Singapore prime ministers and election results

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Which PM had the toughest time of all?
Lee Kuan Yew built a nation,
Goh Chok Tong enjoyed good relations,
Now with the turning of the tide,
Lee Hsien Loong’s having a bumpy ride,
Support has dropped to an all-time low
The honeymoon ended years ago,
Blame it on the internet,
It’s proved a real pest,
Critics online all the time,
How do you make ‘em toe the line?

Mr Lee Kuan Yew didn’t have to face this. As Singapore’s first prime minister, he had to deal with communists, communalists, race riots, prickly neighbours, economic downturns and other problems, but he did not have to bother about bloggers, Facebook and Twitter. As for the press, he made it behave itself.

The internet seems to have been a game-changer. In the first post-Twitter general election, in 2011, the People’s Action Party (PAP) won only 60.1 per cent of the vote, its lowest share since independence, while the opposition secured six seats, more than ever before. (Twitter was launched only in 2006.)

The irony is the opposition made gains where there is almost full employment, the country peaceful and prosperous.

PAP: Seats won and share of the vote in general elections  since independence

PAP: Seats won and share of the vote in general elections since independence

Lee Kuan Yew

The elder Mr Lee led the country through uncertain times, fought communists, built  public housing, made national service compulsory, jailed dissidents. And the PAP won all the seats in 1968 (the first general election after independence), 1972, 1976 and 1980.

The PAP suffered its first big drop in support in 1984 when it won 64.8 per cent of the vote after polling over 70 per cent in every general election since independence. This was seen as a backlash against the Graduate Mothers Scheme, giving preference to children of graduates in primary school placement. For the first time, the opposition won two seats in Parliament as Chiam See Tong joined JB Jeyaretnam, who had won the 1981 Anson by-election.

PAP support continued to drop. It won 63.8 per cent of the vote in 1988 – the elder Mr Lee’s last general election as PM.

Goh Chok Tong

And in 1991 – Mr Goh Chok Tong’s first as PM – the opposition won as many as four seats. This was unprecedented.

After that rude shock, however, Mr Goh proved a popular PM. He fought his last general election as PM in November 2001 when the PAP won 75.3 per cent of the vote – one of its biggest mandates ever. It was an extraordinary show of support in highly fraught times. The election was held barely two months after September 11, when Singapore too faced terrorist threats. The militant Jemaah Islamiyah’s plot to bomb diplomatic missions in Singapore was uncovered only a month after the election.

Mr Goh is remembered for his empathy and rapport with the people. Yet, as the elder Mr Lee said, he could be tough. He responded sharply when the writer Catherine Lim wrote in The Straits Times in 1994 that there was an “affective divide” – “estrangement” – between the people and the government. He could be pragmatic, too, introducing the HDB upgrading programme to win back voters before the 1997 election.

Mr Goh showed his mettle leading the country through the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the 2001-2003 economic recession and the 2003 SARS crisis.

Lee Hsien Loong

PM Lee Hsien Loong has also led Singapore safely out of the 2009 recession. The economy is growing, although at a slower pace, and almost everyone has a job, a remarkable feat when unemployment is a global problem.

Yet government support is at an all-time low and even the PM and his team acknowledge the need for change.

PM Lee has already committed himself to sustainable growth, curbing the inflow of foreign workers, boosting productivity so there is less need for manpower, and ensuring affordable housing.

Some policies have to be overhauled, said Mr Goh recently.

Major new announcements are expected in the Prime Minister’s National Day Rally speech on Sunday.

PM Lee in his message on the eve of National Day (August 9) said the government would play a bigger role in building a just and fair society.

Revolt of the ‘silent majority’ in Punggol East

The then American vice-president Spiro Agnew claimed to speak for the “silent majority” in 1969 after Richard Nixon won the 1968 presidential election, defeating the Democrat Hubert Humphrey.  In Singapore, where there are no opinion polls, the “silent majority” defected to the opposition Workers’ Party in Punggol  East – the second constituency lost by the ruling party – in a by-election last night.

The social media in Singapore has long been the playground of the young and the irreverent taking potshots at the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). But who knew the “aunties” and “uncles”, as the older folks are called, were going to act up, too? Some of them had to have voted for the opposition, too, for the Workers’ Party to win so big a victory. [Read more...]

Workers’ Party wins Punggol East by-election

The ruling People’s Action Party lost the Punggol East by-election to the Workers’ Party in a dramatic victory for the opposition.
The vote was not even close. The Workers’ Party’s Lee Li Lian polled more than 16,000 votes against more than 12,000 votes for  Koh Poh Koon of the People’s Action. Kenneth Jeyaretnam of the Reform Party secured over 300 votes and Desmond Lim of the Singapore Democratic Alliance fewer than 200 votes. [Read more...]

A look at Punggol East before by-election

The ruling People’s Action Party is expected to retain the Punggol East seat vacated by former Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer on December 12 after an extramarital affair. Nevertheless, almost all the opposition parties seem to contest the by-election called on January 26. The single-member constituency has a younger, more middle-class demographic, reports the Straits Times.

The single-seat ward was carved out of the Pasir Ris-Punggol Group Representation Constituency just before the 2011 parliamentary election.
[Read more...]

