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Singapore's Ruling Party Contends With New Voting Majority

FILE - Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivers a keynote speech at the 20th International Conference on The Future of Asia in Tokyo, May 22, 2014.
FILE - Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivers a keynote speech at the 20th International Conference on The Future of Asia in Tokyo, May 22, 2014.

When Singapore celebrates its 50th year of independence on August 9 and its older citizens eulogize the country's economic feats, its ruling party founded by the late Lee Kuan Yew faces an unprecedented wave of young voters who may not be as nostalgic.

For the first time, citizens born after the country's independence in 1965 will likely account for the majority of voters in a general election due to take place by January 2017.

As of 2014, almost 54 percent of citizens above 20 were born in 1965 and later, compared with 46 percent born after independence in 2010. Singapore's voting age is 21.

Voters born after 1965 grew up in an era of economic ascendancy as Singapore's pioneer leaders turned the former British colony into a First World business hub.

While they acknowledge the economic miracle engineered by the People's Action Party (PAP), they are unhappy about the rising cost of living and an influx of foreign workers, particularly from China. Those issues took center stage in the last poll in 2011.

The PAP won its smallest ever share of votes since 1959, when it became the ruling party of a semi-independent Singapore. (Britain still had sway over external matters.)

Young Singaporeans are generally happy with the PAP-led government, but are less satisfied than older Singaporeans with public transport, population management and civil liberties, according to a survey in June by Singapore-based Blackbox Research.

"To be fair, since the last GE [general election], the PAP has done very well," said 38-year-old Chung, who declined to disclose his full name.

Nonetheless, he would not vote for the PAP and would like to see a greater presence in parliament of opposition lawmakers, who currently have just 10 percent of seats.

Local political commentator Catherine Lim told Reuters that younger people do not have the same sense of gratitude towards the government, which is a very powerful force with older people. That sentiment will be tested in an election without PAP founder and Singapore's first prime minister Lee, who died in March.

Philip Teo, a 35-year-old entrepreneur, said he will most likely vote for the PAP, but is concerned about the prospect of the government bowing to short-term populist demands.

"Now that Mr. Lee Kuan Yew is gone, I'm especially worried about the current government losing the political will to do what is the right thing to do for the long term, and give in to people's short-term gratification," Teo said.

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