Historian Michael Barr reflects on GE2020 – ‘PAP govt is in denial’

The People’s Action Party (PAP) government of Singapore has suffered its worst ever election result, but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has suggested merely that the result was “not as strong an endorsement as hoped”.

Individual swings against the ruling party of up to 27 per cent and typically 6–15 per cent were insufficient to defeat well-entrenched PAP candidates who enjoyed a multitude of unfair advantages. If the result is not recognised as a disaster, the government is in denial.

Elections are Singaporeans’ twice-a-decade opportunity to send messages to the government and, on this occasion, the message was clear. A national 8.66 per cent swing against the PAP delivered its second-lowest national vote since independence — 61.24 per cent, only 1.1 per cent better than the train-wreck 2011 election.

The opposition Workers’ Party (WP) enjoyed massive swings to strengthen its hold on its existing seats and to win four seats in a newly-created multi-member constituency. This added four more MPs to bring the opposition tally to 10, against the PAP’s 83. The Progress Singapore Party (PSP), led by former PAP MP Tan Cheng Bock, separately came within a whisker of defeating the PAP in its West Coast heartland.

Worryingly for the government’s succession plans, Mr Lee’s designated successor and favoured family friend Heng Swee Keat held his constituency with a mere 3.4 per cent margin, down 7 per cent from the 2015 elections. Mr Heng was also in charge of the PAP’s national campaign, so he bears heavy responsibility for the flop. It is a sign of the state of self-delusion, both in Cabinet and among what passes for Singapore’s political commentariat, that a recurring theme of the election-night coverage was that “this is not a referendum on Heng Swee Keat”. It was.

The most sobering lesson for Mr Lee and his inner circle is that the next generation of leaders — known collectively as 4G — have failed to cut through to the electorate, and do not seem up to the job of government.

Between them, the 4G leaders have presided over a massive Covid-19 failure, government data breaches involving personal medical records, rising health and transport prices (and failures), new restrictions on when retired Singaporeans can access retirement savings, and a flatlining economy.

Amid these failures has been an alarming 4G initiative: Empowering Cabinet ministers to issue directives to websites with supposed Correction Notices, backed by huge fines for those that don’t comply.

During the election campaign this power, known as the Protection From Online Falsehoods And Manipulation Act (Pofma), was wielded by permanent secretaries, thus politicising and weaponising the Civil Service against the opposition. Tellingly, civil servants wielded Pofma fairly freely during the election campaign.

Mr Heng’s personal contribution to government has been a series of inarticulate speeches, that are perhaps the consequence of the lingering effects of a massive stroke he suffered in 2016, but which are making him something of a figure of fun, not just in Singapore but in the region.

It is hard to believe that Mr Lee is not aware, but it is even more difficult to accept that Mr Heng’s colleagues, who he beat in the race to the top, are also not aware — especially as nearly all of them polled better than Mr Heng himself.

The 4G leaders have been basically running government for the last year or more and this was the election where Singaporeans were asked for their judgement — which they gave, though no one seems to be listening.

Mr Lee was planning to step down as Prime Minister in the next year or so. He has postponed these plans indefinitely, but in his post-election press conference he made it eminently clear that Mr Heng is still the anointed successor. So desperate is Mr Lee to keep his succession plans in place that he is willing to keep his senior team in place for another parliamentary term to protect Mr Heng from his own shortcomings, and from the ambitions of his colleagues.

Why is Mr Lee so keen on Mr Heng? Perhaps because he is the only candidate he can rely upon to step down at a time that suits Mr Lee’s longer-term succession plans.

The election points to secular deterioration in the standards of Singapore’s government. The outcome for the opposition is now much rosier. The WP has confirmed its status as the main opposition party under its new leader, Mr Pritam Singh. It was particularly instructive to see a new generation of political activists — including high-calibre minority (Indian and Malay) candidates — take leading roles in the WP’s successful campaigns. Looking ahead, it will need to think more strategically in choosing where to run its most effective campaigners.

The PSP’s Dr Tan Cheng Bock has also declared that he will be back for another round in five years’ time — keeping alive his fledgling party, which nearly defeated two ministers on the West Coast.

If these “Davids” can find a way to form a single alignment with a fused brand and a cooperative strategy, they might even be able to do some serious damage to the common “Goliath” they confront.

