SINGAPORE: Singaporeans began casting their votes Friday in a snap parliamentary election after a heated campaign that boosted opposition hopes of further eroding half a century of dominance by the ruling party.
The People’s Action Party (PAP), co-founded by the late independence leader Lee Kuan Yew and now led by his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is widely expected to retain a clear majority in the 89-seat parliament.
But analysts say an emboldened opposition — buoyed by massive turnouts at its campaign rallies and weak attendance at PAP gatherings — could make further inroads and pave the way towards a two-party system.
There are 2.46 million eligible voters who will elect 89 members of parliament after a boisterous nine-day campaign. Polls opened at 8:00 am (0000 GMT) and were to close 12 hours later, with results expected by midnight (1600 GMT).
Voters went early to polling stations at public schools across the island under hazy skies.
The PAP, which steered the island to prosperity while using an iron hand to suppress dissent, was stunned in 2011 when its share of all votes cast plunged to 60 percent, its lowest ever.
It won 80 seats thanks to a system of voting MPs in blocks while the Workers’ Party (WP) captured seven seats, the opposition’s highest ever.
The prime minister campaigned on a platform touting the country’s meteoric rise from a colonial backwater into one of the world’s wealthiest societies after 56 years of uninterrupted PAP rule.
“In this election, we are showing a report card. We are proud of it, I hope you are proud of it too. We are asking you for a mandate. Work with us, help us to make things better for Singapore,” Lee said in his final election rally speech on Wednesday.
But the WP urged voters to support the building of a robust legislative opposition to rein in the dominance of the PAP and force it to reform its policies on immigration, health care and social safety nets for the poor and elderly.
“We cannot allow Singapore to fall into a situation where our survival depends only on the PAP, or just on any one party,” WP chief Low Thia Khiang said in a campaign speech.
The PAP’s control of Singapore’s mainstream media was undermined during the campaign by independent portals and the opposition’s aggressive use of social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube.
A longtime ban on the publication of pre-election voter surveys makes it difficult to predict the poll outcome.
But local research firm Blackbox said it expected “some very tight races” in the country’s eastern region.
Under a unique system designed to ensure representation of minorities in a city state dominated by ethnic Chinese, 85 percent of parliamentary wards are grouped into blocks of four, five or six seats. Members of the Malay and Indian minorities have to be represented in the teams fielded by parties.
Apart from the WP, eyes will also be on the tiny Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), led by Chee Soon Juan, a dissident who has drawn thousands to his rallies after being in the political wilderness for years.
As in 2011, the opposition hammered the PAP over immigration. The population surged from 4.17 million in 2004 to 5.47 million in 2014.