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Singapore Elections Seen as Test for Prime Minister

  • Nancy-Amelia Collins

The Singapore elections Saturday are being seen as the first test of the popularity of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who took up the post in 2004. Although his ruling People's Action Party is virtually assured of a majority of seats in parliament, even a small improvement by the tiny opposition could prove an embarrassment for Mr. Lee.

Analysts here say Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wants a crushing victory in Saturday's election, one that will demolish the opposition and confirm the 54-year-old's mandate as Singapore's leader.

His party has been the dominant force since 1959, when Singapore, then a British colony, was first granted self-rule, and Mr. Lee's father, Lee Kuan Yew, was made prime minister.

The party's worst showing came in 1991, when it lost four seats and gained only 61 percent of the vote. Analysts say that for the younger Mr. Lee to claim a mandate, the PAP must do no worse than that: it must win at least 80 of the 84 available seats.

The tiny opposition, which currently holds two seats, is fielding 47 candidates this time.

Sinapan Samydorai is president of Singapore's Think Centre, which promotes democratic freedom. He says the opposition has also broken with past practice by fielding strong candidates in this race, most of them professionals.

"It's very interesting to look that the candidates they put up [they] are very credible and very knowledgeable. It goes along, it matches the PAP candidates," he said.

No one predicts a PAP loss, because the ruling party delivers what most people here want - economic growth, jobs, good education, and health care.

But this wealthy city-state's 4.4 million people pay a price for enjoying one of the world's highest standards of living. Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are limited, and the government tightly controls the nation's news media.

PAP support comes from older voters, who watched Singapore change from a backwater into an economic powerhouse. They are used to being taken care of by the government, which plays a pervasive role in their lives.

Prime Minister Lee has played on this dependence during his campaign, reminding the people the PAP is there to take care of their needs.

"So you need to take temp? Somebody's there. You need to check the drains? Somebody is there. Once in a while, I also go and check, just to make sure," he said.

Candidate James Gomez of the opposition Workers Party calls the PAP short on delivery but long on rhetoric.

"It should not be the politics of arrogance, claiming 'I know everything.' Let's ignore them. We move on to the real issues like the cost of living, jobs, the elderly in Singapore, health care costs, education, and our future," he said.

Lee Kuan Yew, the prime minister's 82-year-old father, has long since turned over official leadership of the party, but he still holds the specially created post of Minister Mentor. He was unopposed for the parliamentary seat in his long-time district.

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