In our previous article, we analysed the changes, divisiveness and prospects of the Singapore General Election (GE). Now, we take a look at the scorecard.
Strong mandate for the PAP
Today, the nation has spoken, bringing about a massive electoral swing in favour of the ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP). Despite the massive crowds at opposition rallies, Singapore’s silent majority continues to trust and support the PAP.
The PAP won 83 out of 89 seats, just six seats shy from being the only elected party in Parliament.
The Workers’ Party (WP) took the remaining six seats and will be the only elected opposition party in the upcoming Parliament. Three of the best performing candidates among those defeated may also serve as non-constituency Members of Parliament.
Diagram by The Straits Times
Mr Lee Hsien Loong, leader of the PAP and Prime Minister of Singapore, won 78.6% of the votes in his Group Representation Constituency (GRC), Ang Mo Kio. This was the second-highest percentage of votes won in the election. Notably, the PAP team in Tanjong Pagar GRC, which was previously helmed by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), also won a landslide victory over Singaporeans First, garnering 77.7% of the votes.
These large victories suggest that Singaporeans remain confident in a post-LKY PAP and firmly support younger PAP leaders like Mr Chan Chun Sing and Mr Tan Chuan-Jin.
The Opposition: injured but alive?
On the other side, the WP lost its seat in the Punggol East Single Member Constituency (SMC) and narrowly retained its coveted Aljunied GRC (by a margin of 2%). Even in Hougang SMC, a long-time WP stronghold, votes for the WP dropped from 62.1% to 57.7%. All in all, the WP faced a big setback to its ambition to expand its political clout to constituencies in the East.
Unsurprisingly, many supporters of the WP were visibly disappointed and shocked. WP candidates, however, remained confident that more constituencies “will be Blue one day” (blue being WP’s political colour).
Mr Chen Show Mao, MP for the Aljunied GRC, stated “we will reflect, introspect and better ourselves.” Another WP member, Mr Gerald Giam, said “we have done our best, and we will continue… to fight for Singapore.”
Photograph by Alphonsus Chern
None of the other political parties, including the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), came close to defeating the incumbent. The SPP’s showing in Potong Pasir SMC (33.6% of the votes) was the highest among the rest of the Opposition, but it was still a definitive defeat in spite of the popularity of veteran opposition leader, Mr Chiam See Tong, and his wife, Ms Lina Chiam.
Surprisingly, even though Dr Chee Soon Juan of the SDP managed to reconnect with the public and gained a large number of followers on social media in his short campaigning period, his team only won 33.4% of the votes. Undoubtedly, the strength of the Opposition has greatly wavered in this election.
Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, leader of the Reform Party, was particularly displeased with the national swing against the Opposition. According to Mr Jeyaretnam, “all this is a mandate for authoritarianism and brainwashing”. A more measured Dr Chee warned that the current political landscape is “undemocratic”.
Similar to GE 2011, in GE 2015, PAP won all but six seats. But this is not status quo per se: PAP’s votes have increased significantly across the board, winning more than 70% of the votes in many constituencies. The last time Singapore saw such a high level of support for the PAP was actually in 2001.
Make no mistake about it: Singapore GE 2015 was hard fought. And it was won spectacularly.
With such a strong mandate, PAP’s representatives will naturally be more confident about future policymaking and implementation. Thus far, in almost every victory speech, PAP politicians have been using a markedly different tone, one that speaks more of humility than arrogance.
The PAP has promised policy adjustments and improvements, and candidates have been working hard to communicate with the people and understand the ground. Only time will tell whether or not Singaporeans have made the right choice.
On 11 September 2015, every eligible Singaporean will be able to vote at a polling station, and most will be deciding between the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and alternatives like the Workers’ Party (WP). For the past 50 years, the PAP maintained a stronghold in Parliament, steadily winning the vast majority of seats in every GE until 2011.
The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who led the PAP until the 1990s, was a charismatic and strong-willed leader who believed that ruling leaders “must have the iron” in them. His foresight in economic matters and foreign affairs has been hailed as the key reason for Singapore’s rapid growth from third world to first. With Mr Lee’s passing earlier this year, GE 2015 will officially usher in a new political era and be a major testing ground for current Prime Minister and PAP leader, Mr Lee Hsien Loong.
Recent changes in the political landscape
In GE 2011, Singapore’s most recent “watershed election”, the dominant opposition party, the Workers’ Party (WP), won 7 seats including 1 group constituency, creating an unprecedented crack in the PAP’s strong walls.
GE 2011 also saw the retirement of Mr George Yeo, former Minister for Foreign Affairs and PAP candidate, from the local political scene. It was a difficult decision for Singaporean voters in the Aljunied constituency, not unlike the decisions that may be made in this GE’s “hot” constituencies, including the East Coast and MacPherson constituencies. Was choosing WP the right move? With rigorous debate over the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council saga dominating the early stages of GE 2015, the jury is still out.
