Trump’s surprising victory in the recent United States presidential election has come as a large surprise to many and has signalled the greatest victory, populist has had this decade. Those who have been left out by globalisation have voted against their leaders by turning their back on the established elite. Populist candidates have voted in candidates that promise to destroy all that the elite hold dear. This is the PAP greatest fear and if the populist rhetoric of the west gains prominence in Singapore. It would signal the end of us as a nation.
Unlike the west, we lack the luxury of protectionism as our position as small city-state forces us to depended on trade without which we would starve. Our economy is based on the outsourcing and globalisation that western populist cry out against and we represent everything those populist’s hate. This makes it unlikely that western populists will gain power in Singapore, however, this does not prevent unique brand of Singapore populism getting into power based solely on disenchantment with the current PAP elite
In this article, I will lay out the possibility of a rise of populism in rhetoric and how it is conceivable a populist movement will be able to gain significant political power in Singapore in the foreseeable future. Singapore’s tools against populism are far stronger but they can be subverted and used to the populist’s advantage if they have sufficient organisation such as was shown by the trainwreck that was Trump’s campaign.
The 3 major tool that the government has to discredit populism are strong libel laws, mandated minority representation and high voter turnout which all aim to prevent a vocal minority from overruling an apathetic majority. These tools, however, can be countered or even used to the populist’s benefit. Libel laws can be used against the press and another critic which use hyperbole to criticise them creating campaign funds and libel suits against can be tied down via appeal. The token minority are plenty, with even the most xenophobic western party having a token minority to deflect claims who can easily be sidelined or ignored. High voter turnout can allow low information voter to vote unqualified but high media presence candidates into power.
Here are the requirements for a successful populist campaign in Singapore. The first things required would be cash to initiate lawsuits and fight off legal challenges to prevent them running, this could be acquired from a rich sponsor either domestic or even overseas from countries that wish to influence Singapore politics. China could easily play this role but so could the united states under the new Trump administration.
The second things needs to be a populist issue to gain press prominence such as how “build a wall” launched trump’s name into the political debate, An example in Singapore could be “close the Tap” or ” “Keep Singapore Singlish” ie exploiting immigration or other populist issues to gain national prominence and recognition. This should aim to be as vague as possible in order to prevent voters from holding it to a solid performance but should exploit populist anger.
The third thing needed is a way to motivate low-information voter into voting against the PAP. The first most effective way could be saying that the government is hiding away “300 billion dollars of money” by pointing to temaske holding or by saying that CPF is offered lower return than the market allowing the government to pocket the rest. The promises need to be large enough to motivate people into voting for the new populist with feasibility or reality being secondary. Bigger is the better as long as there is some nugget of truth in it. Running against the Old PAP would be a disaster but claiming that PAP has lost lee Kuan yew mandate and trying to take the history of the PAP might gain success among disenchanted PAP voters unhappy with the new party’s popularity.
In conclusion, Singapore is extremely vulnerable to populist movements and urgent action must be undertaken by the government to solve this problem unless we wish to follow the path of the west towards madness and insanity.