Friday, 6 November 2015

GE2015: IPS Post-Election Conference

GE2015: 7 takeaways from IPS post-election conference that explain PAP's performance
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2015

A post-election conference by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) brought together top academics and researchers on Singapore politics.

Different surveys and studies were presented at the meeting to explain the results of the Sept 11 General Election.

Here are the highlights of the day's proceedings that shed some light on why the People's Action Party (PAP) performed much better in 2015 than in 2011.


Both the Post-Election Survey and Perceptions Of Governance Survey initiated by IPS show Singaporeans increasingly believe there is a need for checks and balances, differing views and opposition members in Parliament.

But why did this not translate into higher votes for the opposition? Dr Gillian Koh of the IPS suggested that even though political pluralism had become more important in voters' minds, other issues - like the ruling party's peformance since the 2011 polls - still took precedence.

Similarly, National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser explained that it was an issue of "rating and ranking". Even though checks and balances may be rated higher now, its ranking was still below other considerations such as efficient government and government help for the needy.


Much of the 9.8 percentage point swing to the PAP was due to middle- and higher-income earners backing the political status quo, a shift from the 2011 election when these groups showed a greater desire for political pluralism.

While there was a general fall in support for political diversity this time round, the sharpest drop was seen among those with at least post-secondary education, lower-middle to high-income households, and four-room flat dwellers.

This finding dovetails with reports from the ground. For instance, the WP noticed that support in private housing areas and blocks with larger HDB units waned considerably this time round when compared with 2011.

In addition, the IPS survey confirmed the common understanding that those with higher socio-economic status were likelier to desire political pluralism. With even this voter bloc - which is usually more prone to vote for the opposition - swinging to the PAP so decisively, it is little wonder the ruling party scored 69.9 per cent of the popular vote.


Social media and alternative sites on the Internet - which started off as hotbeds for expressing dissatisfaction - may be expanding its influence over time, but television and newspapers have not slipped into irrelevance. Instead, mainstream media is still the most trusted source of election-related information, according to three separate surveys, including the Study On Internet And Media Use During GE2015.

Almost all social media users also use mainstream media, and more than 70 per cent found that television, newspapers, radio stations and their affiliated websites were "moderately trustworthy to very trustworthy".

This means social media does not exist in a vacuum and users view it as part of the palette of information that can be relied on.


Conventional wisdom holds that social media is the great communication leveller that has allowed the opposition to get its message out and spread non-Establishment information. But since 2011, the PAP's Facebook page has grown its number of followers by four times to 164,000, the highest number among all political parties. Even the WP, which by most accounts ran a slick social media campaign in GE2015, comes in at a distant second, with 93,000.

The PAP stepped up its social media engagement tremendously after the Punggol East by-election in January 2013. In the last two years, it consistently posted between 200 and 450 times a month on its Facebook page, reaching peak levels during events such as National Day and the death and mourning of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The WP rarely hit 100 posts a month during the same period.


The Workers' Party-run town council has been under fire from PAP leaders for about two years over financial governance, but the survey findings show it was second-last on a list of 18 issues. It seemed the opposition party's reputation was also not affected, with 71 per cent of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that it was a credible party, an improvement from 56 per cent in 2011.

But a closer look at the numbers show voters were split on the issue of the financial governance of the former Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council. About 47 per cent thought it to be "not important at all" or "not important" while 44 per cent said it was "important" or "very important", with 9 per cent staying neutral. For the WP, which barely clung to its crown jewel Aljunied GRC with 50.9 per cent of the vote, these numbers are no doubt too close for comfort.


That the PAP and opposition voters do not agree on the issues of the day is no surprise. But delving into specifics show where the divergences are most stark.

To illustrate, some explanation is needed of the survey methodology of the Perceptions Of Governance Survey. Respondents were asked to rate on a scale of one to nine their satisfaction level.

For issues that are the long-term strong suits of the PAP Government such as law and order, defence and national security, prevention of corruption, crisis management, and relations between races, the difference between the PAP and opposition voters was between 1.06 and 1.86.

Even opposition voters gave government performance in these areas scores of between 5.6 and 6.21.

But for questions on fairness of election laws and the electoral system, and the objectivity of the mainstream media, there was a variance of 2.54 to 2.99. On whether policies are beneficial and whether the Government understands Singaporeans' concerns, there was a difference of 2.50 and 2.54.

