Singapore’s ruling party wins general election

Singapore’s ruling party has won general elections in the latest polling to be held during the coronavirus pandemic, but gained one of the lowest shares of the popular vote in the country’s history.

The People’s Action party — which has been in power since 1959 — early on Saturday won elections with 61 per cent of the vote. While securing a super majority in the 93-seat parliament, the PAP’s vote share was close to the record low of 60 per cent hit in 2011.

“We have a clear mandate,” said Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister. “But the percentage of the popular vote is not as high as I had hoped for and we lost one GRC [group representation constituency, a division where teams of candidates rather than individuals run for election]. Nevertheless, the result reflects broad-based support for the PAP.”

The opposition almost doubled its parliamentary seats, with the Workers’ party increasing its number of elected candidates from six to 10, the highest number since Singapore held its first general election as an independent nation in 1968.

In addition to defending two constituencies, the Workers’ party won a third, the newly created electoral district named Sengkang. This is only the second GRC to be secured by the opposition since 1968.

“The results appear surprising at first glance but it’s actually a continuity of trends established in 2011,” said Kevin Tan, adjunct professor at the National University of Singapore. “What was accomplished in 2015 was exceptional in being buoyed by the outpouring of emotion as a result of SG50 [Singapore’s 50th independence anniversary] and [founding father] Lee Kuan Yew’s death.”

The team led by Heng Swee Keat, deputy prime minister and finance minister, won Singapore’s East Coast electoral district by a margin of 7 per cent, among the PAP’s lowest in this election. Mr Heng is largely seen as Singapore’s leader in waiting, with Mr Lee indicating he would step down when he turns 70 in 2022.

The PAP also had a thin winning margin in one of its strongholds in western Singapore, where the newly formed opposition Progress Singapore party — which was joined by Mr Lee’s estranged brother Lee Hsien Yang — lost by just 3 per cent.

The quasi-authoritarian democracy is the latest country to vote amid the pandemic. While the daily number of new cases has been contained in the past few weeks, an outbreak in Singapore’s migrant worker dormitories earlier this year propelled the city-state’s number of cases to one of the highest in the region. It has reported 45,613 infections and 26 deaths. 

Authorities implemented safety precautions at polling stations including temperature screening, the use of contact-tracing apps and recommended voting slots to help avoid overcrowding. 

But for the first time in Singapore’s history, the elections department extended voting hours from 8pm to 10pm to ensure everyone could cast their vote amid long queues at “a small number of polling stations”.

Long queues formed at polling stations, particularly in the morning, due in part to additional safety measures, authorities said.

Opposition parties criticised the voting extension. Tan Cheng Bock, the PSP’s secretary-general, said the last-minute change was “highly irregular and compromises the integrity of the process”.

Paul Tambyah, chairman of the Singapore Democratic party, said issues during polling — such as scrapping voters’ use of gloves because of delays — showed the “recklessness and opportunism” in holding an election during the pandemic.