Michael Barr is Associate Professor in International Relations in the College of Business, Government and Law, Flinders University. He is a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and Associate Editor of Asian Studies Review.

*Article first appeared on East Asia Forum and is republished in accordance to the Cross-Post and Re-use policy.

 

 

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35 Responses to “Historian Michael Barr reflects on GE2020 – ‘PAP govt is in denial’”

  • oxygen:

    PAPpynomics via CECA-like devilish creations ARE A COMPLETE FAILURE. They need a Dr. Jamus Lim with fresh perspectives but we see none of that in the 26 GRC-loving inductees in GE 2020.

    Ravi Menon, our Central Bank (MAS) boss put it correctly – our economy is in dire straits.

    PAPpypolitics and legacy dream are in incineration bin, in burning now to ending.

    They screwed up the economy for at least 2 decades and has very little ingredients of seeds to turnaround a rusting sinking Titanic.

    I see a lot of passengers drowning in the fake menifesto of – your life, your job, and your future – empty promises.

    The voters of past is reaping fair harvest for stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality and vote for change for far too long.

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  • oxygen:

    VOTERS DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS – if you don’t vote for change, THE DEVILS OF CHANGE WILL STILL COME BACK AND HAUNT YOU.

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  • opposition dude:

    Let the PAP continue in their self denial since nothing will convince them otherwise. Let the opposition parties strengthen in this election cycle and give the PAP another political uppercut or 2 in the next GE.

    With goondu Loong hanging around longer then it’s lagi better since he won’t change his ways of doing things. Expect to hear the same old shit of another strong mandate, mud slinging and everything else you are familiar with come the next GE. This good for nothing only knows how to do things his own way and is resistant to change.

    Make his party Pay And Pay in 4 to 5 years time!!

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  • Survey recently:

    PAP won this general election because of new citizens voted for them ,if not for the 500000,they already lost the whole elections,the papaya knows it

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  • Democratic=free to do anything:

    Michael Barr is Ang Mo and there will be many Ang Mo Tua Kee (AMTK) suckers cum ass lickers here ever ready to agree with with him.

    Hokkien had a saying “own children fart smell nice other people’s children fart smell stink”.

    To the Ang Mo Tua Kee suckers like Oxygen, it is “Ang Mo fart smell nice Asian fart smell stink”

    The question is Michael Barr is not Asian and does not live in Singapore. So what does he knows ?

    We are Asians, we are Singaporeans, we Asians knows Asia better than the gay Ang Mo.

    We must continue to vote PAP and send the LGBT group to Democratic lawless island ROC Taiwan to sodomize whoever they like there.
    DPP MP王浩宇:對了,大家,我適GAY耶,我GAY,我喜歡跟男孩子肛肛 特別是13歲-16歲的
    (loosely translated: DPP王浩宇: I am gay. I love to poke teenage boy backside, especially 13 to 15 years old boys)
    https://matters.news/@VoiceOfDarkness/%E6%94%BF%E5%AE%A2%E7%B4%80%E5%AF%A6-%E7%8E%8B%E6%B5%A9%E5%AE%8701-zdpuAkaccbesfD8nDPtkNaR4Jj6FcCXv9muRGdVNp5LrXNhN4

    GE2024.PAP.Guarantee.Win.Again
    Majullah $PAP$ $PAP$ Huat$ Huat$ Huat$
    Lazy Singaporeans mustbe Cheaper, Better, Faster

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  • Rodger:

    The most glaring failure of the 4G leaders was their avoidance of any debate with opposition figures. This confirms the impression that they only talk big from the podium with a script in front of them.

    Most of them are mere paper generals or academics with zero real working experience outside Govt.

    And they want to steer the ship of state?

    I’d not want such clueless and cowardly people to govern me.

    GRCs should be scrapped. For one, it allows duds to enter parliament.

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  • Rodger:

    Heng means LUCKY in Chinese.

    We can consider ourselves Heng if Heng himself steps aside after such a dreadful showing.

    He can’t even strong two sentences correctly. Imagine he has to deal with questions in Parliament and he fumbles again.

    It’s not a coincidence he fumbled twice. Perhaps his stroke has had something to do with it.

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  • PAP mandate strong:

    An auzzie?

    Same thing your country also dont handle Covid19 too well. Just a few steps slightly better.

    How about assessing how your country gov handled the forest fire last year ? How many acres of land burned and countless animals perished in the fire ?

