SINGAPORE: Singaporeans vote in snap elections Friday that the opposition hopes will dramatically boost its presence in parliament and challenge half a century of ruling party domination, after huge crowds attended its campaign rallies.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for polls 16 months ahead of schedule to secure a fresh mandate for the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has been in power for 56 years and is widely expected to win another majority.
The PAP held 80 seats in the last parliament, with the Workers’ Party (WP) occupying the remaining seven — a record for an opposition that has survived a campaign of intimidation that saw some of its figures jailed as dissidents or bankrupted by libel suits.
It will be Singapore’s first election without independence leader Lee Kuan Yew — the father of the current premier — who is credited with Singapore’s rapid rise to prosperity.
His death in March generated an outpouring of grief and nostalgia that the PAP hopes will translate into votes on Friday.
But since the nine-day campaign began on September 1, opposition rallies have dwarfed PAP gatherings in both size and intensity.
Immigration, the high cost of living and the need for more assistance to poor and elderly Singaporeans are the main issues being raised by the newly confident opposition.
The repressive tactics that the PAP long used to keep them at bay are gone, under pressure from the scrutiny of social media which sidesteps the government-friendly press, and observers are debating if this vote will finally see the emergence of a two-party system.
All seats are being contested for the first time in half a century but the WP is fielding only 28 candidates for the 89 seats up for grabs, with smaller parties splitting the rest.