want legislative and institutional reforms for Malaysia

September 12, 2015

70 NGO want legislative and institutional reforms for Malaysia

A coalition of 70 non-governmental organisations is urging the Government to take legislative reforms to legitimise political contributions.

Led by G25, the coalition said political funding reforms were needed to enable fair elections during national polls in 2018 and the Sarawak state election next year.

“It would also ensure that politicians can act without fear or favour and for all political parties to have equal access to acceptable financing resources.

“This is to promote an even playing field in federal and state elections,” G25 spokesman Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim told reporters here yesterday.

 All 70 NGOs signed a declaration on Transparent and Accountable Political Funding as the Underlying Framework to Eliminate Corruption and Promote Clean Governance.

Mohd Sheriff said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had acknowledged the existence of donations from foreign sources to run elections.

“His statement confirms two issues – that there is an existence of secret political funds controlled by individuals or trustees, and access to phenomenal foreign funding,” he said.

The former Finance Ministry Secretary-General said while the coalition welcomed the Government’s suggestion to introduce a political parties law, it should incorporate several aspects on political financing.

“The Act should ban foreign donations as these can interfere with the autonomy and sovereignty of domestic politics.It should also put a limit on donations by individuals and corporate bodies as well as capping funds from anonymous donors,” he added.

The coalition included Empower, Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham), Bersih 2.0, Islamic Renaissance Front, All Women’s Action Society (Awam) and Tenaganita. Twenty leaders out of the 70 NGOs had attended the press conference to introduce the declaration.


Singapore Elections 2015: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s PAP secures decisive win

September 12, 2015

Singapore Elections 2015: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s PAP secures decisive win

Singapore’s governing People’s Action Party (PAP) has won a decisive victory in the general election.

Partial results suggest the PAP is on course to increase its share of the vote. The party has won every election since independence in 1965. Patriotic feeling over the death of long-term leader Lee Kuan Yew may have swelled the vote, analysts said.

I Love PAPThe opposition, running in all constituencies for the first time, had hoped to challenge the PAP’s dominance. But initial results showed that the PAP had crossed the threshold to gain a majority in Singapore’s 89-seat Parliament. The final result is expected in the coming hours.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the eldest son of PAP founder Lee Kuan Yew, said he was “humbled” by the result.”Tomorrow will be better than today,” he told supporters.

PAP wins 2015 General Elections Led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

PAP wins 2015 General Elections Led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

While the result was widely expected, the PAP’s main rival – the Workers’ Party – could end up with fewer than the seven seats it won in the last election. A number of smaller parties also ran.

The PAP’s success has been attributed to its widespread popularity among Singaporeans – who have seen their country rapidly evolve into a first-world economy – as well as its tight political control.

But government stumbles in managing immigration and infrastructure, coupled with a greater desire by younger Singaporeans for political plurality, have led to gains by opposition parties over the years.

Analysis: Tessa Wong, BBC News, Singapore

If the last election was the PAP’s nadir, then this one marked its return to glory.In 2011 it scored 60% of the vote share – a good showing by most counts, but it was the party’s worst ever performance – thanks to public unhappiness over an influx of foreigners, a housing shortage, and transport breakdowns.

Lee Hsein LoongIt sought to resolve these problems, promised to listen to citizens more, and put in place slightly more generous social welfare policies. On Friday, voters rewarded the party with a bigger mandate.

Lingering feel-good vibes from last month’s jubilee celebrations, and a renewed sense of gratitude to PAP founder and revered leader Lee Kuan Yew, triggered by his death in March, no doubt also played a part in voters’ decisions.

The PAP’s return to power was widely expected but its large margin was a surprise to many, not least to the main opposition Workers’ Party (WP). It campaigned on a platform of providing an effective check on the PAP, but lost a constituency and saw its winning margins reduced in the few seats it retained.

The results thus cement the PAP’s long-running political dominance in Singapore and highlight the long slog ahead for those pushing for political plurality with an electorate which, for now, appears unconvinced of its merits.

2015 General Elections–Small Steps towards Democracy for Singapore

September 10, 2015

2015 General Elections–Small Steps towards Democracy for Singapore

by Mohd Nawab Mohd Osman

Singapore Elections 2015The final outcome for this contest however will be over the kind of Singapore that Singaporeans would like to see. The Singaporean electorates will need to choose between the PAP’s argument that the party needs solid support from voters to chart a better future for the country or the opposition’s argument that Singapore should see more opposition parliamentarians to act as a check on the PAP.

There’s little doubt Friday’s vote will be won by the long ruling People’s Action Party, and they may make gains in the popular vote. Even so, a richer political system is on the cards.

As the nation gets set to go to the polls, this Friday marks an important date in Singapore’s history. This election is important for several reasons. First, it is the first election since the death of the Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore. Second, this is a barometer for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) government since its disastrous performance in the 2011 general elections and the subsequent two by-elections that saw PAP’s support decline further.Third, it is also likely to be the election that would see Singapore’s fourth generation leaders firm up their place within the political system, and hence a change of guard that is likely to take place after the ballot.

A sweeter ground than 2011

At the 2011 election, the PAP suffered one of its worst electoral performances in Singapore’s history. This came in the wake of public discontent related to the government’s immigration policies, which some in Singapore believed have contributed to overcrowding, rising housing prices and increasing fears that the Singaporean identity will be diluted.

