Singapore’s Lee Set to Call Election as Parliament Dissolved

Singapore dissolved its parliament, setting the stage for an election to capitalize on a groundswell of patriotism during celebrations to mark the 50th year since the modern founding of the city state.

A ballot is expected to be set in motion after President Tony Tan dissolved parliament at the request of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, according to an online government gazette.

Lee’s People’s Action Party -- formed by his father, the late leader Lee Kuan Yew who died in March -- has been in power for more than 50 years and retains a large majority in parliament, though it lost some districts in the 2011 ballot.

The PAP moved to shore up support after the 2011 vote and as economic growth slows, boosting spending on lower-income families and the elderly to offset a higher cost of living. That’s a shift from a decades-long policy under Lee Kuan Yew of preserving budget surpluses. It has also limited work passes for foreigners, who make up more than a third of the island of 5.5 million people.

“What’s in their favor is the hot button issues that were present in 2011 are of less prominence this time around,” Eugene Tan, an associate professor of law at Singapore Management University, said before the proclamation was released. “It boils down to performance legitimacy, and there may be some residual support for Mr. Lee that could be transfered to the party,” he said, referring to Lee Kuan Yew.

The election will follow a parade and other celebrations around National Day on Aug. 9 that drew more than 200,000 people. The government declared an extra public holiday for the extended “Jubilee Weekend” of four days.

‘Turning Point’

In a televised speech on Aug. 23, Lee, 63, pledged social measures including making public housing more affordable, describing the coming election as “critical” and Singapore as being at a “turning point.”

The last poll saw the PAP secure 60 percent of the popular vote, its lowest share since 1965. It also lost a by-election in 2013.

Singapore’s export-driven economy has been damped by a commodities slump, China’s slowdown and uneven recoveries in the U.S. and Europe. Consumer prices declined for the ninth straight month in July. The economy contracted the most since 2012 in the second quarter this year, and employment fell last quarter for the first time since the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2009.

The premier said the government will raise the employable age to 67 from 65 as Singapore copes with an aging population. It will also double paternity leave to two weeks, with the extended time off paid for by the government.

‘Pioneer Generation’

The government has this year highlighted the “pioneer generation,” giving subsidies to about 450,000 Singaporeans who were aged at least 16 in 1965 when the country became independent after its split from Malaysia. The nation’s elderly will triple to 900,000 by 2030, according to the National Population and Talent Division.

The election will see 13 single-seat constituencies and 16 group districts up for grabs. The number of seats in Parliament will increase to 89 from 87.

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

At least one cabinet member won’t seek re-election. Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew has said he’ll step down after the polls even as Lee signaled his intention to retain him in the cabinet.

Power Fault

While Lui oversaw expansion of the public-transportation network, he’s had to deal with infrastructure breakdowns. Singaporeans vented on social media after a power fault froze evening commutes across two major train lines and stranded thousands on July 7.

The administration has imposed higher levies for overseas labor and set tighter limits on employing non-Singaporeans in some industries. It faced a public backlash in 2013 over a proposal to increase the population by as much as 25 percent by 2030 through immigration.

Since 2011, the PAP has “worked hard” to address voter concerns, said Gillian Koh, a senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. “The whole point of the general election is to see whether that’s been successful.”

The Workers’ Party has said it’ll contest 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.