This hints at a polarisation of views on bread-and-butter issues as well as fairness of the electoral system, a concern that should be noted by the ruling party.


About 46 per cent of Singaporeans made their decision on who to vote for on Nomination Day or after, according to a survey on late decision makers.

Out of this significant chunk of voters, 73.5 per cent ended up voting for the PAP while 26.5 per cent backed the opposition. This closely mirrors those who made up their minds early: 73.2 per cent for the PAP and 26.8 per cent for the opposition.

This contrasts with 2011, when 66 per cent of late decision makers voted for the PAP while 34 per cent voted for the opposition. For those who decided before Nomination Day, it was 76.4 per cent for the PAP and 23.6 per cent for the opposition.

The data suggests that the opposition was much less effective in persuading Singaporeans to vote for them during the campaign period this time round. Many more late decision makers voted for the opposition than early decision makers in 2011, but it was not the case this year.


The PAP won back a broad swath of voters in the latest polls. But the effect was doubly felt because the middle- to higher-income voters, those who usually placed greater emphasis on political diversity than the rest of the population, swung strongly to the incumbents.

The ruling party also moved in the last two years to stake their ground online and on social media, which were associated more often with the opposition before the latest general election.

Changes in government policies to address Singaporeans' concerns about issues such as public transport and housing prices also helped negate the rise in desire for political diversity.

The campaign period also did not work to the opposition's favour this year as it did in 2011.

These combined to deliver a sharp recovery for the PAP from its lowest vote share since independence of 60.1 per cent in 2011.

'Shift towards PAP among the better-off'
Survey finds vote swing in GE2015 likely due to middle- and higher-income earners backing political status quo
By Chong Zi Liang and Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2015

The nationwide vote swing of 9.8 percentage points to the People's Action Party (PAP) in the Sept 11 General Election (GE) was likely due to middle- as well as higher- income earners backing the political status quo, a shift from GE2011 when these groups showed a strong desire for political pluralism.

This was among the key findings of a survey of 2,015 voters by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) which was discussed at its post-GE conference yesterday.

GE2011 saw the PAP's share of the popular vote fall to 60.1 per cent from 66.6 per cent in GE2006.

In GE2015, its share rose to 69.9 per cent, to the surprise of many.

The biggest shift towards the PAP came from those aged 21 to 29, and those aged 65 and older. This could have been a result of policies making it easier for young couples to buy a home and the $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package launched last year, said IPS senior research fellow Gillian Koh, who led the survey team.

The survey by IPS, which conducted similar surveys after GE2006 and GE2011, shows that while there was a general drop in support for political diversity this time, the steepest fall was among those with at least post-secondary education, lower- middle to high-income households, and four-room flat dwellers.

"Need for efficient government" was the top priority on a list of 18 issues, with 98.5 per cent rating it as "important" or "very important".

Also, at least 90 per cent deemed "government help for the needy", "fairness of government policy" and "cost of living" as "important" or "very important".

Still, the need for checks and balances and different views in Parliament was increasingly acknowledged, even among those grouped as conservative, compared with the GE2006 and GE2011 surveys.

But factors like the Government addressing 2011 hot-button issues, such as high housing prices, may have trumped the desire for political diversity at the ballot box, said Dr Koh. For some voters, support for pluralism is "actually conditional to whether they feel the incumbent has performed well... in terms of its policies and what it was able to deliver", she added.

The IPS survey found that some factors thought to have improved the PAP's performance, like the legacy of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who died in March, may not have mattered as much. Mr Lee's legacy ranked low on voters' minds relative to other issues, although it was more important to those born before 1965 and the lower income.

The controversy over the Workers' Party (WP)-run town council, which had come under fire from PAP leaders since two years before the election, was second-last on the list of issues in the survey.

The WP's credibility remained high, with 71 per cent of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that it was a credible party. About 56 per cent of respondents thought the same way in 2011.

A separate IPS survey found that hot-button issues like the cost of living, which headlined the 2011 polls, continued to dominate GE2015.

But policy changes in the interim have reduced the temperature of such issues.

Still, this Perceptions of Governance Survey found people were least satisfied with government performance in the areas of cost of living, rich-poor gap, housing affordability and immigration policy.

These issues almost matched the list of factors Singaporeans said influenced their vote the most: cost of living, affordability of housing and healthcare as well as meeting retirement needs.

