Singapore: Post-Election Blues


Dr Terence Lee

Following the General Election on 6 May 2006, a flurry of announcements and undertakings were made by various political/policy actors in Singapore. As a result, the months of May, June and July 2006 in Singapore were marked by what could be described as 'post-election blues'.

Among these, defamation suits involving opposition leader Dr Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and on this occasion, his sister and fellow opposition candidate Ms Lee Siok Chin, commenced shortly after the election results were finalised. In relation to the Chee siblings, there is widespread expectation that SDP will be wound up permanently and Ms Chee will be 'blacklisted' and made to join Dr Chee on the bankruptcy register.

The media in Singapore also began a series of 'post-mortem' reporting on the performances of the various political parties at the recent hustings. Speculations about the impending rise of political opposition and the limits of the incumbent People's Action Party (PAP) government's ability to dangle promises-of-estate-upgrading carrots to win votes were rife. So were talks about why the next election - due within five years' time in 2010/11 - is the really crucial one to watch because of the 'coming of age' of new and more impressionable young voters (known as the post-65ers in Singapore's political lexicon) as well as the fact that the controversial casinos would be up and running, and therefore open to public scrutiny, by the time.

Like many other public debates in Singapore, these discussions are often gestural 'talkfests', which melt into thin air as soon as the pragmatic realities of the nation's economic needs and challenges are brought to the table. The point, though, is that it is always fun to talk about what could or should have been after the curtain has been drawn to a close. A classic example of this can be found in a speech made by the Information and Communications Minister, Lee Boon Yang, on 31 May 2006 where he hinted that the government will consider how blogs, podcasts and other new media devices could be given more leeway at the next election.

Perhaps more interesting and significant were the results from a post-election survey conducted by the government-funded Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), which found that the so-called bread-and-butter issues were not the main concern of voters. The IPS findings contradicted popular beliefs that Singaporeans are a pragmatic lot, primarily concerned with the cost of living, jobs and material well-being. Instead, the top concerns were the need for an efficient government and fairness of government policy, including the need for more alternative and plural political views and other issues that could be described - and often have been dismissed by PAP leaders in the past - as idealistic or ideological.

Although the respondents to the survey reiterated their continued support for the PAP to retain power, they also seized the opportunity to make clear their collective desire for good governance to encompass not only efficiency, but also principles of accountability and fairness. Although several ministers have expressed doubts about the veracity of the IPS findings, they nevertheless represent statistical and qualitative feedback that the Lee administration would do well to take into account for the future.

With the National Day celebratory month of August just around the corner, post-election blues in Singapore will come to a 'natural' end. It will be replaced by 'good news', mostly about economic good times ahead, as Singapore pauses to celebrate its 41st year of independence.

WATCHPOINT: With economic growth expected to hit the upper end of the 5-7 per cent full-year forecast, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will have a reasonably glowing economic report card for the nation as he prepares for his 3rd National Day Rally speech in the latter half of August 2006. However, as Singapore's exposure to the weakening global economy will mean that growth is likely to slow from the second half of 2006 onwards, it would be interesting to see where - and how - tightening policies will be applied.


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