Here we are, on the other side of GE2020. After this issue, We, The Citizens will revert (Singapore Civil Service please note, this is the actual, correct use of the word “revert”) to the free Saturday morning weekly round-ups, with mid-week special issues sent to Milo Peng Funders (and sometimes made free via the website).
In a nutshell
Lee Hsien Loong called an election in the middle of the pandemic in the hopes of getting a “strong mandate” for the PAP team and their 4G leadership. He ended up with a “clear mandate” vote-share that’s dropped from 70% in 2015 to 61%, and a pissed off young GRC kicking out three of his office holders (including the minister Mysara called out for a problematic campaign targeted at the Malay-Muslim community in the guest issue published just before Cooling-Off Day!)
Essentially, his party has exactly the same ability to pass laws and amend the Constitution as they did before GE2020, only now their share of the support is more GE2011, less GE2015.
Good job, Lee Hsien Loong. We all risked our health and lives for this.
The act of voting…
Before GE2020, the government had repeatedly reassured Singaporeans that it was possible to conduct an election safely. The Elections Department published this on 8 June, saying that, “The whole process within the polling station should not take more than 5 minutes.”
That worked out.
I was a polling agent in the morning. First up, I’d like to say that all the presiding officers were trying their best. But there were all these little things that held the process up and undermined the safety of the whole operation.
For example: the e-registration system, where people scanned their ICs instead of handing it to the presiding officer, was meant to make things go faster and also keep people safer. But there was only one scanner at my polling station, and since people (especially the elderly) were getting confused about how to scan their ICs, the presiding officer ended up touching people’s ICs anyway. They were wearing gloves, but that doesn’t help if they’ve touched the IC of someone who has COVID-19, then touched everyone else’s ICs after that. Presiding officers who were handing out the ballot papers were also touching ICs and poll cards.
Then there was the mess about the gloves. Ideally, the gloves were meant to be handed out at the same time as the ballot paper: people would then sanitise their hands, put the gloves on, and go vote. But this was taking too long at my polling station, so the presiding officers started giving out the gloves to people in the queue outside the polling station. That sped things up, but also meant that people were doing things like taking their masks on and off (which often involved touching their faces) for ID verification with their gloves already on, thus defeating the point of having gloves.
Other polling stations reported running out of gloves. In the end, the Elections Department just nixed the idea, saying the gloves would be optional. (I wonder how they arrived at that decision, and what risk assessment was made, if the gloves were considered necessary for health and safety at first? 🤔)
Queues at some polling stations were so long that the polls were extended from 8pm to 10pm — a move criticised by multiple opposition parties for being unprecedented and “highly irregular”.
…and then the results
As expected, the PAP continues to have a supermajority in Parliament. As the Workers’ Party’s Pritam Singh points out, the party is still some way from its goal of taking away the PAP’s supermajority and there is still much work to do. But here are a few bits I’d like to zoom in on:
Sengkang GRC: The intersectional feminist (and oppa!) goes to Parliament
Let’s start with the happiest news. In 2011 WP became the first opposition party to win a GRC, and now they’ve won two, which also makes GE2020 the biggest loss of seats for the PAP since independence.
The PAP tried to undermine WP’s team with their vicious — and, I will never tire of reminding people, false — claim that Raeesah had admitted to making derogatory comments against Chinese and Christians. (To catch up on this nasty episode, you can read this past issue.)
Perhaps they thought taking a page out of their old “Demonise the Opposition” playbook would work out well for them again. But it looks like they just ended up pissing off young voters and minority voters and, especially, young minority voters. Their eleventh hour olive branch — in which they characterised what happened as a generational divide thing and young people importing issues like cultural appropriation from the Internet 🤨 — didn’t work either and WP has won the new constituency with 52% of the vote.
So out goes Ng Chee Meng, former minister in the PMO and secretary-general of the NTUC, Lam Pin Min, former senior minister of state for health and transport, Amrin Amin, former senior parliamentary secretary for home affairs and health, and Raymond Lye, who is a person.
And in comes Raeesah Khan the intersectional feminist, Jamus Lim the economist, He Ting Ru the lawyer, and Louis Chua, who I admittedly didn’t have very much of an impression of throughout the campaign (sorry).
East Coast GRC: I don’t think this was quite the East Coast Plan
The PAP sprung a surprise on everyone by shifting Heng Swee Keat to East Coast GRC on Nomination Day. The idea was that the fear of losing the future prime minister would keep the constituency safe from the “Nicole Seah effect”. If only Heng didn’t start off with this speech — since that moment, I haven’t heard a single mention of Heng Swee Keat throughout the entire GE2020 that didn’t include some mention or joke of the Together Care @ East Coast We Together Plan.
At the end of the day, the PAP’s chess move did work: the DPM and his team did manage to hold on to East Coast GRC. But only with 53% of the votes to the WP’s 47% — that’s an embarrassing margin for the guy who’s meant to be Singapore’s future leader.
So perhaps he’s not going to end up the next PM after all? 🧐 It’s pretty obvious that Singaporeans aren’t keen. Furthermore, Tharman has once again outperformed Mr “Singaporeans are not ready for a non-Chinese PM”, plus Singaporeans have voted in the team led by Pritam Singh in Aljunied GRC. I think the whole “not ready for non-Chinese” thing should be put to bed now (and then we put the bed on a sampan, and then we drift the sampan out into the ocean, and then we shoot a fire arrow to set the sampan on fire 🔥).