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  • TUMASIK Patriot:

    Fair and “TRUTHFUL” Comment from a non-BIAS critic…

    More of such, please

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  • xoxo:

    Yeah,sir,you are right.
    Oppo needs to think of a NEW MARKETING STRATEGY to reinvent and ATTRACT MORE VOTERS leaning on the fence.

    But such marketing efforts require a RECOGNISABLE N RESPECTABLE BRAND,A SOLID ALTERNATIVE to what *consumers*/ voters are accustomed to.

    To be able to do this,VAST RESOURCES,are required from HUMAN TALENTS TO CAPITAL.
    SYNERGY OF INDIVIDUAL OPPO’S LIMITED RESOURCES WILL PROVIDE THE IMPETUS.

    I suggest PSP N SDP start the ball rolling.

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  • Pofma news:

    Looks like Barr will be disbarred entry shortly!

    From oldcock’s day till today…..such talk is not allowed, truth be told!

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  • Billy ma:

    How else can lhl says other than self praise about the final GE results.

    Even he himself got less than before.
    It indicates an across board increased in the rejection of PAP this time.
    Even cotton chan have to shut his big mouth with his result at lky backyard.

    Did you hear any of the PAP big guns brag about the GE result?
    Maybe only Thaman, the rests got cucumber in their mouth.

    So PAP & lhl can twist & turn about the result, it’s a fact that Singaporeans had given lhl a slap in the face.

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  • NotMyProblem:

    @Assoc Prof Michael Barr; you might not have notice Ang Mo Kio GRC had the highest spoilt votes comparing to other GRCs. That because voters rather throw their votes into the drain than to give it to LHL.

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  • Soccerbetting2:

    Reported on the Independent.sg website :Quote – ““The more difficult things get, the harder I work” – Chee Soon Juan resumes work at Bukit Batok a week after GE2020
    Dr Chee promised to unveil more details of his grassroots campaign in the coming days.

    Photo: CSJ FB
    AUTHOR

    Jewel Stolarchuk
    DATE

    July 25, 2020
    CATEGORY

    Featured NewsHome NewsSingapore PoliticsSocio-Political

    Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan resumed his grassroots work at Bukit Batok SMC, a week after the 2020 General Election took place and pledged to work hard even though he narrowly lost the ward to the ruling party incumbent….. “Unquote.

    Response :So Dr Chee pledge to work harder??? Is Dr Chee working harder to sell his books? Like that how to win?

    And where is that Lim Tean after work? No more after work video from Lim Tean. Maybe he contracted a lot of coronavirus$$$ after GE????

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  • Worrying:

    That’s the issue. Who will admit defeat. They will think they are the best despite nothing changes much these 5-6 decades. People need to grow up naturally not unnaturally via force-feed policies and restrictions. Already seen the society getting twisted in their socio emotional behaviour. If we were to stick to the old ways, the people will be the saddest victims of no change. Sad.

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  • Pioneer:

    For the West Coast GRC and the East Coast GRC, which had a close win, I have a feeling when the time come for GE2025, the no-backbone EBRC will receive order from the supreme leeder to change the shapes of these 2 GRCs. They will tighten these two GRCs to prevent the loss of millions dallars ministeers. I hope Dr Tan (PSP) and Mr Pritam Singh (WP) are well aware and be prepared for it. Of course, I hope I am proven wrong when the time has arrived.

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  • Swing:

    The nearly 9% swing against PAP is more of the unhappiness on the ground rather than because of the Opposition.
    Likely from the group badly affected by the economy ,Pandemic and Poor Policy.
    The group that has difficulty to cope with the high cost of living and taking care of their family needs..unemployed or underemployed.

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  • HSK:

    HSK has done well…
    Doubt anyone could done better at East Coast GRC.
    He would get a solid result if he has stay at Tampines.
    He will make a good PM.

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  • fck u pap:

    Fark pap understand…..

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  • Harder Truths:

    Michael – thank you for calling out the despots.

    However I would disagree that the discontent can mar politics significantly.

    You see – we have a significant majority of ballsless who want someone else to vote for the opposition. How much of the discontent seen will evaporate next election I do not know. The number of real opposition on the grounds of national solidarity is very small. The rest are swing voters who will go back tp the pappy fold when they want. This is a historical fact. JBJ and CST can attest to that.

