By Asia Samachar Team | SINGAPORE |
The present leaders running Singapore are expected to prevail when the nation goes to the national polls on 10 July, predicts political scientist Prof Bilveer Singh.
As the nation prepares for an election under the cover of novel coronavirus pandemic, he believes that a ‘strong leadership’ will likely be returned to power.
“I think we will be able to get our act together quickly and come out stronger… The ruling party is safe till 2030 from any major challenge,” he told Asia Samachar.
Bilveer is the deputy head of the NUS Department of Political Science and author of ‘Is the People’s Action Party Here to Stay?’ released last year. On the political front, he has also authored ‘Understanding Singapore’s Politics’ (2017) and ‘Politics and Governance in Singapore: An Introduction’ (2007).
While PAP is in an enviable position, Bilveer cautioned against overestimating the power of social media.
In an interview with a Singapore portal called Kopi, he explained that in times of crisis such as now Singaporean-style pragmatism will ensue.
“We would rather forgo time for check and balance, accountability and transparency if it means securing our bread and butter as quickly as possible,” he told the portal. He added that this was especially so in the climate of fear and unemployment which Covid-19 has created, with many living on government handouts during the circuit breaker.
So, what prompted the book, Is the PAP Here to Stay?, which was published last year?
“No political party has survived as long as the PAP and these are rare political creatures. The longest prior to the PAP was the BN/Alliance that collapsed in 2018. Hence the dying question whether the PAP would collapse soon. I have been interested in these types of political parties, all the more interesting that the PAP is today the longest governing party in non-communist Asean,” he told Asia Samachar in a response sometime in the middle of last year.
He then said that he had started writing the book in 2015 after the Workers’ Party got into trouble over its town council, but then somewhat lost interest. “Then PH came to power and my interest got rejuvenated,” he said.
PH refers to Pakatan Harapan which created history when it unseated the Barisan Nasional (BN) in a surprise victory in the 2018 polls and saw the return of Dr Mahathir Mohamad as the prime minister, with Anwar Ibrahim as the prime minister in-waiting. In February 2020, it imploded spectacularly, paving the way for a new set of political arrangement led by Muhyiddin Yassin.
BN’s fall naturally resonated in neighbouring Singapore.
On how long does he see PAP surviving the Singapore political landscape, Bilveer noted that the first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had said in 2011 that one day the PAP will fall while former DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam had said no political party has lasted more than 70 yrs in power. That puts the marker somewhere at 2029.
“I think, eventually, it will depend on the new PAP leaders getting their act and keeping unity, how well the opposition is united and public perception. I think the PAP will remain in dominance for another 10 years safely, after that the triangular dynamics of the PAP, Opposition and Electorate will determine the political future of Singapore,” he said in the same earlier response.
Q: From time the book was published, any major changes in the landscape in Spore politics?
Since the book, Is the PAP Here to Stay? was published in July 2019, three important developments have taken place:
a. The consolidation of the 4th Generation leadership under the current Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.
b. The need of Singapore, a trading state, to respond to the worsening US-China trade war and as Singapore is a close trading partner to both, it has suffered in terms of a dip in trade with both and the world as a whole.
c. The most profound impact has come from COVID-19, where Singapore was first hit in Jan 23, 2020 and since then, it has affected every aspect of the republic, with lockdowns, called circuit breakers, in place. I think this has been a very frightening experience for all and the worst is yet to come, especially in terms of economic freefall and we will probably face the worst issues relating to unemployment, retrenchments, joblessness, under employment, etc, in turn having a political, economic, social-cultural and even foreign policy-defence-security impact as far as ties with the outside world is concern; it is going to be a dog eat dog world and as a small state, it will face severe limitations and challenges.
Q: Anything that you didn’t predict taking place?
Knowing the PAP, I was sure the 4G leaders would consolidate and emerge centre stage; but I think no one really expected the US-China trade war to escalate the level it did; and most profoundly, COVID-19 hit us and everyone like a bolt out of nowhere. Of all the unknown unknown, I think COVID-19 was the main one even though we had been through SARS and H1N1 and MERS, as well as being familiar with the Ebola threat. Yes, COVID-19 changed everything as no one was really prepared for its scale, gravity and impact.
Q: What was say was your most spot-on prediction?
A: I knew the GE was coming and I thought it would happen late last year; still, the GE was coming but no one thought it would happen in a COVID-19 terrain. This has been bad for the government as there is much unhappiness, but also good for the government as it was able to demonstrate how good it is as a crisis government and leader, all the more, with a deep pocket that has already forked out S$100 billion as part of its counter-COVID-19 measures.
It is always difficult to predict things in the social sciences, all the more, when the US is in a election year and you have an unpredictable leader like Donald Trump. We are entering a world of great uncertainties and where past models of responses may not be enough and may not apply.
I think we are at a generational crossroads; those who get it right will move forward well, those who don’t will pay a very high price. Hence, Singapore being small, a strong leadership, which will likely be returned to power on 10 July, Polling Day, a largely united people, a strong sense of urgency, discipline and survival, I think we will be able to get our act together quickly and come out stronger, with a people and the new leaders strongly in a political compact that will last, easily for 10 years. The ruling party is safe till 2030 from any major challenge.
Bilveer Singh: Fast-paced, informative and entertaining NUS political scientis (Asia Samachar, 14 Aug 2016)
Harminder Pal raring to return to Singapore campaigning (Asia Samachar, 23 June 2020)
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