It was more quiet than usual back then

People dropping ballots into a box
Photo: Lim Weixiang

It was more quiet than usual back then: no physical rallies, stay-home audiences watching televised debates and pre-recorded speeches. The kind of election that gives voters more time to “reflect rationally on various issues” before voting (press release, Elections Department, 9 September 2015).

And the results of the vote? “GE2020: Most opposition parties see gains in vote share” (headline, The Straits Times, 12 July 2020). Journalist David Lee writes, “the Workers' Party created history by taking two group representation constituencies, and the new Progress Singapore Party (PSP) did well enough to win 40.85 per cent of valid votes for the 24 seats it contested, smaller parties rode the wave of opposition sentiment to better-than-expected results in Friday's election.”

One year on, in a media space similarly dominated by Covid-19, there is a strange understatedness to the GE2020 results. The blanket of Covid-19 has muffled more than the leadup and proceedings of GE2020, it has muffled the significance of GE2020.

But, GE2020 was a milestone election. An election that was called during a pandemic should have swung the vote in favour of stability and the status quo. What were in the minds of the electorate? Was it the backfire of certain political tactics – re: Raeesah Khan, SDP’s 10 million population claim, the conduct of the election during the onset of Covid-19? Or superior media strategies and tactics deployed by the opposition parties? Are we witnessing the diversification of an electorate that would reflect in more heterogeneous representation in future Parliaments?

The solidarity required of citizens and their governments in the face of Covid-19 becomes the more necessary as we attempt to resume social and economic activity. Let’s not mistake this as unthinking observance of rules and policies. In Singapore, the winds are shifting – as editors Terence Lee and Kevin Tan say, “readers will be able to observe that the major political shift in Singapore that started in 2011 is marching on, even amidst a Covid-19 pandemic.”

One year on, it is timely to revisit an election in which the opposition has established a hold, albeit a toehold, in a one-party stronghold; to study the undercurrents beneath the apparent political quiet. For this purpose, we present to you Voting in a Time of Change, a tribute of the editors and contributors to GE2020, on its first anniversary.


Kah Gay

(From July 7, 2021)

To receive more thoughtfully-penned weekly letters freshly delivered to your mailbox, subscribe to Attunement here: