With a General Election (GE) around the corner, the talk of the town in Singapore inevitably surrounds the possible dates for the upcoming polls.
Elections in Singapore are not held according to a fixed schedule unlike, say, the United States. Media reports, citing analysts, have suggested two possible windows where the next election might take place — the final quarter of 2019, or between next April and June 2020.
However, a closer look at historical data and the political calendar points us to an even narrower window for the upcoming GE — either May 2 or May 9 2020. Both dates fall on a Saturday, historically the favourite day for polls to be held in the city state.
Here’s how we arrived at the two dates.
1. OVERVIEW: PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN SINGAPORE 1955–2015
The table above lists the key dates for parliamentary elections in Singapore since 1955. The table below highlights the length of the official campaigning period over the years. Some trends are immediately obvious from a quick glance.
For one, the length of the official campaign period has been remarkably consistent since 1972. The upcoming GE is unlikely to deviate from this trend, meaning that we need to focus only on finding relevant trends within the polling dates.
The 1950s and 1960s were a more politically turbulent time for Singapore, so it is not surprising that the gap between Nomination and Polling Days were far wider then.
A discussion of politics in those eras, however, is outside the scope of this post.
2. Which Month And Day-of-week Were Most Often Picked For Polling Day?
The past does not predict the future but it often paints a picture of the patterns we’ve fallen into, as the chart below shows:
Eleven of the 15 parliamentary elections since 1955 were held on a Saturday. Singapore has never held a GE on a Sunday, Monday or Wednesday.
September has so far been the favorite month for Singapore to go to the polls, with May and December close behind. Since the 1950s, voters have never gone to the polls for a national election in February, March, June, July, or October (by-elections for some constituencies have been held in those months, however).
Here’s a closer look at previous GEs held in September, May and December:
September is naturally out as a possible month for the next election since we are already in October.
Between 1976 and 1984, Singapore saw 3 consecutive General Elections that fell on December. All 3 took place really close to Christmas.
But it has been 35 years since Singapore has held a GE in December, and the country has changed much in those years. An election in December won’t be a crowd pleaser, given that much of the country and the civil service would be on holiday at that time.
More importantly, we’ve heard little about the new candidates that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and the main Opposition parties are introducing for the next election.
The rollout of these fresh faces, especially for the PAP, is a carefully orchestrated affair months in the making. With just two months left on the clock, it is unlikely the PAP will rush to the polls with so little time to introduce its candidates.
Two of the three GEs that fell on May are of more recent vintage, in 2011 and 2006. Those two GEs were held close to Labour Day on May 1, when job and economic concerns feature prominently on the news.
Nomination Day fell on April 27 for those two elections, giving the ruling PAP a good window during the May Day holiday to talk up bread-and-butter issues which dominate concerns among Singaporean voters.
There’s nothing to stop Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong from breaking with “tradition” and calling an election on any of those months or day of the week which have not been picked in the past.
So why should May 2 and May 9 2020 be considered the more likely dates for the next GE?
This is where insights from historical data have to be combined with contextual knowledge of Singapore politics.
December 2019 can be ruled out for the simple reason that there won’t be enough time to roll out further election goodies, or to introduce the new candidates.
It makes even less sense to hold an election in January or February 2020 when all the Government ministries are neck deep in preparations for the annual Budget season. Why call an election before you have a chance to announce pre-election goodies?
Throw in preparations that have to be in place to guard against new concerns about foreign electoral interference, and you’ll have a pretty busy start to the year before the ruling party can shift gears to focus on an election.
The upcoming GE is also expected to be Mr Lee’s last as the country’s prime minister, and he will be looking to hand over to a new team with a solid win. Media reports also suggest that the PAP will be seeking a mandate for its next generation of leaders.
The electoral strategy required for these twin goals will be debated at length, further lowering the chances of Mr Lee announcing a surprise early date for the elections.
Admittedly, an election in May 2020 sounds like a long time away. But it makes sense when seen in light of the historical patterns highlighted by the charts above.
The two earliest Saturdays in May 2020 are May 2 and May 9. They are the logical picks for the upcoming polling day due to their proximity to May Day, when concerns regarding jobs and the economy — key talking points in any election — tend to spike. The last two elections that were held in May — May 7 2011 and May 6 2006 — were also held in the early part of the month.
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