All Seats in Play in First Singapore Poll Since Lee Kuan Yew

  • Opposition Parties May Contest all Twenty Nine Districts
  • Nominations Close for Candidates for September 11 Poll

When Singaporeans head to the polls on Sept. 11, voters in every district will have at least two political parties to choose from for the first time since the founding of the modern city-state 50 years ago.

That may give the clearest picture yet of the degree of opposition to the People’s Action Party, which is almost certain to extend its unbroken run in government.

While opposition parties -- who made gains in the past two elections -- are fielding candidates in all 29 districts, including the one late leader Lee Kuan Yew held until his death in March, they face an uphill battle, in part due to the timing of the poll. The opposition has also fragmented into at least half a dozen parties and in some cases will be running candidates against each other.

The PAP, now led by Lee’s son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is seeking to capitalize on the groundswell of patriotism that followed massive celebrations last month to mark the nation’s modern founding. He dissolved parliament on Aug. 25, though an election wasn’t required until January 2017.

As nominations for candidates closed, the PAP had already unveiled its slate for some of the biggest constituencies, signaling a reliance on experienced lawmakers, newcomers drawn from the civil service as well as a former TV game show host and an animal rights activist.

‘Good Fight’

"All the seats are being contested,” Lee told reporters at a nomination center on Tuesday. “It will be a good fight and we are looking forward to it.”

The opposition Workers’ Party, whose election manifesto is “Empower Your Future,” has unveiled 19 new faces including lawyers, a banker and a sociology professor. While the opposition held talks to avoid duplicating candidates, at least two executive members of the National Solidarity Party quit in protest over a decision to stand candidates in one district against the Workers’ Party.

“The opposition really needs to stay focused on fighting the PAP and not each other,” said Michael Barr, an associate professor of international relations at Flinders University in Adelaide. “They need a few local stars too. Their weaknesses are their propensity to fragment and for the amateurs among them to make life more difficult for the serious contenders.”

‘Make Change’

Roy Ngerng, a blogger who defamed Lee and is challenging the premier in his ward as a candidate for the Reform Party, also spoke at the nomination center. “Let us unite and make change in Singapore,” he said. “Change is now.”

The PAP moved to shore up support after 2011, where it lost some districts and secured its lowest share yet of the popular vote -- 60 percent. The government shifted further from a decades-long policy of preserving budget surpluses, boosting spending on lower-income families and the elderly to offset a higher cost of living. It limited work passes for foreigners, who make up more than a third of the island of 5.5 million people.

The nation’s 2.5 million eligible voters, who are required by law to cast a ballot, will select members of parliament in 13 single-seat constituencies and 16 group districts. The number of seats in parliament will increase to 89 from 87.

In group districts, parties must field as many as six candidates and at least one needs to be of a minority ethnicity. All candidates in such constituencies must be from the same political party, or all run as independents.

Workers’ Party

Excluding the late Lee, 79 of the current 86 elected members of parliament are from the PAP and the rest from the Workers’ Party. There are three opposition members who secured the largest share of the losing vote in 2011, and nine appointed members meant to represent community views.

The Workers’ Party will contest 28 seats in 10 constituencies, including three it now holds. Other opposition parties including the Reform Party and the Singapore Democratic Party said they plan to place candidates in some areas they previously contested, in addition to other districts.

Workers’ Party Chairwoman Sylvia Lim said the party offers Singaporeans “a check and balance approach” in parliament.

The opposition in recent years has grown more ambitious in taking on the PAP. In 2011, 82 out of 87 seats were contested, up from 47 out of 84 seats in the 2006 polls.

Voters in Tanjong Pagar will have a choice of party for the first time since 1988. The district, which includes part of the financial district and Orchard Road shopping belt, had been represented by Lee Kuan Yew from independence to his death, and he frequently ran unopposed.

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