Singapore GE2020: Party leaders seek to heal rifts after heat of hustings

  • Singapore
  • Sunday, 12 Jul 2020

PM Lee Hsien Loong had announced that WP chief Pritam Singh would be formally appointed Leader of the Opposition. - The Straits Times/Asian News Network

SINGAPORE, July 11 (The Straits Times/ ANN): An unusual and hard-fought election, in which the opposition made significant gains, gave way to a sense of solidarity yesterday as political parties and politicians set aside their differences and promised to work for the good of Singapore.

A day after the People's Action Party (PAP) won a clear mandate and the Workers' Party (WP) made a historic breakthrough, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged voters' desire for more opposition in Parliament, and congratulated the WP for its strong performance.

Posting on Facebook, he said: "I look forward to them participating in and contributing to the debate in Parliament, and to the national debate, as we deal with the urgent issues before us."

Earlier, at a pre-dawn press conference, he had announced that WP chief Pritam Singh would be formally appointed Leader of the Opposition.

The role is being formally filled for the first time since Singapore's independence and Mr Singh yesterday pledged to do his best.

"I will endeavour to ensure that the Workers' Party under my leadership will remain loyal to Singapore and all Singaporeans," he promised.

His party had pulled off the biggest upset of the election, winning Sengkang GRC with 52.13 per cent of the votes.

The PAP won 83 of 93 seats and 61.24 per cent of the popular vote, an 8.7-point swing against it from 69.9 per cent in the 2015 polls. The opposition gained ground, especially in the six constituencies contested by the WP.

PM Lee yesterday said the results showed broad-based support for the PAP but acknowledged that they also reflected the pain and uncertainty of Singaporeans amid the crisis.

While the ruling party had campaigned on a platform of protecting lives, jobs and securing Singapore's future amid the worldwide pandemic, its message had sometimes been overshadowed by the hype of the hustings.

As the dust settled yesterday, PM Lee said: "I will use this mandate responsibly to deal with Covid-19 and the economic downturn, and to take us safely through the crisis, and beyond."

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who retired as an MP and did not contest this election, described the outcome as "good for Singapore and our parliamentary democracy".

Meanwhile, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said during a walkabout to thank residents in Nee Soon GRC: "In all these things are clearly messages that voters are sending us. It will be wrong if we don't understand the messages. And I think it requires a lot of soul-searching and reflection."

Yesterday, in place of the traditional victory parades, the Covid-19 situation saw newly elected MPs donning masks and going around hawker centres to greet residents instead as the showers on Polling Day gave way to clear skies.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, whose East Coast GRC team got 53.41 per cent of the votes against a WP team, was out with his teammates in Bedok, where they met residents having breakfast or buying groceries.

In the WP's Hougang stronghold, MP-elect Dennis Tan, who got 61.19 per cent of the votes, was greeted by flag-waving and fist-bumping residents.

There were congratulations all round as politicians thanked their opponents.

Progress Singapore Party chief Tan Cheng Bock, whose team had put up a tough fight in West Coast GRC, was among those who thanked his PAP opponents, some of them his former colleagues. He added: "We will meet again."

Indeed, for some of those who did not get elected, it may not be goodbye forever.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and labour chief Ng Chee Meng, who was in the losing PAP team in Sengkang GRC, said in a Facebook post that he and his team would "evaluate and regroup to see how we can do better".

Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health, thanking people for their warm messages, said on Facebook: "Just to remind you - I'm not dead yet. Don't write my obituary just yet, I'll come back stronger. Not so easy to knock me off.

"Sometimes in defeat, we win. We appreciate each other better. We reflect. We discover. We learn." - The Straits Times/Asian News Network
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