The winds that usher in Singapore’s election season are, in many ways, familiar to illiberal democracies everywhere. Flags and faces popping up; government handouts; public largesse on incumbent brand-building, camouflaged as patriotic projects; the instilling of fear through new demons within and old ones abroad; and the obsequious submission of media outfits that have grown dependent on juicy government contracts.

One might spot some uniquely Singaporean bellwethers. Administrative Service Officers going for tea, their thinly-veiled political ambitions part of the great fiction of civil service independence; top army brass removing their berets to fulfil their lifelong dream of battle for the ballot box; and former government scholars and former foreign service officers and former this-and-that who have gone to the opposition dark side, to be feted like sadhus by that irascible, undying segment of “ungrateful” Singaporeans who are just out for a fight. (“What don’t you get? Have you not been to Jewel?”)

Jewel, a glittering new mall at Singapore’s Changi Airport, opened to much fanfare in April 2019.

Pragmatic Singaporeans are not given to extremities, yet on those very winds one can sniff paranoia and quixotism, wafting in from either end of the political spectrum. The fear that the People’s Action Party (PAP), democratic Asia’s longest-ruling party, might lose a general election can cause acolytes to embrace the most hackneyed conspiracy theories about Singapore’s apparent apocalypse. 

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Sudhir Vadaketh

Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh is the author of Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore. He blogs at sudhirtv.com.