SINGAPORE: Singaporeans voted Friday in the country’s most hotly contested election, after massive turnouts at opposition rallies boosted chances that a two-party system will emerge from half a century of domination 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 turnouts of up to 30,000 at its campaign rallies in contrast to weak attendance at PAP gatherings — could make further inroads after gains in the 2011 polls.
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.
There are 2.46 million eligible voters who will elect 89 members of parliament. Polls close at 1200 GMT (8 pm local and Philippine time), with results expected by midnight.
Voters went early to polling stations at public schools under hazy skies. The 2011 polls had a 93.06 percent voter turnout.
“I made a choice for my children, to see who can keep Singapore safe and make their lives better,” housewife Goh Lay Hoon, 46, told AFP after casting her vote.
The PAP, which steered the former British colony to prosperity while using an iron fist to suppress dissent, was stunned in 2011 when its share of 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.
“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,” Premier 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 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, a charismatic former schoolteacher, said in a campaign speech.
‘Very tight races’
The elections are being held amid an economic slowdown in the trade-reliant city state, hurt by weak demand for its exports and domestic pressure from a manpower shortage following a slowdown in the intake of foreign workers in reaction to a public backlash.
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, the opposition bastion where a five-seat district was snatched from the PAP by the WP in 2011.