By Sarah Medeiros
Singapore held snap elections this past September, an event reminiscent of the nation’s elections held immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. In both cases, the ruling party won overwhelmingly. Much like everyone in the United States, the island nation was awash with grief for the fallen. Also, terrified for their own safety, Singapore citizens gave the People’s Action Party a higher percentage of parliamentary seats that year.
This is the party of Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s enigmatic founder, who held power from 1959 until 1990 and whose son is the current prime minister. The party has continued to hold sway in the intervening time, deviating only a few seats and percentage points here and there until the elections of 2011, which saw the P.A.P.’s share of votes dip to only 60 percent for the first time in its history. Although both the world and the media landscape have changed greatly since 2001, there are similarities in the two unplanned votes.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for a snap election to be held on the anniversary of Sept. 11, and his decision to call the election at that time was probably a calculated one. In March, his well-loved father passed away, sending the whole country into mourning.
Lee Kuan Yew is widely credited with turning Singapore into the successful nation it is today, with the third highest gross domestic product per capita in the world (almost double the G.D.P. of the U.S.). Not only was this month’s election the first after his death, but it also followed weeks of celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Singapore as an independent nation.
PM Lee likely timed the vote to capitalize on a renewed sense of national pride, concerns about the future of the country without its stalwart founder and fears about Singapore’s financial stability as China’s economy continues to fluctuate. Although many analysts seemed unsurprised about this swing back to the P.A.P. in the years since the 2011 drop, crediting the nation’s “silent majority” with the decisive victory, the way the battle is portrayed in the media is particularly interesting.
The Straits Times, Singapore’s leading English-language newspaper, was largely measured about the election results, permitting editorials on the subject. Like most of the press in Singapore, it’s monitored by the government and lacks the freedom to outright criticize the P.A.P.. Certain Singaporean analysts and opinion writers imply that age might be a factor in the disparity between the vocal online community, which favored a measured uptick in opposition representation, and the governing party supporters.
Annabelle Liang for the Associated Press notes that the new, younger voters take Singapore’s prosperity, stability and safety for granted, and the relatively quiet P.A.P. support online is what adds to frequent discussions of “the silent majority” in articles about the results. In addition to traditional articles, however, is social media itself; an entire page within The Straits Times’ “GE2015” section is dedicated to citizens’ reactions to the election across multiple online sites.
Since Sept. 1, people have used the #GE2015 hashtag 42,962 times (as of September 17), and the Times also provides a theoretical breakdown of the hashtag users’ political leanings (although it gives no notation of how they determine this). Certain social media sites, such as Snapchat and Tumblr (both of which have young user bases), were not noted on The Straits Times’s page. Twitter is relatively mainstream now, but Instagram’s user base skews young, and as such many pictures from that site include tags along the lines of #votingvirgin.
Many people proudly posted pictures of their ballot stubs, and others included snaps from the Sept. 9 opposition rallies. One Singaporean, Lester J Wan (les_weekender), included a strongly worded statement about the P.A.P. and how he would never vote for a party that ruled with “an unaccountable monopoly as well as their creative approach to ‘history.’” The picture, however, was a joking reference to a character from Marvel’s recent blockbuster The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
As a Catholic, and someone who disagrees with 5 decades of an unaccountable monopoly as well as their creative approach to 'history', this ruling party will never get my vote. Not sure if I'm cynical or disillusioned though, but I believe a large proportion of Singaporeans will not make their vote count or put their money where their mouth is. I remember Cheng San. Again, whatever the result, I pray for a more just, caring and life-giving Singapore, as well as more accountable governance. Lord, thy kingdom come. P.S. Look which Nordic hero I saw at the rally 😀 #rally #politics #sgpolitics #opposition #oppositionparty #workersparty #wp #thetimestheyareachangin #wegottoprayjusttomakeittoday #thykingdomcome #catholic #singapore #sg #igsg #singaporean #sg50 #ge2015 #generalelections #thefutureofsingapore #hammertime #letthehammerfall #thor #jbj #democraticsocietybasedonjusticeandequality #andjusticeforall #majulahsingapura #pritamsingh #sylvialim #lowthiakiang #hetingru
The Singapore media, both traditional and social, in essence had little effect on the results of the election. It is the history of the nation that explains the election results: Singaporean citizens tend to turn to a familiar figure when faced with uncertainty.
In the 2001 snap elections, the P.A.P. took 75.3 percent of the votes, and a week ago they closed the polls with 69.86 percent. The governing party lost quite a few seats since 2001, but for the moment Singapore’s “traditionally risk-averse” population has renewed their mandate for another five years.