A general election was held in Singapore on May 7, 2011. Singapore’s Parliament has 87 elected members who will be joined by up to three non-constituency members (NCMPs) and nine nominated MPs (NMPs).
Singapore is an illiberal democracy, and is much closer to a ‘meritocracy’ or ‘technocracy’ than a traditional liberal democracy. Singapore has been ruled since 1959 by the People’s Action Party (PAP) and between then and 1990 by the PAP’s Lee Kuan Yew, the dominant figure of Singaporean politics. His eldest son, Lee Hsien Long, has been PAP leader and Prime Minister since 2004. The PAP, originally a socialist anti-colonialist party, quickly transformed into an anti-communist right-wing party of power. Its policies have transformed Singapore into the economic powerhouse of southeast Asia and one of the wealthiest countries in the whole of Asia, albeit at the expense of free speech, civil liberties and liberal democracy. Though broadly right-wing and favouring neoliberal economic measures to establish a meritocratic civil society, the PAP has made use of generous spending instruments and economic interventionism to cement its dominance.
The electoral system also cements its dominance. Most of the elected MPs are elected in gerrymandered Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) which are multi-member constituencies with 4 to 6 MPs each. Voters in each GRCs vote for a party list, and in an electoral college-like way, the winning list (even if it is by one vote) takes all seats. Obviously, such stuff helps cement the PAP’s dominance. There are 15 GRCs in this election. There are also 12 single-member seats (SMCs) in this election. Since 1984, there are up to three NCMPs, which are opposition members nominated to serve in Parliament despite losing in the election. Normally the best-performing loser is nominated to Parliament, and there is currently only one NCMP. Propaganda and other blatant advantages help the PAP, but the divided opposition has been on an upswing since 2006. The largest opposition force is the socialist Workers’ Party (WP), with smaller parties including the National Solidarity Party, the liberal Singapore Democratic Party, the new liberal Reform Party, the liberal Singapore People’s Party and the declining broad liberal front Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA).
In 2006, the PAP took 82 of 84 seats with the WP and SDA winning one SMC each. The WP also got a NCMP.
Traditionally, the opposition does not even contest most GRCs and a lot of SMCs, with only 47/84 seats contested in 2006. This year, only one GRC (Tanjong Pajar) remained uncontested and 5 PAP MPs including Lee Kuan Yew were elected by walkover – the lowest number of uncontested seats since the 1960s. Furthermore, that GRC was left uncontested only because the opposition was “35 seconds late” in handing in nomination papers. The results are:
PAP 60.14% (-6.46%) winning 81 seats (-1)
WP 12.82% (-3.52%) winning 6 seats (+5)
NSP 12.04% (ex-SDA) winning 0 seats (nc)
SDP 4.83% (+0.76%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Reform 4.28% (new) winning 0 seats (nc)
SPP 3.11% (ex-SDA) winning 0 seats (-1) + 1 likely NCMP
SDA 2.78% (-10.21%) winning 0 seats (nc)
These results don’t mean much, but it’s a huge morale boost for the opposition. The ruling PAP has suffered its worst result since 1968, and for the first time the opposition has won a GRC. The WP slate won 5-member Aljunied GRC with 54.7% of the vote, a swing of over 10% towards the WP. In doing so, it defeated two sitting PAP cabinet ministers including Foreign Minister George Yeo. It also held the old opposition stronghold of Hougang SMC, held by the WP since 1991, with a record 64.8% of the vote. The opposition, however, represented by the SPP, lost Potong Pasir SMC where Lina Chiam has been unable to succeed her husband’s seat, which he has held since 1984. The opposition won 49.6% there. It also came close in Joo Chiat SMC (49%, a 14% swing to it) and East Coast GRC (45.2%, a 9% swing to it).