Arts Books By The Book literature Review Singapore

★★★☆☆ Book Review: GE2020 – Fair or Foul? by Bertha Henson

Screenshot 2020-11-28 at 9.50.18 PM

A useful compendium for all that went down in GE2020.

The 2020 Singapore General Elections were an unprecedented one – who would ever have expected to vote during a pandemic? But as much as the results essentially maintained the status quo, there was still plenty of drama that emerged in the weeks leading up to it, and if you’d like to relive that chapter of Singapore’s history in one useful book, then Bertha Henson’s GE2020: Fair or Foul? is just the right tome for you.

Going in strong with the intent of proving how the electoral system is in dire need of an overhaul, former journalist and university lecturer Henson has put together a useful compilation of her own articles, observations, and conclusions, all back by statistics and facts scoured from official sources (and aided by a team of students under her). GE2020: Fair or Foul? is useful both for political enthusiasts and those dipping their toes into Singapore politics for the first time, as it offers comments on party manifestos, new candidate and media portrayal, all told in Henson’s signature casual, accessible style.

What is impressive is how this is a book that has been published so quickly after the end of the elections, and offers some insight into journalists’ relationship with politics (it’s interesting how she talks about journalists viewed as enemies of the opposition, out to write untruths). Certainly, it’s interesting how she offers her years of experience as a journalist, including some fascinating anecdotes, and compares it to how 2020’s elections played out, such as the increased use of social media marketing, and is unrelenting in putting all relevant parties under the microscope, paying close attention in particular to their behaviours and the storylines presented to the public.

Perhaps rather curiously, the book comes out at a very strange time. With the election still fresh in everyone’s minds, but already over, it’s hard to argue for the need for such a book right now. Many of the articles were written in the midst of the election, pondering over the effect certain actions would have on the results, but now, with the writing already on the wall, are reduced to mere archive of the emotions and thoughts at the height of the election. The arguments themselves are compelling enough, but it often feels that we’ve already read or know most of the ‘foul’ that Henson highlights, made clearer than ever this year with the freedom of voices on the internet.

All things considered, it’s still quite a brave book to put out, considering how critical it is and dares point out some of the hard truths of the electoral system. One imagines that this is a book that will find popularity again five years on, closer to the next election, as pundits and political science students pore over its pages for references and a basis for comparison. But for now, it simply acts as a useful summary and wrap-up to the very strange year and election we’ve had, a mark of slow but steady progression towards a more balanced parliament, and a way to relive the election fever as captured in these pages. 

Recommended for: Readers looking for a recap of the events leading up to GE2020, and a fact-based analysis  

GE2020: Fair or Foul? is published by Epigram and available here

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