Reflections Of GE2020 – 1 Year On…

Blurred photo of two people on a motorbike

Photo: Lim Weixiang

The past 12 months have flown by too quickly. It is now a year since the momentous General Election of 2020 (GE2020). I remember the incredible and collaborative effort taken by 15 of us in academia and professional practice to produce what I believe remains the most comprehensive and critical resource available on GE2020. I am referring to the book that I co-edited with Kevin YL Tan, Voting in a Time of Change: Singapore’s 2020 General Election, launched in March 2021 by Ethos Books. This book marked the completion of a decade-long trilogy that Kevin Tan and I have undertaken, beginning with the first ‘watershed’ election of 2011. The key reason why this term was applied is because the elections during the 1970s to the 1990s felt like ‘non-events’, with the PAP government returning to power even before the first vote was cast.

Yet, every election is a watershed moment, with some older leaders retiring and new ones entering the political fray. In much the same way, writing about a Singapore GE is also watershed because we get to offer a snapshot of each campaign, the issues that are foremost on the minds of voters and candidates, the heat and exchanges at the rallies and over the Internet (for 2020 especially), and much more. It allows us to track how the socio-political scene in Singapore has progressed – or perhaps regressed?

One year on, it does not appear that much has changed – unless we consider the appointment of Singapore’s first Opposition Leader in WP’s Pritam Singh or the withdrawal of Heng Swee Keat as the heir presumptive to the PM role as major changes. My own chapter in the book “Towards a Fourth Generation Leadership” speaks of this probability, but I did not anticipate this occurring so soon after the GE. The feeling that the Singapore boat is somewhat rudderless at this point in time seems palpable, although few are talking about it at this moment, as all attention is focused on fighting the invisible enemy that is Covid-19.

I have observed what I would describe in broad terms as an increased politicisation of private discourse in Singapore over the past year. Singaporeans have historically relied on the government to manage most aspects of life in Singapore, and Covid has heightened this reliance. Covid has also exposed the government to greater scrutiny than ever before. As a well-oiled machinery, the government is on course to ‘defeat’ Covid through its ‘VacciNation’ program, plus rely on fiscal means to shore-up economic gaps and emerge stronger from the pandemic. But it remains inconsistent and petty in social management, whether that comes in the form of communicative competence (in the way social media is managed and used as a public communication platform) or in dealing with race relations (of which there have been multiple episodes in recent times).

Going forward, what I believe Singaporeans want to see is genuine engagement and willingness to consider well-meaning feedback, even criticisms, especially from those who are deemed ‘loving critics’, so that issues are considered on their merits and people are as united as can be, regardless of race, language, religion, or indeed their political stripes. I’ll conclude by saying that our GE2020 book does offer some directions on where to start. :)

Terence Lee

(From 10 July, 2021)

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