Opposition parties’ call to deny PAP carte blanche resonates with voters
In the 2020 General Election, the call to deny the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) a “blank cheque” resonated with the electorate, who voted to increase the number of opposition MPs in Parliament.
The phrase came from then Workers’ Party candidate Jamus Lim, who in a televised debate with Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, said: “What we are trying to deny the PAP is not a mandate. What we’re trying to deny them is a blank cheque.”
The July 10 polls saw the Workers’ Party secure 10 of the 21 seats it contested, including its second group representation constituency in Sengkang. It also retained Aljunied GRC and Hougang, its single-seat stronghold.
Before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the early part of this year, leadership succession was to have been a defining issue in the general election.
The PAP had put in motion the plan to hand over from its third generation of leaders to the fourth generation waiting in the wings, while the WP too was looking to complete its transition from erstwhile chief Low Thia Khiang to current leader Pritam Singh.
There was to have been roaring rallies, walkabouts and other events where aspiring politicians would get to meet voters up close.
But by the time Singaporeans went to the polls in July, Covid-19 had transformed all aspects of life including the election, from campaigning to the messages that took centre stage.
With the pandemic bringing on the worst recession ever to hit the country since independence, the PAP focused on the message of saving lives and jobs, calling for a strong mandate to steer the country out of the crisis.
The WP, meanwhile, said the crisis and its unprecedented nature have made it all the more important for Singapore to have a credible alternative that can provide fair criticism to sharpen ideas and policies.
During the nine-day campaign that was largely held online – through online rallies, talk shows and also political broadcasts on TV – other opposition parties too would campaign on the notion of denying the PAP a blank cheque.
Some criticised the timing of the election, called on June 23, three weeks after Singapore exited the circuit breaker, saying that it would put voters at risk. As it would later emerge, there were no Covid-19 cases or clusters linked to GE2020.
Various PAP ministers hit back at the idea that the PAP could ever have a blank cheque to do as it wished, stressing that the party is accountable to the electorate and responsible for the people’s welfare.
PAP leaders such as Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah also countered that the Non-Constituency MP scheme guarantees a diversity of views and opposing voices in Parliament, regardless of whether opposition members are elected.
But former PAP MP Tan Cheng Bock, who was leading his newly set-up Progress Singapore Party in its electoral debut, described the NCMP scheme as a ploy to entice voters not to vote for the opposition.
Percentage of votes the PAP won in the 2020 General Election.
In a poll conducted by polling firm Blackbox Research released after the election was over, 47 per cent of 742 respondents agreed with the notion that “Singaporeans should not be giving the PAP a blank cheque”. The other 53 per cent agreed that the PAP needed a strong mandate to steer Singapore out of the coronavirus crisis.
On July 10, some 2.65 million people headed to the unusual polls, wearing masks and toting hand sanitisers. Seniors had dedicated time bands in which to vote, while others were given suggested time-bands to turn up, in a move meant to prevent overcrowding.
But some confusion among voters and polling agents alike on the rules resulted in long queues forming and nerves fraying at some polling centres. In the end, voting hours, scheduled to end by 8pm, were extended to 10pm.
The PAP won 83 of the 93 seats contested, with 61.24 per cent of votes, 8.7 points down from its 69.9 per cent vote share in 2015.
After the results were announced, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the electorate had shown a clear desire for a diversity of voices in Parliament.
He also said Mr Singh would be designated as the official Leader of the Opposition, marking another first for Singapore in an election for the history books.