General Elections 2020

20 for 20: our GE reading list

Quick takes: some basics

Our recent webinar: full video.

Quick takes

10 July is Polling Day

What are these elections about?

  • The upcoming elections are Parliamentary Elections; the winning party forms the government. Singapore has been governed continuously by the People’s Action Party since 1959. (See Elections Department explainer.) Over the past 30 years, its popular vote has ranged from 60.1% to 75.3%. It has never lost more than 6 seats in a post-independence GE. (See Singapore-Elections database.)

What counts as a strong mandate?

  • In most parliamentary democracies, winning more than half the seats would count as a strong mandate. In Singapore, election results have swung within a narrow band much higher than Constitutional thresholds. When the ruling party asks for a strong mandate, it is referring to psychological benchmarks, not what is Constitutionally required to govern effectively. (See our Election Explainer.)

Are Singapore’s elections free and fair?

Is the vote secret?

  • Some voters fear that their vote is not secret — a perception that opposition parties and civic groups have gone out of their way to correct. There is no credible evidence of individual voters being punished for voting against the ruling party. (See NewNaratif explainer.)

How will campaigning be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • The opposition will be disadvantaged by the ban on mass rallies, but will be given more TV airtime. The internet will play a bigger role than ever before. Online spaces were once dominated by anti-PAP voices, but the ruling party may turn the tables on the opposition thanks to major investments in its online capabilities. (See Elections Department website for new regulations.)

How might “fake news” affect the GE?

  • This is the first election since the passage of POFMA, a new law allowing ministers to trigger correction or take-down orders against online falsehoods. The government has used correction orders against the opposition. During the election period, ministers delegate their powers to civil servants. Opposition candidates cannot use POFMA. (See the Pofma’d database, Cherian George, 2020, and this site’s POFMA page.)

20 for 20: our GE reading list

A curated collection of book chapters and journal articles from the archives, all available for free download courtesy of the authors and publishers.


Democratic backsliding since GE2015 – Walid Jumblatt Abdullah | After GE2015, the PAP reverted to its familiar authoritarian stratagem. This was possible because of the absence of a strong and coherent opposition and genuine reformers within the ruling party.

Walid Jumblatt Abdullah (2020) “‘New normal’ no more: democratic backsliding in Singapore after 2015”, Democratization. doi: 10.1080/13510347.2020.1764940 – DOWNLOAD PRE-PRINT

How the PAP changed and didn’t between GEs 2011 and 2015 – Cherian George | The 2015 election underscored the PAP’s ability to respond to electoral setbacks but also showed a reluctance to address systemic faults.

Cherian George (2020) “Future-proofing the PAP,” pp.169-176 in Air-Conditioned Nation Revisited. (Singapore: Ethos Books). – DOWNLOAD

The likely fourth PM faces challenges similar to the second – Cherian George | Heng Swee Keat is saddled with circumstances not of his own making.

Cherian George (2020) “4G and the 2 Shans,” pp.101-109 in Air-Conditioned Nation Revisited.(Singapore: Ethos Books). – DOWNLOAD

Oxleygate and Singapore’s elite cohesion – Cherian George | The Lee Family feud tested Singapore’s uniquely strong establishment unity.

Cherian George (2020) “Elite Cohesion,” pp. 94-101 in Singapore, Incomplete: Reflections on a First World Nation’s Arrested Political Development. (Singapore: Woodsville News). – DOWNLOAD

How Meet-the-People Sessions contribute to the PAP’s resilience – Elvin Ong | The ruling party’s constituency service through MPSs help compensate for the weaknesses of other authoritarian institutions, just entrenching Singapore’s authoritarian system.

Elvin Ong (2015) “Complementary Institutions in Authoritarian Regimes: The Everyday Politics of Constituency Service in Singapore,” Journal of East Asian Studies, 15: 361-390. – DOWNLOAD

GE2015 showed that the PAP’s ideology of pragmatism still dominates – Terence Lee | After 2011, the PAP identified and responded to its failures. The PAP also benefited from the LKY Effect and SG50.

Terence Lee (2015) “The Pragmatics of Change Singapore’s 2015 General Election,” pp. 9-25 in Change in Voting: Singapore’s 2015 General Election, edited by Terence Lee & Kevin YL Tan (Singapore: Ethos Books). – DOWNLOAD


What we can gather from the opposition’s first thirty years in Parliament – Loke Hoe Yeong | Singapore’s post-independence opposition has a history of ups and downs that doesn’t conform with theories about democratic waves.

Loke Hoe Yeong (2019) “Introduction,” pp. i-xi in The First Wave: JBJ, Chiam & the Opposition in Singapore (Singapore: Epigram Books). – DOWNLOAD

Explaining opposition party cooperation – Elvin Ong | Drawing on the literature on the bargaining model of war, Ong explains opposition coordination in GE2015, focusing on the conflict between the Workers’ Party and the National Solidarity Party.

Elvin Ong (2016) “Opposition Coordination in Singapore’s 2015 General Elections,” The Round Table, 105(2): 185-194, doi: 10.1080/00358533.2016.1154385 – DOWNLOAD

Why the Workers’ Party has succeeded where others failed – Elvin Ong and Mou Hui Tim | Opposition parties face a “credibility gap” that WP has dealt with better than others.