The areas where the Government did well were largely security-related, such as law and order, defence and crisis management.

The online survey of 3,000 voters was conducted in three waves, from before Nomination Day until a week after Polling Day.

A co-leader of the research team, National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser, said the vote swing was due to greater risk and uncertainty in the world today. It led to a flight to security and bread-and-butter issues, although Singaporeans still embraced democracy as an abstract idea.

"People have become more concerned about security because they can sense there's more global competition, more talk about trade-offs and how you can't have your cake and eat it all the time," he said.

"In my view, that's the X-factor that can account for why voters swung back to the PAP."

The survey also found a stark difference between PAP and non-PAP voters on some issues. For instance, when asked to rate the statement, "The Government does what is right for Singapore", on a scale of one to nine, PAP voters' average score was 6.72, against non-PAP voters' 4.04.

"There is some amount of polarisation," Dr Tan noted.

3Rs played key role in vote swing: Law don
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2015

The resilience shown by the People's Action Party (PAP), following its setback in the 2011 General Election, is a key reason for the nearly 10-point jump in its vote share in GE2015, observers at a post-election conference said yesterday.

Elaborating, law don and former Nominated MP Eugene Tan said it can be boiled down to what he calls the three Rs: responsiveness to feedback and ground sentiment, resourcefulness in trying new strategies to engage voters, and resoluteness in wanting to maintain one- party dominance.

These, combined with a misreading of the electorate by opposition parties, led to voters flocking to the PAP, he said at the meeting organised by the Institute of Policy Studies. Singaporeans' desire for incremental political change, as shown in the latest IPS surveys, also suggests one-party dominance will continue in the foreseeable future.

He said economic uncertainties in the world and problems in neighbouring countries led to a flight to safety as voters viewed the PAP's track record more positively.

Economist Randolph Tan, also a former Nominated MP, said: "Taking everything into consideration, voters decided that maybe the rather strong criticism on social media of the ruling party's performance could have been a bit overblown, and they decided... to compensate for it."

A grassroots leader at the conference, however, felt the opposition's decision not to take part in the Government's engagement efforts, like the Our Singapore Conversation, may have contributed to its misreading of ground sentiment.

He said organisations, such as the People's Association (PA) and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), are effective entities through which the Government can consult widely without having to rely on the opposition for feedback.

Agreeing, Assoc Prof Eugene Tan said opposition parties need to play a more active role in public forums instead of remaining "cesspools of political discontent" if they did not want to slide into irrelevance.

He noted that there have been renewed calls, including from some in the PAP, for greater opposition engagement in the public and policymaking arenas. "The only question is whether the opposition will accept that or will they see it as being co-optation," he said.

Prof Eugene Tan also said the PAP's close links with organisations such as the PA and NTUC can work to its disadvantage. Any loss in their credibility could, by implication, affect the ruling party. "As voters become more concerned about post-material concerns such as social equity and fair play, these things could swing against the PAP," he said.

Assoc Prof Randolph Tan agreed, saying that tackling a more complicated world well will require the PAP to work with its competitors.

"Going forward, one of the more significant challenges is whether we are going to have a policy climate that allows more discerning, in-depth discussion, more back and forth, so that more interesting ideas can be taken on board," he said.

GE2015: Social media use was high, but not as decisive for voters, IPS survey on media use finds
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2015

Candidates' Facebook posts and Instagram photos may have been key talking points during the recent general election, but social media did not play such a decisive role, a survey by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) on Internet and media use during GE2015 suggests.

IPS research fellow Carol Soon, who studies new media, said 79 per cent of the 2,000 citizens of voting age surveyed used social media to some extent.

But hardly anyone did so in isolation, said Dr Soon, who presented the survey findings at IPS' post-election conference on Wednesday (Nov 4).

She cited three reasons why GE2015 was, like GE2011, not a "social media election".

One, almost half of those surveyed - 47.3 per cent - had made up their minds on who to vote even before Nomination Day. "This means that people don't necessarily change their minds going online," said Dr Soon.

Two, mainstream media played a bigger role during the election. An overwhelming majority of social media users - 98.5 per cent - also relied on traditional media sources like TV, print newspapers and online websites of Singapore's mainstream media outlets.

Dr Soon said this "shows that social media users had a relatively varied media diet, and suggests that they are more critical and discerning than they were thought to be."