    In the ward of Ang Mo Kio the voter support for the incumbent was off the charts. Regardless of other issues people here in $G vote on how they personally prosper and benefit. They do not care about anyone not in their circle.

    An 83-10 showing IS a supermajority event. The people have spoken.

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  • Zhenzidan:

    PAP mandate strong:
    An auzzie?

    Same thing your country also dont handle Covid19 too well. Just a few steps slightly better.

    How about assessing how your country gov handled the forest fire last year ? How many acres of land burned and countless animals perished in the fire ?

    Forest fires? Do you know the sizes of the forest fires are many times bigger than the size of Singapore? You think PAP can handle?

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  • Lee of Son:

    If LEEdership transition was in place why was HSK not the pm now? Why is LHL remaining the pm?

    Was this all along planned?

    Were we taken for a ride ?

    At this rate will his son make it from Gov Tech to parliament?

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  • Heng ah Cambridge 's Mr. Bean:

    Q: Why will Mr. Bean not be running in East Coast again?

    A: Stupid! cos he’s bean there, done that, blurted his plans…

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  • Money representative:

    Actually no one knows why voters voted anyway.

    The reason is simple. Vote of everyone is a secret. If you say you do not believe in this, then you are part of the problem Alo since you think it’s not secret and everyone votes are known, and yet you accept the situation.

    Given the vote is secret, any educated guess is an educated guess. It’s unprovable assumptions. The assessments may be right, they may also be wrong or partly wrong. Even sampling interviews may be wrong eg. Exit polls. If you all a Singaporean, do you think all will tell you the truth especially if they voted against? And who is asking them ? Haha.

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  • DavidNeo&IreneVanessa:Bastards:

    Think they were gunnning for 70 to 75 %. That’s what constitutes a strong mandate.

    This one reluctant or lukewarm mandate?

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  • Opposition Leader appoint:

    Does the Opposition Leader come underthe pm office ?
    Who appointed him?

    Is Opposition leader of SG appointed by ruling party?
    And if so, no one question this?
    What happen to education system?

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  • PAP.GUARANTEE.FLOP.GE2024:

    People are discerning to agree with ang mo if something makes sense and disagree with ang mo if it’s nonsense.

    Lukewarm mandate with reservations.

    Democratic=free to do anything:
    Michael Barr is Ang Mo and there will be many Ang Mo Tua Kee (AMTK) suckers cum ass lickers here ever ready to agree with with him.

    Hokkien had a saying “own children fart smell nice other people’s children fart smell stink”.

    To the Ang Mo Tua Kee suckers like Oxygen, it is “Ang Mo fart smell nice Asian fart smell stink”

    The question is Michael Barr is not Asian and does not live in Singapore. So what does he knows ?

    We are Asians, we are Singaporeans, we Asians knows Asia better than the gay Ang Mo.

    We must continue to vote PAP and send the LGBT group to Democratic lawless island ROC Taiwan to sodomize whoever they like there.
    DPP MP王浩宇:對了,大家,我適GAY耶,我GAY,我喜歡跟男孩子肛肛 特別是13歲-16歲的
    (loosely translated: DPP王浩宇: I am gay. I love to poke teenage boy backside, especially 13 to 15 years old boys)
    https://matters.news/@VoiceOfDarkness/%E6%94%BF%E5%AE%A2%E7%B4%80%E5%AF%A6-%E7%8E%8B%E6%B5%A9%E5%AE%8701-zdpuAkaccbesfD8nDPtkNaR4Jj6FcCXv9muRGdVNp5LrXNhN4

    GE2024.PAP.Guarantee.Win.Again
    Majullah $PAP$ $PAP$ Huat$ Huat$ Huat$
    Lazy Singaporeans mustbe Cheaper, Better, Faster

    GD Star Rating
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  • Worse ahead if PAP cabinet ..:

    PAP survives thru another crisis, a lifeline for pap as intentionally hinted by Chan CS. Now PAP survival depends on correct choice of cabinet ministers by Heng. The worse will s pap id Heng chooses the following