Elvin Ong and Moh Hui Tim (2014) “Singapore’s 2011 General Elections and Beyond: Beating the PAP at its Own Game,” Asian Survey, 54(4): 749-772. – DOWNLOAD


New online falsehoods law and what it says about the future – Cherian George | POFMA indicates that the next generation of PAP leaders are content to retain their governance model.

Cherian George (2020) “The Dogma behind POFMA,” pp.177-186 in Air-Conditioned Nation Revisited. Singapore: Ethos Books). – DOWNLOAD

Complex electoral manipulation is aided by voter apathy – Elvin Ong | The absence of simple electoral malpractice conceals other forms of manipulation, such as redistricting, which are not perceived by the electorate as violating the democratic principles.

Elvin Ong (2018) “Electoral manipulation, opposition power, and institutional change: Contesting for electoral reform in Singapore, Malaysia, and Cambodia,” Electoral Studies, 54: 159-171. doi: 10.1016/j.electstud.2018.05.006. – DOWNLOAD

Why Singapore needs an independent election management body – Netina Tan | The redrawing of constituency boundaries have sparked allegations of gerrymandering. The process calls for non-partisan technical experts, statisticians or judges.

Netina Tan (2015) “Pre-Electoral Malpractice, Gerrymandering and its Effects on Singapore’s 2015 GE,” pp. 169-190 in Change in Voting: Singapore’s 2015 General Election, edited by Terence Lee & Kevin YL Tan (Singapore: Ethos Books). – DOWNLOAD

How the PAP has shaped the parliamentary system – Kenneth Paul Tan | It has innovated on the Westminster model to balance representation and effectiveness, while legitimising and strengthening its authoritarian rule.

Kenneth Paul Tan (2013) “The Singapore Parliament: Representation, Effectiveness, and Control,” pp. 27-46 in Parliaments in Asia: Institutional Building and Political Development, edited by Zheng Yongnian, Lye Liang Fook, Wilhelm Hofmeister. (Routledge). – DOWNLOAD

How the political system has made it harder for the opposition to succeed – Kenneth Paul Tan | Several political innovations officially justified in terms that are supportive of democracy increased the PAP government’s capacity and legitimacy to control.

Kenneth Paul Tan (2011) “The People’s Action Party and Political Liberalization in Singapore”, in Political Parties, Party Systems and Democratization in East Asia, edited by Liang Fook Lye & Wilhelm Hofmeister (Singapore: World Scientific). – LINK

Why election rallies matter – Terence Chong | Banned in 2020, election rallies are political performances alien to other spaces like the mainstream media or public forums where thick decorum and practiced deference conspire to neutralise the visceral and intuitive.

Terence Chong (2011) “Election Rallies: Performances in Dissent, Identity, Personalities and Power”, in Voting In Change: The Politics of Singapore, edited by Terence Lee & Kevin YL Tan (Singapore: Ethos Books). – DOWNLOAD


Votes are tied mainly to perceptions of party credibility – Steven Oliver & Kai Ostwald | The PAP has used its dominant position to reshape voter preferences in line with its comparative advantages.

Steven Oliver and Kai Ostwald (2018) “Explaining Elections in Singapore: Party Resilience and Valence Politics,” Journal of East Asian Studies, 18 (2): 129-156. doi: 10.1017/jea.2018.15. – DOWNLOAD PRE-PRINT.

GE2015 left the dominant party system intact – Kenneth Paul Tan | The PAP’s strong performance bucked the recent trend, showing the durability of its substantial performance legitimacy

Kenneth Paul Tan (2017) “Singapore’s Dominant Party System”, in Governing Global-City Singapore: Legacies and Futures after Lee Kuan Yew (Routledge). – DOWNLOAD

On “freak elections” and suspicious “bookies predictions” – Cherian George | Contrary to elites’ theories, Singapore electorate has been remarkably consistent in the way it uses its vote, but it can be manipulated by disinformation.

Cherian George (2017) “Freak elections,” pp.67-72 in Singapore, Incomplete: Reflections on a First World Nation’s Arrested Political Development.(Singapore: Woodsville News). – DOWNLOAD

What happened to the “new normal” post-2011 – Lam Peng Er | Explaining the dramatic swing back to the PAP between the 2011 and 2015 elections.

Lam Peng Er (2015) “New Normal Or Anomaly? 2015 General Election and PAP’s Electoral Landslide,” pp. 246-264 in Change in Voting: Singapore’s 2015 General Election, edited by Terence Lee & Kevin YL Tan (Singapore: Ethos Books). – DOWNLOAD

What influenced voters in GE2015 – Bridget Welsh | Singaporeans wanted a stronger opposition, but were divided on the opposition’s performance in Parliament and at the grassroots.

Bridget Welsh (2015) “GE2015 Survey: Post-Election Insights on Voting in Singapore.” (Slides) – DOWNLOAD

Key references and resources

Parliament of Singapore official site: Includes educational resources and explainers about Singapore’s system of government.

Elections Department official site: Includes latest press releases, and voter education resources.

Past election results: Non-government Singapore Elections database; Elections Department database.

NGO/thinktank reports: ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights report on Singapore.

CAPE: Student-run political literacy portal.

New Naratif: Independent website with voter education resources.