Interestingly, she said, mainstream media sources were also trusted more by social media users when compared to non-users.

TV, print newspapers and radio, including their websites, were the top three most-trusted sources for election news.

Also, seven in 10 social media users said they found local newspapers and their websites moderately to very trustworthy, compared to about six in 10 who did not use social media.

Three, online participation was generally low, especially for activities that required more effort or time, such as starting a discussion thread or commenting on a video or Facebook post.

But while social media was unlikely to have influenced the election results significantly, other clearer trends emerged among such users.

For one, social media users were more interested in election issues compared to non-users: They talked more about the election, and tended to be more optimistic about whether the Government would respond to the needs of the citizens should they demand for change.

However, they were also more divided in whether they thought Singapore could have a powerful leader who runs the country as he sees fit. Only 18 per cent were neutral about this, compared to about 31 per cent non-users.

Dr Soon said this suggests that cyberspace is conducive for "echo chambers", as people turn to the Internet to reinforce existing ideals they have.

And even though participation in offline activities - like attending rallies and buying campaign-related products - was generally low, social media users were more likely to participate in them compared to non-users. For example, 27.2 per cent of social media users attended at least one rally, three times more than non-users.

Dr Soon added that while social media was widely expected to shape the election results, it did not exist in a vacuum.

"It's not just about how many people go online or use social media. What they do there is what matters. They must feel compelled to use social media to sway minds and move bodies (for it to have an impact)," she said.

GE2015: Hot-button issues still matter but 'stark contrast' in how PAP and non-PAP voters view government performance, says IPS survey
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2015

Hot-button issues like the cost of living, which headlined the 2011 general election, continued to dominate in the recent general election.

But policy changes since 2011 have reduced the temperature of such issues, according to an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey on how Singaporeans view the Government's performance.

Still, the Perceptions of Governance Survey found that the areas of government performance that people were least satisfied with were cost of living, the rich-poor gap, housing affordability and immigration policy.

These issues almost matched the list of factors that Singaporeans said played the most influential role when they voted. The factors are: cost of living, the affordability of housing and healthcare as well as meeting retirement needs.

The areas where the Government did well were largely security-related, such as law and order, defence and crisis management.

The online survey of 3,000 voters was conducted in three waves, from before Nomination Day until a week after Polling Day. It is weighted to be representative of the citizen population based on gender, ethnicity and age. An international market research agency, YouGov Asia Pacific, carried out the survey.

A co-leader of the research team that administered the survey is National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser.

He said the 10 percentage point swing to the People's Action Party (PAP) in the latest election points to a greater sense of risk and uncertainty in the world today.

So, while Singaporeans still embraced democracy as an abstract idea, there was a flight to security and bread-and-butter issues.

"People have become more concerned about security because they can sense that there's more global competition, there's more talk about trade-offs and how you can't have your cake and eat it all the time," he said.

"In my view, that's the X-factor that can account for why voters swung back to the PAP."

Dr Tan also noted that voters who favoured the PAP said the party's reputation and their confidence in it were the most important factors in their voting decisions.

The response, he added, also reflect how voters have put more stock in track record this time round.

The PAP's election message may have been about the SG50 celebrations to mark the country's 50th year of independence, and the legacy of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew "but actually we are talking about extrapolating to the future as well", he said.

"It's never just about the past: it's about what the past can tell you about the future, and the lessons learnt from the past."

The survey also found there were significant differences between PAP voters and non-PAP voters in how they perceived government performance, said Dr Tan.

Those who voted for the PAP invariably scored the ruling party higher than those who did not.

The differences were even more stark when they were asked questions such as whether they felt election laws are fair to all parties and whether the electoral system works well for Singapore.

This information came from the survey's third wave, which was conducted after Polling Day, when the people were asked which party they had voted for.

The contrast between those PAP and non-PAP voters is "quite sharp'', said Dr Tan. "In fact, there is some amount of polarisation... it's not that those who did not vote PAP are absolutely unhappy - they are not - but some of these differences are quite large."

For instance, when asked to rate the statement "The Government does what is right for Singapore" on a scale of 1 to 9, PAP voters gave an average score of 6.72, while non-PAP voters gave a mean score of 4.04.

But when asked whether "It is important to have political diversity in Parliament", PAP voters gave a mean score of 6.67, not far below non-PAP voters average of 7.21.

