By Mason Quah
FOR the first time since independence, Singapore has appointed an Official Leader of the Opposition in recognition of the unprecedented 10 MPs belonging to the Worker’s Party.
Pritam Singh will be granted staff resources and access to data not previously held by opposition parties and allowed to form a shadow cabinet offering alternative policy proposals.
Singh’s party has held the unofficial opposition role since 2006 under the leadership of Low Thia Khiang.
Previous opposition leaders have not been granted access to emergency briefings and state functions beyond those granted to a typical MP.
The momentum wielded by the Worker’s Party is unlikely to break the supermajority of the People’s Action Party, but can still challenge them in other ways according to a Policy Expert.
Redaction Politics consulted Mustafa Izzuddin, Senior International Affairs Analyst at Solaris Strategies Singapore and Senior Lecturer at the National University of Singapore.
Rather than denying the PAP the majority, Izzuddin sees the goal of the Worker’s Party as dedicated opposition, providing robust debate and forcing the PAP to perform harder in competition against them.
“The PAP will need to take it a notch higher in terms of how it governs and how it performs in elections.
“At some point we might call it a one-and-a-half party system and I think this is what the opposition is realistically moving towards.”
The long awaited transition from the 3G to 4G leadership is unlikely to be disrupted by the election result or the pandemic.
“It is not a political tradition to hand over leadership of the country just after an election: it is likely to take place one or two years after the election has been won.
“If you wanted a forecasting you would be looking at the midpoint of 2021, 2022.”
Cabinet appointments have been carried forward from the previous parliament to ensure continuity of leadership during the pandemic. For the first time they may see formal opposition from a shadow cabinet formed by the opposition party.
The performance of the shadow cabinet will be an important test on the ability of the opposition, measuring their ability not only to put forward different viewpoints to the PAP but to provide firm policy stances that can be compared critically to cabinet policy.
The pandemic provided unique challenges to the democratic process, but failed to impede voter turnout reaching a record breaking ninety six per cent.
Voters were assigned recommended time bands to attend polling stations, in an attempt to minimise crowding and prevent at risk elderly from interacting with younger and self-isolating voters.
This stratification coincides with the different political interests of the younger and older generations.
“What this election has shown is that bread and butter issues remain important but at the same time you need to also talk about other issues. Issues that are more national in nature and that have a global perspective.
“I’m talking about things like environment, sustainable development, climate change, social inequality, liberalisation of the political landscape.
“These are issues that first time young voters are interested in. That’s not to say they haven’t been mentioned in the elections but these points will have to be taken on more going forward.”
In 2019 PM Lee raised the significance of climate change to the Island nation, estimating that $100 billion would be needed in protections against rising sea levels.
A great amount of the political campaign machinery transitioned to online spaces in the pandemic, allowing for these more diverse discussions to play out over social media.
“Social media has become a mainstay of Singapore politics. It has been used in 2015 and 2011 as well.
“Because of the pandemic it has become even more prominent. You will see a greater use of social media as more young people are voting for the first time, but it is not the exclusive preserve of the young.
“It is not the case that young voters are all voting for the opposition, but I think what they want is to raise the bar for debate and make it more robust.”
The outcomes of the election appear to broadly mirror the rhetoric deployed going in: the PAP’s mandate is still uncontested by the Singapore’s electorate, but it is no longer a blank cheque.
The formal opposition is going to be setting the bar for both the PAP and the smaller opposition parties.
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