Singapore opposition makes gains in vote

Workers' Party cuts into decades-long dominance of ruling People's Action Party in hotly contested general election.

    The PAP has dominated Singapore politics for 52 years and the opposition had never won a group constituency [EPA]

    Singapore's ruling party has won an overwhelming parliamentary majority in elections, but the opposition has made historic gains.

    The government's elections department said early on Sunday that partial results showed the People's Action Party (PAP) winning at least 75 of 87 seats in parliament. The opposition Workers' Party won six seats, the most since independence in 1965.

    The opposition more than doubled its presence in the previous parliament, in which the ruling party controlled 82 of 84 seats in the previous parliament.

    Lee Hsien Loong, the country's prime minister, was among the winners. George Yeo, the foreign minister, was among the losers as part of the team that lost a five-member constituency to the Workers' Party.

    The Workers' Party, which took all the seats going to the opposition, held a victory celebration at a stadium in one of the constituencies it clinched.

    Supporters dressed in the party's blue colours chanted "Ole, Ole," and threw confetti on each other, shouting and clapping.

    "You have made history tonight," Low Thia Khiang, the party's head, said. "This is a political landmark in modern Singapore.

    "Your votes tell us that you want Singapore to develop as a nation. Your votes tell the government you want a more responsive, inclusive, transparent and accountable government."

    The PAP has dominated Singapore politics for 52 years and the opposition has never won a group constituency.

    This year the opposition contested 82 of 87 seats in parliament, the most ever, with the PAP returned unopposed from one five-seat constituency. In 2006, just over half the seats were contested.

    Several complaints

    The elections department earlier said an opposition party had made several complaints, including an allegation that a PAP candidate had updated her Facebook page on Friday, contravening a 24-hour "cooling-off" period before the start of polls when parties were not allowed to campaign.

    "We had responded to National Solidarity Party that they may wish to lodge a police report," a spokesperson for the department said.

    Voting is compulsory in Singapore, a former British colony which in 1965 became a republic after breaking up with neighbouring Malaysia.

    A total of six opposition parties contested the monopoly of PAP, which has been taken aback by the depth of voter resentment against it.

    In a rare admission of concern during the campaign, Lee, the prime minister, apologised for policy mistakes and blunders since the last poll, including the 2008 escape of a suspected "terrorist", failure to prevent floods in 2010, high home prices and crowded metro trains.

    "We're trying our best on your behalf. And if we didn't quite get it right, I'm sorry but we will try and do better the next time," he said.

    Ills of growth

    Singapore, one of the wealthiest and fastest-growing nations in Asia, has been ruled by the PAP since independence in 1965. But groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say the government restricts political freedoms and clamps down on dissent.

    The opposition had focused its campaign on the ills brought by Singapore's growth - rising income inequality, high prices and an unwelcome influx of foreigners. The PAP pointed to its stewardship that had transformed a sleepy colonial port to a gleaming financial hub.

    Despite the shake-up, analyst said no policy shifts were anticipated and that the PAP remains firmly in control.

    "Given Singapore's parliamentary system, the ruling party has the ability to pass comfortably key legislation, including constitutional amendments," Prasenjit Basu, chief regional economist at Daiwa Capital Markets, said in a report.

    "The PAP government will thus continue to have an unfettered ability to make and implement policy - particularly on economic and money matters.”

    PAP backers said there were lessons to be learned.

    "It is definitely good for Singapore, but I think the leaders and government realised that there's a gap between them and people on the ground," Jagjit Singh, a 72-year-old, said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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