‘Comrades’ in People’s Action Party

Is the People’s Action Party (PAP) the only non-communist party to call members “comrades”? Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his speech at the party conference yesterday said:

After GE (general election), six senior CEC (central executive committee) members retired to make way for younger leaders:

Comrades Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong, Lim Boon Heng, Wong Kan Seng, George Yeo, Lim Hwee Hua

Actually, the word is also used by South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC), which had links with the South African Communist Party during the apartheid era, and by the Zimbabwe African National Union — Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) led by President Robert Mugabe. [Read more...]

Past election results in Singapore opposition ward, Hougang

Hougang has been held by the Workers Party since 1991. Low Thia Khiang wrested the seat from Tang Guan Seng of the People’s Action Party and represented the constituency till last year. Now he is one of the five Workers Party MPs representing the Aljunied Group Representation (GRC) constituency.  Aljunied is the first multi-member constituency, called GRC, to fall to the opposition. The Workers Party captured the constituency last year.  It retained the Hougang constituency last year.  Yaw Shin Leong of the Workers Party was elected from Hougang, defeating Desmond Choo of the People’s Action Party. But Yaw was subsequently expelled from the Workers Party following an extramarital affair with a party member. Now Choo is running for election again, against Png Eng Huat of the Workers Party.

Here are Hougang’s past election results ever since the constituency was created in 1988. That was the only time it was won by the PAP.  Tang Guan Seng, who was elected then, lost to Low Thia Khiang in 1991. Hougang has been a Workers Party stronghold since then.

The data below is from the Elections Department.

YearTotal votersCandidate,  votes, %Candidate, votes, %
201124560Yaw Shin Leong (Workers Party)
Desmond Choo
200623759Low Thia Khiang (Workers Party)
Eric Low
200123320Low Thia Khiang
(Workers Party)
Eric Low
199724423Low Thia Khiang
(Workers Party)
Heng Chee How
199121476Low Thia Khiang
(Workers Party)
Tang Guan Seng
198821703Lim Chiu Liang
(Workers Party)
Tang Guan Seng

Singapore elections and walkovers

Here are snapshots of the five general elections held in Singapore since 1988 when the Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) were introduced to ensure that Malays, Indians and other ethnic minorities were represented in parliament. All the figures are from the Singapore Elections website.

Singapore electorate and those who couldn't vote

Singapore electorate and those who couldn't vote

This chart shows the total electorate and the number of voters who couldn’t vote because no opposition candidates stood for election in their constituencies.

Singapore PAP poll walkovers

Singapore PAP poll walkovers

This chart shows the number of ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) members of parliament who were elected unopposed and the number of constituencies where the PAP won a walkover since the opposition did not contest those seats. The PAP won walkovers in seven of the 14 GRCs in the last general election, in 2006; in 10 GRCs in 2001; in nine GRCs in 1997; in 10 GRCs and one single-seat ward in 1991; and in three GRCs and two single-seat wards in 1988.

[Read more...]

The GRCs of Singapore


Map of Singapore's parliamentary constituencies

Singapore Elections Department map

There has never been an election contest in two of Singapore’s 23 constituencies. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has won a walkover in every election from Tanjong Pagar GRC and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

[Read more...]

Straits Times report on 1959 election day

The People's Action Party led by Lee Kuan Yew won the 1959 Singapore Legislative Assembly by a landslide, winning 43 of the 51 seats (see the Elections Department page and Wikipedia: total voters 586,098, voter turnout 527,919 or  92.9%). It faced a divided opposition. " No one doubts that the PAP stands to gain from the failure of the SPA and the Liberal Socialists to make common cause," said the Straits Times on the day of the election: May 30, 1959. 


The newspaper, troubled by the "ferocity of the campaigning", lamented: "Hatred has poisoned the election air, dividing the population into embittered sections — this in an island that needs a calm and sane air in which to sort out the grave economic problems that concern all, capitalist or worker."


Only a few days earlier, on May 21, 1959, the Straits Times had criticized the PAP as "a threat to a free press".

It was responding to Mr Lee, who said at a Clifford Pier lunchtime rally that the PAP, if it won the election, would detain without trial under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (PPSO) "any editor, leader writer, sub-editor or reporter" who tried to "sour up or strain" relations with Kuala Lumpur. The Straits Times wrote: "Before PAP's secretary-general takes off on yet another flight of fantasy, he might ponder the unchallengeable fact that we have always called for the closest relations between the territories, long before it became politically fashionable to set off in pursuit of merger."  Here is the link to the article,Thursday, May 21, 1959. P.A.P. And P.P.S.O.

You can read these articles on NewspaperSG, the Singapore National Library digital archive of Singapore newspapers published between 1831 and 2006.

The Straits Times Saturday, May 30, 1959 The Day of Decision.

[Read more...]

When Lee Kuan Yew struck a chill in expat hearts

Browsing through Elections in Singapore written by Pugalenthi Sr and published in 1996, I was struck by this passage, where he writes about the 1959 elections, which brought Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew to power:

He said the citizenship laws had deliberately been made very liberal to allow Commonwealth citizens to take up citizenship after a stay of only two years here. This was aimed at providing the large number of Britons here a say in local politics. But most of these Britons had no intention of making this their homeland and would "scoot off" as soon as things "got hot here".

The book does not give any references.

But Mr Lee and his People's Action Party in those days did strike a chill in the hearts of expatriates, according to the historian Constance Mary Turnbull. In A History of Modern Singapore (1819 – 2005), she describes the aftermath of the PAP victory in the 1959 elections, when PAP won 43 of the 51 seats (see the Elections Department page and Wikipedia: total voters 586,098, voter turnout 527,919 or  92.9%). Turnbull writes:

[Read more...]