West Coast GRC: That Tan Cheng Bock swing
West Coast GRC has been a pretty solid PAP stronghold for a long time — it was a walkover ward in GE2001 and GE2006. In GE2011, the PAP won it (over the Reform Party) with 66.6% of the vote, which increased to 78.6% in GE2015. With the emergence of Tan Cheng Bock and his Progress Singapore Party, that vote-share has crashed to 52%.
This close margin means that the two NCMP seats up for grabs goes to the PSP. Tan Cheng Bock has said that he’s not going to take an NCMP seat, though, since he opposes the scheme (although he wouldn’t be the first to object then change his mind), but two members of his team might.
(Personally, I wish they’d cede one to the SDP’s Paul Tambyah, who I would very much like to see in Parliament.)
Jurong GRC: What’s he doing there?!
No surprise that the PAP retained Jurong GRC — no one’s going to be able to shift Tharman. But what caught my attention and made this constituency one to point out was the presence of one extra person during their victory statement:
“Residents of Jurong GRC, thank you very much for your support. We have come a long way, the team has come a long way. We would not have come this far without your support,” said Ivan Lim.
“We”?! Who is “we”? There is no “we”, Ivan Lim! You didn’t run in GE2020 — remember why? Because Singaporeans pointed out that nobody likes you, that’s why!
SMCs: SDP keeps plugging away
The Singapore Democratic Party won no seats in Parliament. That said… given the quarrel over the 10 million figure and the PAP accusing both Chee Soon Juan and Paul Tambyah of making baseless claims and spreading falsehoods (accompanied by the invoking of POFMA), these are decent showings: 45% for Dr Chee in Bukit Batok SMC, and 46% for Paul in Bukit Panjang SMC. If they keep plugging away at these two SMCs, the SDP might see a return to Parliament yet.
So… what’s next?
If you, like me, braced for an opposition wipe-out and a 100% PAP Parliament, then today is a good day. But it doesn’t mean that we’re done with democracy for the next five years.
Watch that handover
As we saw from WP’s win of Aljunied GRC in 2011, sneaky stuff does happen during the transition of the constituency/town council from PAP to WP. Here’s one example (it wasn’t the only one — remember the AIM saga?):
This could happen with Sengkang GRC too, and WP can’t fight this alone. They’re going to need the vigilance and support of Singaporeans to make sure that the transition goes smoothly and that they’re allowed the conditions to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
Remember the police investigation!
She’s now an MP-elect, but the police investigation into Raeesah Khan’s old Facebook comments is still live. I’ve realised that quite a number of people are under the mistaken impression that the AGC has already cleared her. They haven’t; the last press statement from the police said that the AGC found no offence in the contents of the PAP statement on Raeesah, not that there was no offence in Raeesah’s comments. That investigation is ongoing.
To be disqualified as an MP, one has to be sentenced to prison for not less than a year, or a fine of not less than S$2,000, and not receive a free pardon. If found guilty under S298A of the Penal Code (which is what Raeesah is being investigated under), the highest penalty is a prison term of up to three years, or a fine, or both.
It’s possible for Raeesah to be fined something like $2,000 and disqualified. But this won’t trigger a by-election, since a by-election will only happen if all the MPs in that GRC vacate their seats. This is something we learnt from Halimah Yacob stepping down in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC to become president.
Many Singaporeans have already signalled their support for Raeesah with #IStandWithRaeesah during the election period. If this is something you feel strongly about, this support needs to be continuously signalled post-election, because it sends a message that Singaporeans won’t stand for any attempt to “fix the opposition”.
I wonder what lesson the PAP will learn from all this: the POFMAs and statements and accusations don’t seem to have done a huge amount of good this time, and might even have worked against them in Sengkang GRC. Perhaps we can hope that they’ll learn that bullying doesn’t pay?
I always hope for this, although talk about the need to reform our elections process always fades away whenever it’s not (the extremely brief) election period. But there’s so much that we need to fix about all this.
The GRC system needs to go. It, plus first-past-the-post, skews the representation we get in Parliament. The PAP won 61% of the vote-share but has 83 out of 93 seats in Parliament.
What of overseas voters? Many overseas voters were disenfranchised this year because COVID-19 made it impossible for them to vote. But many overseas voters have been disenfranchised for years, since they’re expected to travel at their own expense to one of only 10 polling stations around the world to cast their vote. Not everyone can afford to do that. The authorities have repeatedly said that postal voting — available in many other countries — isn’t feasible. But we’ve not actually had a proper debate about this to discuss pros and cons. Can more be done for overseas voters?
More voter education, please! My favourite part of GE2020 has been the proliferation of political and voter education resources — people have put together databases, infographics, Instagram Stories, etc. etc. that gives Singaporeans access to information. We need more of this! The more people understand the rules and how things work, the better off we will all be. I also encourage as many Singaporeans as possible to volunteer as polling and counting agents in the future, because it’s a great way to learn by doing, which is what I experienced yesterday:
All in all, there’s enough to be positive about, even as we remember the crap about GE2020 that we all hope never to encounter again. Majulah! ✊🏼
Thank you everyone for your support of this newsletter during this GE2020 period! I gained 387 new sign-ups between 30 June and 10 July, out of which 43 became Milo Peng Funders to help me exceed my goal of reaching 250 Milo Peng Funders. These paid subscriptions allow me to devote more time to writing and reporting independently on Singapore politics, democracy, social justice, and human rights through this newsletter.
Thank you all so much for having been so great. You all truly warm the cockles of my heart.