A Political Scientist's View: The Impact of the 2019/2020 General Election (GE) on the Singapore Economy

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Home > Articles > A Political Scientist's View: The Impact of the 2019/2020 General Election (GE) on the Singapore Economy

 A Political Scientist's View: The Impact of the 2019/2020 General Election (GE) on the Singapore Economy

Antonio Rappa | Today's Manager
June 1, 2019

Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong previously hinted that the next General Election (GE) will be held in 2019. I weigh in on how this will impact the economy.

The People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Central Executive Committee (CEC) is a secret cloister of highly trusted party stalwarts elected by the PAP cadres. No one gets to become a cadre unless they are approved internally. Political scientists believe that the CEC is more important than the Cabinet itself. For others, the CEC is as important as the Cabinet, the former being part of the party political structure while the latter being part of the structure of government. We know that the GE will be held soon because of the increase in the number of approved public speakers at Hong Lim Park as well as the fact that PM Lee Hsien Loong hinted to the press in late 2018 that it would be held this year in 2019. 1 The next GE will impact the economy in several ways.

Firstly, rising prices in water and electricity will remain unchanged just before, during, and just after the elections. Prices of new Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates and private homes are likely to rise over this period to show a robust housing market. However, the state’s cooling measures since 2014 have made potential investors and would-be speculators wary of future price increases. Greedy developers are expected as usual to charge unrealistic prices for new developments with fake discounts. According to one local political economist, a fake discount involves inflating the actual cost of a new house or home in spite of its location and genuine value or cost in order to give what might appear to naïve investors as a “substantial discount”.

Secondly, it is important that Singaporeans realise that the vote is secret. Despite detractors who argue that it is not true. These detractors say that the serial number on the counterfoil and the government’s ability to know which precinct did not vote for the PAP and which ones did acts as a scare tactic under conditions of fear.

My view, based on studies of other corrupt and nepotistic states is that Singapore’s electorate can be assured that the vote is indeed secret. The ranking of precinct’s that did or did not vote for the PAP are mere estimates. However, these estimates cannot be confirmed because the voting slips are collected in sealed metal boxes and kept at a safe location under the inspection of PAP and Opposition candidates, their representatives, as well as civil servants. Several months later, these ballot papers see the light again when they are transported to be burnt. The public burning of these papers is not like the burning of hell money at HDB estates. Rather, the ballot slips (spoilt or otherwise) are burnt in front of the representatives of the incumbent government as well as the newly elected government and Opposition party members and state officials.

Thirdly, there are perennial issues for every GE such as rising water prices, high certificate of entitlement (COE) and road tax, transport problems especially with taxi cabs and trains as well as road congestion that makes a mockery of the giraffe speed trap cameras. Two of the more recent and much more serious issues that will arise to haunt the PAP government are the Central Provident Fund (CPF) minimum sum increases. As of 2019, the minimum sum is approximately S$176,000. The argument is that this amount has been slowly creeping upwards for many years. Some speakers at Hong Lim Park and at least one Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) has raised this issue in social media but to no avail.

Indeed, not many Singaporeans have S$200k in their CPF or bank accounts and it would take a lifetime to save that amount in the most expensive city in the world. The high ceiling in the CPF Medisave Account (MA) is also likely to attract criticism from Opposition MPs in addition to the rising costs of medical and health care. Many voters will ask why the state has been unable to reduce rising healthcare costs despite state coffers being consistently in the black under successive PAP governments since the time of the Founding Father.

Fourthly, Dr Tan Cheng Bock received much attention since his failed Elected Presidency (EP) attempt but has not given up on politics. For example, he recently applied to register his new Progress Singapore Party (PSP) with the Registry of Societies. It is also widely known on social media that he has met Mr Lee Hsien Yang at least twice for meals at public places and speculation seems rife about a possible alliance with the younger brother of the PM. The other PSP candidates are also known Tan supporters as well as former associates of the ruling party. This is good for the economy because the late modern world seems to prefer democracy over dictatorship. In my view, the younger Mr Lee is unlikely to take part in politics but one can never be too sure. Certainly, if Mr Lee did contest and contested at Ang Mo Kio GRC, then that would be the battle royal! If I was an entrepreneur, I would start taking orders for flags, banners, pamphlets, posters, and buttons.

Dr Tan, a popular political figure as well as medical doctor was a former PAP Minister of Parliament (MP) and card-carrying cadre member. Was he very critical of the government under the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew? And while he does not have anything personal against the current PM, why has he decided to form that new political party? Does he think that Singaporean voters will accept an old PM? Singapore is not Malaysia and does not have any PM Mahathir coalition force.

Fifthly, Singapore’s own brand of democracy is maturing in spite of the problems of the past. For sure, the best losers will even be given a place in Parliament and the PAP is very likely to win. As long as any candidate scores more than 7.5 per cent of the popular vote, he/she will not lose his/her deposit. One also imagines that adroit political candidates will respect the personal and private issue of 38 Oxley Road and refrain from raising that problem. Whether or not Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mr George Yeo participate in the GE will be revealed very soon.

In conclusion, the Singaporean electorate will see some PAP stalwarts bow out of the political arena while new faces, probably a few more generals may already be walking the ground. As long as no one raises the issue of state corruption or nepotism, the Singapore GE is likely to run as smooth as Thai silk. A strong vote for the PAP will see PM Lee continue for at least one more term while a weak vote for the incumbent MPs may signal the rise of alternative and younger candidates such as Ms Nicole Seah and Mr Pritam Singh.

1 Kim J, 11 November 2018. Singapore PM Lee hints at early election next year, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-singapore-politics/singapore-pm-lee-hints-at-early-election-next-year-idUSKCN1NG040.


Dr Antonio L Rappa is Associate Professor and Head of Management and Security Studies at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) School of Business. He worked at NUS, NTU, and held visiting appointments at Johns Hopkins University, UC Berkeley, Chulalongkorn University, and Chang Mai University. Dr Rappa held an SAF Overseas Military Training Award (New Zealand) and an NUS overseas Graduate Award. He was offered the Cambridge University Overseas Development Award in 1993 to Fitzwilliam College at the University of Cambridge. His most recent book entitled The King and the Making of Modern Thailand (Routledge, 2017) was published in April/May 2017.


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