Although the political scene in Singapore is relatively young, it is evolving. In GE 2015, there have already been some obvious changes. Opposition parties, including smaller ones like the Singapore People’s Party and Democratic Progressive Party, are now fielding more educated candidates with distinguished professional backgrounds than ever before, touting them as competent spokespersons for the people.
Diagram by Channel NewsAsia
Certain opposition candidates, such as SDP’s Dr Chee Soon Juan, have also been emphasising that their parties offer many viable alternative policies to those currently in place by the PAP. A more regular use of statistics and studies to back up such policies has given the impression that they are well researched, albeit not tried and tested in Singapore yet.
Compared to previous elections, the number of credible alternative media websites has increased substantially, allowing the electorate to have a more informed understanding of all political parties and candidates.
Divisiveness and debate
At the end of the day, the PAP’s narrative is simple. The PAP is a cruise ship: vote for the PAP, and the party’s competent and incorruptible leaders will continue to make Singapore an exceptional nation. Vote for the Opposition, and you will get “a mouse in the House”.
In response, WP’s leader, Mr Low Thia Khiang, agreed that the PAP is a cruise ship, but “[its] name is Titanic” (alluding to its fallibility). In this regard, the PAP has repeatedly emphasised in its manifesto and rallies that it has a strong track record and has delivered on its promises to the people.
Regardless of who is correct (or wrong), this divisiveness in politics and policies has generated great interest in opposition rallies, and accordingly, the crowds have been large.
What lies ahead?
In all likelihood, the PAP will continue to form the next government. The election is more a matter of how many opposition members and parties, if any, Singapore will see in its new Parliament. Will the people continue to trust and support the PAP, or will the desire for cross-party checks and concerns over pensions, cost of living, and immigration policies prevail?
GE 2015 will be hard fought. In three days, Singaporeans will either witness yet another renewal of the PAP’s legacy, or a continuing shift in the tides of political control. However, to many, these are empty words; perhaps the bread-and-butter issues are the only real concerns.
Ultimately, to vote for the Opposition is to take on a certain risk – it is to depart from the familiar and enter new territory. Whether this is a risk worth taking remains squarely up to the judgement of Singapore’s increasingly vocal and astute electorate.
Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands
February 13th 2015 | London | Godwin Tan
Photograph by Kim Kyung-Hoon (Reuters)
Nations often go all out to protect their disputed lands. In domestic politics, defending one’s land can stir nationalism and bolster the government’s popularity. In foreign policy, aggressively defending one’s land can deter potential enemies.
As neither party wants to give in, many nations remain stuck in territorial disputes. At the same time, there is an immediate dilemma: while no one is willing to give in, no one can afford to create utter chaos. The world is so intertwined that if one major country sneezes, the whole world catches a cold. Forty years ago, perhaps only the US had such vast influence. Today, China is no longer an isolated island in the world. It is an international behemoth with massive political and economic influence. If it postures itself in an unduly aggressive manner, China would inevitably hurt its trading ties. The need to balance national sovereignty and economic interests has been difficult for China and unsurprisingly led to the deadlock that is the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute.
Development of Diaoyu/Senkaku Dispute
This long-standing territorial dispute involves a group of uninhibited islands known as the ‘Diaoyudao’ in China, the ‘Tiaoyutai’ in Taiwan, and the ‘Senkaku islands’ in Japan. The islands are important for a few reasons. Firstly, they are representative of national sovereignty and pride. A failure to secure these islands would prove to be politically disastrous. Secondly, they are valuable for the potential oil reserves beneath them. Thirdly, they are near rich fishing grounds and strategic shipping lanes.
With these political and economic implications, China and Japan have been uncompromising in the East China Sea. In 2010, responding to a collision between a Chinese trawler and a Japanese patrol boat, the Chinese government immediately cancelled official Sino-Japan meetings of ministerial level and above. As of February 2013, BBC regarded the territorial dispute as “the most serious for Sino-Japanese relations in the post-war period in terms of the risk of militarised conflict”. In April 2013, China declared that the islands are its core interest. Japan, on the other hand, asserted that it has traditionally administrated the Senkaku islands, and the islands are not disputed at all. In an almost vindictive tone, the Japanese Cabinet accused China of attempting to change the status quo by force.
More importantly, in November 2013, China announced its Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) More importantly, in November 2013, China announced its Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea, including the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. Aircrafts flying in the ADIZ are urged to file their flight plans with Chinese authorities and provide means of identification. China may scramble fighter jets to identify aircrafts that refuse to comply with Chinese regulations. This unilateral decision to establish an ADIZ caused an immediate outcry, especially from Japan and its allies. For instance, Robert Zoellic, former US Deputy Secretary of State, urged China to be responsible and described the nation described the nation as an ‘elephant that has grown too big to hide behind a tree any longer’, reflecting grave concern over China’s growing power and ambitions. To a definite extent, this sudden decision to draw the ADIZ over the East China Sea region reflects an impatient and almost brazen China.