Lee Hsein Loong

In response, the PAP introduced a slew of policies aimed at correcting some of the roots of these complaints. The government introduced universal life insurance, accelerated construction of public housing, extended subsidies to lower and middle income voters, and most importantly, slowed the rate of immigration.

While admitting that the government has taken steps to address many problems, Singapore’s main opposition party, the Worker’s Party has taken credit for these changes, arguing that it comes down to  the increased presence of the opposition in Parliament. It is without doubt that many of these policies were well-received by many Singaporeans and the perception of who can legitimately claim credit to these changes will have bearing on the polls.

Some observers have argued that the PAP is riding on the euphoria of Singapore’s 50 years of independence, celebrated earlier this year, and is hoping to cash in on the feel-good factor as a result.

More importantly, Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew’s death in March and the massive outpour of mourning and grief at his funeral could translate to votes for what is perceived to be a government that he built. The impending economic crisis that is likely to hit the Southeast Asian region as a result of the slowing down of the Chinese economy might further strengthen the PAP’s position as electorates tend to vote for stability during times of crisis.

Political instability in Malaysia might also influence Friday’s vote. In the 2013 Malaysian elections, the ruling National Front (BN) coalition lost the popular vote for the first time since the country’s independence. Contrary to perception that a more democratic Malaysia would herald a new era for the country, the country has become politically unstable with bickering and divisions in both the ruling coalition and the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, resulting in the weakening of the Malaysian economy. This could lead to some Singaporean to err on the side of caution and vote for the incumbents rather than ‘risked’ Singapore’s political stability.

A resurgent opposition

The PAP’s declining vote has attracted a record 10 opposition parties to contest this election. Besides the more prominent parties such as the Worker’s Party, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and Singapore People’s Party (SPP), a number of new opposition parties like the Singaporeans First (SingFirst) and People’s Power Party (PPP) have emerged.

PAP 2015 Eletction TaglineOther more familiar parties include the Reform Party (RP), Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) and the National Solidarity Party (NSP).

Partly as a result of the proliferation of new parties, every constituency is contested in this election. More remarkably, the major parties were able to agree to a one-to-one contest in all the Group Representation Constituencies (GRC) and most of the Single Member Constituencies (SMC).

With the exception of the WP, SDP and SPP (in its previous stronghold of Potong Pasir), the other parties are not likely to gain much traction as they offer little alternative policies, are plagued by in-fighting, and have fielded poor quality candidates.

The contest is likely to come down to the PAP and the WP and perhaps the SDP.The WP and SDP have both fielded strong candidates and have offered alternative policies to that of the PAP. The fact that the SDP and WP are considered a serious threat by the PAP is attested by the fact that PAP leaders have reserved their sharpest criticisms for these two parties .

WP’s alleged mismanagement of its town council (Singaporean MPs manages municipal matters within their constituency), and the SDP’s manifesto have taken centre stage in the election hustings.

Issues affecting the Malay community

The election hustings have been particularly interesting for the Malay community. For the first time in the last decade, a Malay candidate, Damanhuri Abas from the SDP has openly criticised the government over issues that are deemed to be important for the Malay community, such as Malays in the Singapore Armed Forces, and the wearing of headscarfs .

For its part, the PAP has tried to prop up its support within the Malay community by fielding Malay candidates who are highly qualified and deemed to be close to the Malay ground. At least three of the four Malay candidates have been active in Malay/Muslim organisations over the last decade. This strategy has also exposed a key weakness of the opposition parties.

With the exception of Damanhuri, most Malay candidates fielded by  opposition parties are unknown to the community and have less than stellar credentials when compared to their team-mates from other communities.

While the small pool of credible Malay candidates could explain this weakness, the notion that less credible Malay candidates could be coat-tailed into parliament as a result of their team-mates’ stronger credentials could have negative consequences for the Malay community.

Opposition parties will need to rectify this weakness especially if they seek to position themselves as an alternative government to the PAP and recruit Malay candidates of ministerial calibre.

Heralding a new political landscape?

This election could prove to be an instrumental one in shaping the future of Singaporean politics and society. There is little doubt that the PAP will form the government after the election. Even the WP has indicated that it is not yet ready to form the next government.

The final outcome for this contest however will be over the kind of Singapore that Singaporeans would like to see. The Singaporean electorates will need to choose between the PAP’s argument that the party needs solid support from voters to chart a better future for the country or the opposition’s argument that Singapore should see more opposition parliamentarians to act as a check on the PAP.

Finally, it is likely that this election will see the PAP improving its performance marginally perhaps winning 62 to 63 per cent of the overall votes.

This would be largely attributed to the likely poor performance of most of the smaller parties. The WP could capture the single seat of Fengshan and possibly win the East Coast Group Representative Constituency (GRC) -although this is still too close to call.

The SDP is likely to make a serious dent in the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC and will be in an excellent position to capture its first GRC in the next election due in 2020.

In sum, the upcoming election will see Singapore make its slow and incremental towards a more democratic society, an ideal enshrined in the nation’s constitution.

Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman is Assistant Professor and coordinator of the Malaysia Program at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).