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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Singapore General Elections 2011 - debriefing - PAP's 60% mandate

In the Singapore General Elections on Saturday, 7 May 2011, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) continued its winning streak by winning 76 out of the 82 contested seats. Together with the five walkover seats from Tanjong Pagar, it has 81 seats in Parliament for the next five years.

More significantly, voters gave it an overall 60.14% of the share of votes. This is the lowest vote share that the PAP has ever won since independence. The previous low was 61% in the 1991 elections. Back then, the economy was doing well, people were generally comfortable, and Goh Chok Tong had just taken over as Prime Minister, so perhaps that's why the people were more comfortable in giving the opposition a chance.

Vote share in reference to the number of participating voters

But I'd like to look at the PAP's 60.14% vote share from another perspective. This year, 82 out of 87 Parliamentary seats were contested by the opposition. This was unprecedented. For years, the opposition had always allowed the PAP to win half or more of the available seats, a strategy that was termed as the "by-election strategy". The belief was that when voters saw that the PAP had been returned to power on Nomination Day, then they would be more willing to vote for the opposition.

The flipside of this was that less than half of the electorate would have a chance to "speak up" through the ballot box. After the 2006 elections, I had worked out what was the effective vote share for the entire electorate. I had worked out that the 66.6% vote share that the PAP had won translated to only about 34.64% of the electorate share. And this was because about half of the electorate couldn't vote due to walkovers in their constituencies.

(Incidentally, in that five-year-old post, I had also correctly predicted PAP's loss of Aljunied!)

So in a way, because of the walkovers, no one has ever really had a good idea of the overall size of the ruling party's vote share, which would be the mandate that they were looking for. This year, the PAP got that answer. I haven't worked out the maths yet, but with 82 out of 87 contested seats, that means the overwhelming majority of Singaporean citizens were able to "speak up".

And that means the 60.14% vote share is a more accurate representation of the support that the PAP has nationwide than any vote share from previous elections. By extension, that is also the national approval level for its policies up to now.

This year, the reasons for the outcome were more clear-cut. The long simmering dissatisfaction with many of the PAP's policies, including the free-flow of foreigners and the rising cost of living highlighted by expensive housing and transport, resulted in voters handing the opposition with a bigger winning margin, not only in vote share, but also with 6 seats in Parliament, the most that the opposition has ever secured since independence.

To be fair, 60% is a respectable win in a multiparty democracy. I'm sure George Bush Junior would like that number very much! But when you consider this together with the narrow winning margins of several high profile ministers – and the loss of three ministers at Aljunied, it is no wonder that the PAP intends to do some serious soul-searching in the short-term.

In my next post, I will share a few thoughts about the narrow winning margins that the PAP obtained in Marine Parade, Tampines and Bishan-Toa Payoh.

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