    1 Sham will bring religios discord. His sliming of Malay MP of WP in th Parliament has Singaporeans talking about fake oath evidenced by pap working adversely from their oath. Sham dowry saga also has Hindu on edge
    2 Chan CS will totally deface LKY image esp internationally with his seemingly ludicrous relegating accountability from govt tosingaporeans to children to parents hinting his glorilla dynasty ambition by taking issue of filiality of IlKY three children n wiping off Lee nepotism to glorilla chanho dynasty. Besides his threat of alien import to dispace n replace Singaporeabpns from jobsn university is confirmatory to the desperate pap deny in GE 2020 rally
    3 grace n joe on their isplay of absurdity in justification of the By their stupidity in fiakIng good program though facts n figures r before the who.
    4 indranee one too many indians imposter for Malay n Chinese interests. Her lynching fiasco has Citizens Sick in tommy of his display of hrr sportcar ludicrous erotic link to a Brit Scumbag n her moronic legal nonsense of conflict of interest in the apptment of Lucien W to AGC?
    5 too many indian chiefs r unhealthy. Citizens may be cooled with top judicial appointment. Michael Khoo n Lim Tean will sooth the h.ot spots.
    6 detailed clarification of the 100 millions saga n truth of no court of laws on siblings ay be a usehful statement of what to expect from heng.
    7 dont uNderestmate n taking for granted the ceful expression of over 45% nonpp voters. Including pap voters. A puBlic call of no confidence in pap FG pap govt could become a reality with LKcY iMage wiped out on Sham intolerance oF OPPOSITION RAISING RELIgious isbsudn in pavrliament, a right n duty of mp to his constituents n citizenry. If a petition of no confidence is activated and publicised.International image which pap tried to fake n con on interbational media will explode like a time bomb.
    So Heng’s dec.ision to be independent n not second seat warmer like badly discredited GCT not only by the citizenry at large but also by the party as a useless n redundant in SIN politics!

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  • More Of The Same:

    PAP got the mandate.
    That few token oppositions cannot do much in parliament.
    Nothing much has changed.
    Sinkies just proven that they are incorrigible dafts.
    They like form more than substance.
    They have no balls to stomach any changes to status quo.
    Those few poor souls in parliament can bark their hearts out and the milking will continue.
    Educated dafts will get to enjoy more good years of screwing they asked for.

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  • CECA HENG:

    Was he unflattering performance in anyway
    due to more citizens learning his significant involvement in the CECA ?

    Is he the first DY PM who supposed to be the pm after a GE but never was?

    Yours
    Fan of WangSha YeFong

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  • oxygen:

    IF THEY LOST EAST COAST AND WEST COAST GRCs – PAPpypolitics entire edifice would have crumbled like the rubble of a collapsed building.

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  • Change We Must:

    Future election will see PAP getting around 60% or less of the total votes, getting more than 65% is history.

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  • The Winning Strategy is...:

    A titanic UNITED FRONT comprising PSP+SDP+PV (TCB+CSJ+LT)
    It’s undisputably THE BEST strategy.
    No marketing tools needed. Even You-tubing couldn’t help.

    Simply be UNITED.
    Otherwise, election results, STATUS QUO.

    The CHANGE must begin with UNITED FRONT.
    Failing to be United, serves ALL right!

    Time waits for no man.
    Disunity is a waste of time and effort, every 5 years.
    Wake Up Oppo Leaders!
    Wake Up!

    Realise your Big Mistake: Egoism and Egoistic Pursuit.

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  • LHL is a FAILURE:

    What made the defeat so bad was PAP the use of fear and BILLIONS of reserves to “buy votes” using the pandemic as a cover but still the PAP lost votes big time. It appears voters are a lot smarter so that fear and “loose change” / “table-scraps” (government handouts) are not enough. They se the value of having a significant opposition in Parliament. Steady increase in opposition MPs is in the cards. Voters now realize that competition is also good in politics. LKY’s paradigm for Singapore (fear, opaqueness and control of media) of the no longer works.

    It also clear why PAP limits the number of local graduates. They are a threat to PAP political dominance. The opposition parties now has plenty of well-educated, idealistic, vocal and confident Singaporeans. More and more of them will join the opposition parties. Regime change is in the cards because the PAP will never change because of hubris.

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  • uselesstankl:

    Voters in pioneer gen and merdeka gen had voted PAP, due to extra help they received in pension funding ,600 every 3 months to supplement their monthly CPF of 350, making 550 and some work part time as cleaners in offices at 800 or less.

    Thus their incomes plus above is 550+750(estimate) monthly =1.3k.

    It never occurred to these pioneer or merdeka gen that their offsprings are in trouble.

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