SINGAPORE – The People’s Action Party won a clear mandate with a “solid majority” of 61.2 per cent of the votes at the general election, though the result was lower than the 65 per cent it had hoped for, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.
That four percentage point gap translates to roughly about 100,000 votes lost, said the PAP central executive committee member on Saturday (July 18).
Speaking to reporters at the PAP’s Bedok headquarters during a press conference that was also live-streamed to party activists, Mr Wong sought to put the election results in context, and set out several reasons for the PAP’s performance.
Firstly, the Workers’ Party ran a good campaign that spoke to the desire of many voters to have more checks and balances in Parliament, he said.
This year also saw the emergence of the Progress Singapore Party, which cut into the PAP’s western strongholds.
Another contributing factor was that the PAP’s online campaign did not connect well with voters, Mr Wong noted.
“We tried our best,” he said. “We produced a lot of good content online, but not all of this connected with netizens – especially on newer platforms like Instagram and Telegram.”
He added: “And as with a normal campaign, the negative messages carry further reach than positive messages, and this is further accentuated on the Internet.”
Mr Wong noted that much of the post-election commentary has focused on younger voters and how they have turned away from the PAP.
But voters in their 20s and 30s only make up a third of the electorate, with first-time voters aged between 21 and 24 making up less than 10 per cent of the vote.
“So the swing against the PAP was not concentrated solely amongst the young. And it was not just unhappiness about the PAP style of campaigning, or how we talked about race, or Pofma,” he said, referring to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.
“In particular, there was a fall in support amongst those in their 40s and 50s, and perhaps even those in their early 60s.”
This group of older voters swung against the PAP due to economic hardship, Mr Wong said. They included people who had suffered income or job losses, had their businesses disrupted, or been forced to downsize to lower-paying occupations.
“This is quite understandable,” he said. “Although we have made great efforts to lessen the pain and impact, there has been severe disruption to jobs and families.”
The ruling party also saw support fall among those who lived in private property, perhaps because they felt they were not sufficiently supported during the crisis, Mr Wong added.
“But we should also recognise that this was a clear mandate, and that voters want a PAP government,” he said.
“The outcome could also have been worse, especially given the difficulties that people were facing on the ground.”
Mr Wong also made the point that the PAP is unlikely to win more than 65 per cent of the vote in future general elections, and that its goal for the next election will be to close that gap of four percentage points.
This is because the electorate’s desire for diversity in Parliament and for checks and balances is permanent, he said.
“It is here to stay. And we must be prepared for this new reality.”
The minister added that the party will conduct a thorough review of GE2020.
He also identified two areas that the PAP will have to work on, the first of which is to better understand and connect with younger voters.
“We need to connect with them and be a party that is able to represent their aspirations and bond with them,” he said.
The PAP will also have to address the “real economic pain” that significant segments of society are feeling, he added.