Dr Tan said the opposition still has a foothold in Singapore as the survey shows across-the-board support for political diversity, regardless of which party the Singaporeans voted for.

"There's still a strong support for political pluralism, and because of that you will still always have people who will vote for parties other than the PAP," he said.

Opposition parties point fingers at electoral system for poor showing
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2015

Debate on whether opposition parties were hobbled by an uneven electoral playing field dominated a panel yesterday, featuring politicians from four different parties.

In opening remarks at the final session of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) post-election conference, Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan said "the PAP wins because elections are neither free nor fair".

Dr Chee, who led the SDP team in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC and got 33.4 per cent of the vote, said PAP's "control" of mainstream media and the Elections Department (ELD) disadvantaged opposition parties, which were given airtime during the nine-day campaign, but ignored for the years between elections.

But PAP's Mr Ong Ye Kung, who is Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), said opposition parties were not unfairly disadvantaged.

The ELD is run by neutral civil servants, he said, and information and news flow freely in Singapore. "I don't know what is the freeing up that's required. But we do have one rule still, that is the right of reply ."

An IPS survey released yesterday found that 79 per cent of voters agreed or strongly agreed that the election system is fair to all parties.

None of the panellists made reference to this, but Singapore People's Party chairman Lina Chiam cited challenges she faced while campaigning, like being refused entry into condominiums.

What SPP could not provide voters, she said, was "incentives" like the $5 million in upgrading projects PAP MP Sitoh Yih Pin lobbied from the Housing Board after he won the single-seat constituency in 2011.

Mr Ong was asked by blogger Alex Au if the PAP would use its strong electoral mandate to take controversial actions like repealing Section 377A, which criminalises gay sex.

"Sometimes it's not for the Government to deal with it. You can be the largest animal in the jungle but you are not the jungle," he replied.

"We may be the government of the day but we are not larger than society. Some issues are for society to evolve and to move to a new position," he said.

Earlier, Mr Ong also argued that the PAP's win was narrower than it seemed: Despite exceptional factors such as SG50 and the death of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the PAP won only one seat back from the Workers' Party - Punggol East.

National Solidarity Party secretary-general Lim Tean said the lesson his party has drawn is that the pitch to voters for the opposition to be a "co-driver" on the national stage "is no longer relevant".

That pitch was popularised by WP chief Low Thia Khiang in 2011.

"The opposition have to be prepared to drive their own policy cars and persuade Singapore voters to ride in their cars. It's no longer possible for us to hitch a ride with the PAP and hope to modify a car that does not belong to us," Mr Lim said.

#tiger in rally. #mouse in parliament.Don't say bo jio. jio liao don't want to...
Posted by Fabrications About The PAP on Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Acceptance of a 'fair electoral system' part of new normal
Think-tank survey shows issue is no longer a major voter concern; opposition adjusting its behaviour to factor this in
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 15 Nov 2015

At a conference last week convened to analyse the results of the 2015 General Election, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan had a simple take on the ruling party's landslide win of 69.9 per cent.

"The PAP wins because elections here are neither free nor fair," he said, pointing to its control of the Elections Department (ELD) and influence over institutions from media companies to think-tanks.

In the dialogue that followed, SDP vice-chairman John Tan had an exchange with the People's Action Party's Mr Ong Ye Kung, who is Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), about the independence of the ELD.

While Mr Ong attested to the "neutrality" of the civil servants who run the outfit, Mr Tan pointed to examples like how the ELD banned podcasts when the SDP first produced them in 2006, but later lifted the ban "when the PAP was ready with its new media strategy".

For the SDP and other opposition parties, the topic of the conference itself - the Institute of Policy Studies' traditional post-election survey of about 2,000 voters - showed them out of step with public opinion on this issue.

To me, the most interesting part of the survey, which polls voters about their motivations and their views of parties, was the response on the fairness of the electoral system.

Like in the 2006 and 2011 editions, voters were asked to agree or disagree with the statement: "The whole election system is fair to all political parties."

In 2006, 63 per cent agreed or strongly agreed with this; in 2011, it was 61 per cent.

These figures correspond roughly to the proportion of voters who cast a ballot for the ruling party in those GEs, which makes sense: PAP voters would not delegitimise their choice by impugning the electoral system, just as opposition voters would be inclined to question the system in which their candidates did not prevail.

But this year, everything changed. In the 2015 survey, a whopping 79 per cent agreed or strongly agreed with this statement.