Under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s helm, China seems to be able to provoke foreign powers and, if it so chooses, rewrite the rules of engagement in the East China Sea. The ADIZ is arguably a sign that China is ready to shape, rather than accept, the world order within which it operates. But this is not entirely surprising. Xi, unlike his predecessors, has been able to consolidate power much faster and now commands significant control in the People’s Liberation Army. His military credentials and political grip over decision-making mechanisms lend credibility when he issues harsh statements reflecting a strong anti-Japanese stance. Similarly, promises to temporarily set aside territorial disputes in favour of Sino-Japanese economic partnership have not been lasting.
As recent as last month, the Chinese government set up a website dedicated to the Diaoyu islands – diaoyudao.org.cn. The website publicises the historical and legal bases of China’s claim.
Japan: Strong Reaction
Responding to China’s hawkish behaviour, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution asking China to rescind the ADIZ. Japan also vowed to increase military budget to curb China’s presence in the East China Sea. In comical fashion, envoys from both nations have nicknamed each other as the ‘Lord Voldemort of East Asia’.
On a serious note, the general military posture and political language from both sides have been decidedly provocative and inflammatory, with no signs of either side giving way. Even the ‘ice-breaking’ meeting between Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proved largely futile. Xi’s disinterested expression was a blatant and resounding message. The Diaoyu/Senkaku deadlock is more challenging than other territorial disputes. It is no longer a mere question of territorial integrity. It is loaded with historical animosity and has been worsened by the fact that Xi and Abe are hard-headed leaders, making this dispute seemingly insurmountable.
US: Mixed Reaction
The US, on the other hand, had a rather mixed response towards China’s actions. While American representatives repeatedly expressed concern over the increased risk of a “dangerous miscalculation or accident” in the East China Sea, they have been unwilling to issue a joint statement with Japan to condemn China and urge China to rescind the ADIZ. It could be said that China’s aggression in this territorial dispute exposed a potential crack in the traditionally strong US-Japan alliance.
The US’s mixed reaction indicates that it now makes tedious choices between its political and economic interests. It must prove to Japan that it will continue to lend its support. At the same time, it must also assure China that it does not want to cause any serious conflict that may jeopardise their economic ties. At the moment, greater priority is given to the US’ economic interests. As rightly suggested by Professor Jin Canrong, a China-US relations expert at the Renmin University of China, Sino-US ties are modifying. The scale is now tipping in favour of the Eastern behemoth.
ASEAN Powers: Moderate Response
While not directly involved in this territorial dispute, a few ASEAN members have weighed in on the matter. This is understandable. The escalation of conflict in the East China Sea may eventually affect China’s trajectory in the South China Sea, where Beijing is in similar territorial deadlock with several ASEAN nations. If China succeeds in achieving its aims through aggression in the East China Sea, the fear is that it is encouraged to employ the same tactics over the Spratly islands.
Even so, ASEAN powers, like the US, have toned down their rhetoric. The Japan-ASEAN joint statement in December 2014, while indicating that ASEAN and Japan would cooperate to ‘(ensure) the freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety’, deliberately omitted any express mention of China and its ADIZ.
Unlike the past when vitriol from the world was almost immediate, foreign powers are now relatively hesitant in criticising China. Increasingly tight economic relations with China definitely played a part. The ASEAN-China Free Trade Area, for instance, started in 2010 and has expanded tremendously over the past three years, deterring ASEAN members from infuriating China. Besides that, countries that have historical feuds with Japan accept China’s bold posturing in the East China Sea partly because of their frustration at the Abe’s distorted view of Japanese history and alleged military ambitions. While the reasons are varied, the end result is clear – China is gradually ascending in the current world order.
Looking Forward: Peace or Chaos?
The limits of China’s aggression remain uncertain. What is certain now is that China has stronger bargaining power and military strength to shape the current world order. Under Xi’s leadership, China has reflected hawkish behaviour that is dangerous but unlikely to convince or intimidate Japan’s equally aggressive Abe. In such heated times, it is important to stay calm and prioritise. Xi wants China to be rejuvenated through the ‘Chinese Dream’. As China seeks to stabilise its ‘new normal’ at 6-7% economic growth, it needs massive economic restructuring and an incredibly stable global environment. This is perhaps why, in the LSE SU China Development Forum 2015, Professor Feng Wei of Fudan University expressed the view that “China needs a quiet and safe environment to dream”. As a logical extension of Feng’s view, the clang of swords in the East China Sea is the last thing China needs in this crucial ‘new normal’.
At the same time, while China strives to modernise its defence technology in order to feel safer and more secure, neighbouring countries cannot be blamed for being paranoid or insecure. ASEAN members will and should pay close attention to the Sino-Japanese territorial dispute and be prepared to intervene or voice their opinions when necessary. Perhaps Former Minister Mentor of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew was prophesying when he said that ‘it is China’s intention to be the greatest power in the world’. This intention is arguably taking shape and slowly informing Chinese trajectory.
In the meantime, regional powers are justified to shift their perception of China – from friend to foe, from partner to competitor, from harmless panda to domineering dragon.