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Singapore's ruling PAP emerges victorious in snap election

world Updated: Sep 13, 2015 21:44 IST
AFP
Singapore election

Singapore's prime minister Lee Hsien Loong delivers his keynote address of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in this May 29, 2015 file photo. (Reuters)

Extending its 56-year rule, Singapore's People's Action Party (PAP) emerged victorious in a snap election, held on Friday, dashing hopes of a two-party system in the city-state.

Friday's vote, which saw the party take 83 of 89 seats and nearly 70% of the ballots cast, stunned opponents and reversed a plunge in the PAP's share of popular vote in 2011.

It strengthened the mandate of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong amid an economic slowdown, with analysts warning the trade-dependent economy could suffer a technical recession in the third quarter.

"It is a good result for the PAP but it is an excellent result for Singapore," said Lee, 63, who admitted the outcome exceeded the party's own expectations.

The election came six months after the death of Lee's father, independence leader Lee Kuan Yew, plunging Singapore into mourning and generating a wave of patriotism which analysts said benefitted the party on election day.

The PAP-led Singapore, a former British colonial outpost, achieved industrialised status in just one generation but has been criticised for jailing dissidents and using defamation suits to cripple the opposition.

There was never any doubt the party would again win a majority -- but the results were a marked improvement over the 2011 vote, when it took 80 of the 87 seats but saw its share of votes plunge to an all-time low of 60%.

Low Thia Kiang, leader of the Opposition Workers' Party (WP), admitted there had been a "massive swing" in favour of the PAP, but vowed his party will rebound.

"You win, you lose. So I think that is part and parcel of life," he told reporters.

Immigration, the high cost of living and the plight of elderly and poor Singaporeans were key issues raised by the Opposition during the campaign.

The turnout was 93.56% among 2.46 million voters, the Elections Department said. Voting is mandatory in Singapore with few exemptions allowed.

'The LKY effect'

Opposition rallies drew tens of thousands during the nine-day campaign, dwarfing PAP gatherings but they did not translate into winning votes.

"Our polling all year showed likelihood of PAP bouncing back," said David Black, managing director of local research firm Blackbox.

"The only surprise was the extent of it," he told AFP.

Bridget Welsh, Asian political researcher at the National Taiwan University, said the "LKY (Lee Kuan Yew) effect" helped PAP.

"This is a clear victory for Lee Hsien Loong and it will completely solidify his position within the cabinet, which was not all that strong before," said Michael Barr, an associate professor at Flinders University in Australia who closely follows Singapore politics.

"It also solidifies the PAP's model of technocratic authoritarianism even after the LKY era," he added.

Most MPs in Singapore are elected as part of geographic clusters, a system criticised by the Opposition as stacked in favour of the ruling party.

The Prime Minister, who has been in power since 2004, had staked PAP's fate on its performance since winning its first election in 1959, when colonial ruler Britain granted self rule.

After a stormy union with Malaysia, Singapore became a republic in 1965.

The WP retained by a narrow margin the five-seat district of Aljunied it had won in 2011. Its vote share dipped to 50.95% from 54.72%.

The WP also lost one of two single-seat wards it had held in the previous parliament.

The Singapore Democratic Party led by Chee Soon Juan, a long-time opponent of the PAP, failed to win any seat despite drawing large rally crowds.

The WP urged voters to support building of a robust legislative opposition to rein in the PAP although Singaporeans decided otherwise.

"It is very clear that there is no linear progression to a two-party system," said Barr.

"It seems Singaporeans are not that concerned about issues like freedom of speech or democracy... they are more concerned about making money and getting by, and I guess that is fair enough."