This is nearly 10 percentage points above the ruling party's national vote share - which means that a good segment of opposition voters view their candidates' losses as wholly legitimate.

Such an astonishing surge cannot be ignored by political players and observers: It must be accepted that Singapore voters no longer consider the fairness of the electoral system a topic of interest, much less a concern.

This is all the more amazing when one considers that there were several elements of the 2015 GE which some have characterised as being unfair to opposition parties.

For one thing, the election took place over a compressed timeline of three months from start to finish, as compared to the seven months that the 2011 GE played out over.

For another, the 2015 GE, held four years and three months after the last one, departed from the regular five-year cycle established in 2006 and 2011. It is traditional wisdom that both a longer timeframe and a regular electoral schedule benefit opposition parties, giving them more time to prepare and reach voters.

Then there is the matter of electoral boundary changes: For the 2011 GE, the boundaries of hotly contested constituencies, namely Aljunied GRC, remained largely unchanged. This was not the case in the 2015 GE, which saw the hotly contested Joo Chiat SMC absorbed into a GRC (Marine Parade), and a single-seat ward (Fengshan ) carved out of hotly contested East Coast GRC.

I'm not arguing that any of these elements played major roles in the PAP's landslide win.

This year, the wind was at the back of a reinvigorated and nimble ruling party, and it is unlikely that much could have stood in the way of its stellar showing.

The point to be noted is that in the face of the aforementioned "unfair" elements, voters overwhelmingly reaffirmed the fairness of the system.

To me, it's clear what has been the game changer in this regard.

When the Workers' Party made its GRC breakthrough in Aljunied in 2011, it became no longer convincing to charge that the electoral system is unfair. After all, if the opposition can win a GRC in the system, then how unfair could it really be?

A good analogy is the way that rags-to-riches personal narratives are often used to counter the argument that the workings of meritocracy can actually entrench inequality. "If there are those who made it from the bottom of the system to the top, how unfair could the system be?"

Where the two scenarios diverge is in the behaviour of the "victorious".

In Singapore society, those who have made it from disadvantaged beginnings to laudatory success are often the biggest proponents of meritocracy. Their natural thinking is that their own success illustrates the strength of meritocracy - that it is personal failings that have hobbled others, not the system.

That's not how the WP reacted to its 2011 breakthrough.

During its campaign rallies this year, the WP lambasted the ways in which the system put the party's back against the wall , arguing that the ruling party used the public service to forward a political agenda.

Charging that the taxpayer- funded People's Association works to undermine the WP's elected representatives, and criticising Ministry of National Development staff members for furthering what it sees as a partisan agenda against its town council, the WP said time and again that the system remains stacked against the opposition.

Given its lowered vote-share and the IPS survey results, it must be accepted that these arguments gained little traction with voters.

The irony for liberal-minded Singaporeans and opposition voters is then that the greatest breakthrough for pluralism in electoral history - the WP's Aljunied GRC win - has had the lasting legacy of legitimising the system.

Just as 2011 ushered in the "new normal" of an assertive, combative public space for the ruling party, it has entrenched a "new normal" for opposition parties as well: of a system that is perceived as fair, even among their own supporters.

The WP does not lack for strategic insight, and I believe that it is already adjusting its political behaviour to account for this new normal; the SDP - which achieved a major credibility boost among voters in this GE, according to the IPS survey - must follow suit if its leadership wants to continue to grow in relevance.

This is perhaps an inevitable stage in Singaporeans' political awakening.

An increasingly pluralist landscape has demonstrated for Singaporeans in recent years that all political figures, ruling or opposition, will do whatever they can, with whatever tools they have, to extract partisan advantage.

If an opposition party one day took over the government, would it dismantle the various structures that tilt the playing field towards the incumbent, now that it occupies that privileged position?

Noble manifestos aside, I believe that Singaporeans are beginning to realise that it is not the character of power to give power away.

Then there is the new muscle that the electorate continues to flex after decades of mild atrophy.

Perhaps voters do not feel that they need any help if they want to throw out politicians. Nor are they inclined to give heed to any entrenched elements that, in theory, might prevent them from doing so.

That's the best-case reading of the shift that has emerged.

But for those who want to see an electoral system that is fairer - not to opposition parties, but to the principles of a free and transparent public sphere - it is cold comfort.

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