Change In Voting: Singapore’s 2015 General Election, is the first book that attempts to interpret and make sense of the General Election on Sept. 11 last year.
Written, edited and completed in just four months, it was a commendable effort by 16 academics and scholars.
This title is a play on the title of a book previously published right after GE2011, called Voting In Change.
A few chapters of the book stood out, offering insightful observations of the GE 2015 campaign.
Rally field notes by a sociologist
One particular highlight was sociologist Terence Chong’s field notes at the rallies. Titled, “At the Rallies in 2015”, Chong noticed “a distinct absence of anger and bitterness at government policies in 2015, compared to 2011″.
Chong also observed that the rallies of 2015 were “spaces of rehabilitation” pointing out the rehabilitation of the image of Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan as an example. Another example was the rehabilitation of dialects, with People’s Action Party (PAP) and Opposition candidates using the dialects to connect with the electorate.
Analysis on voting behaviour
A must-read chapter for the politicians is politics professor Bridget Welsh’s analysis on voting behaviour in Singapore, with Welsh citing the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS)’s post GE 2015 survey and her own Welsh GE2015 poll as references.
For instance, Welsh noticed that voters under 30 (19% of the electorate) voted for the PAP in high numbers, higher than those of that age-group in GE2011. Welsh also observed that the level of anger and disgruntlement among youth dropped. Another interesting observation by Welsh was a finding that Singaporeans under-30 were the most critical of the opposition, with 54% not seeing the opposition as effective in Parliament.
Of all ethnic communities, Welsh noted that the Malays had the greatest potential to turn away from the PAP in the future, as they express the highest dissatisfaction with the GE 2015 outcome, with 71% believing that the opposition post-GE 2015 was inadequately strong.
Observations on the diverging rhetoric and style of senior PAP leaders
Loke Hoe Yeong, an associate fellow at the European Union Centre in Singapore and the author of veteran opposition MP Chiam See Tong’s biography, provided a shrewd and succinct account of the parties and personalities involved in GE 2015.
With his political experiences at opposition Singapore People’s Party (SPP), Loke was able to appreciate and notice the diverging rhetoric and style among the Ministers and senior PAP leaders – Deputy Prime Minister Thaman Shanmugaratnam; Ministers Ng Eng Hen, K Shanmugam; and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.
For example, Loke noted that Tharman was “perhaps the most admired PAP leader of the campaign, was praised for his gentlemanly, rational approach in responding to the opposition” and added that “other PAP protagonists compared poorly to Tharman on this measure”.
Some suggestions for the next book
There is a sense that the authors were confronted with a “What do we write now?” moment after the ruling party’s landslide victory. But they decided to double down and continue to focus on the issues such as housing, foreigners, transport and education.
Instead of focusing on housing, transport and education as the main GE 2015 issues, one of the scholars could attempt to unpack the Lee Kuan Yew factor a bit more. Another topic worth exploring was the whole town council saga. The sample count, a GE night MVP, wasn’t discussed by any of the observers. The newspapers and television, like the online and social media, played equally important roles in shaping perceptions and opinions, but received no mentions in the book.
Some parts of the book also lack the incisiveness in writing that Lee and Tan’s earlier book, Voting In Change: Politics Of Singapore’s 2011 General Elections, offered. One misses the quality of analysis offered by contributors of the earlier book – Alex Au, Cherian George, Eugene Tan.
Let’s hope Lee and Tan’s GE 2020 book will be the best of the GE books trilogy.
Change in Voting – Singapore’s 2015 General Election is published by Ethos Books and is available for sale online.
Top photo from Ethos Book Facebook