Sat, May 06, 2006 - Page 4 News List

PAP predicted to triumph yet again

STATUS QUO Although some in Singapore feel there should be more political debate, the ruling party is expected to win a handsome victory in the election


Singapore wrapped up campaigning ahead of a vote today that is expected to result in a wide margin of victory for the ruling party, which has won every general election since independence from Malaysia in 1965.

The invitation from the ruling People's Action Party is clear: vote for us and we will deliver more of Singapore's trademark economic success and social stability. Most Singaporeans are likely to heed the call, but some say the government needs new voices and looser controls.

"We have some questions about how the government is run and how it can be improved," said Alvin Teo, a 23-year-old student. "There should be a healthy debate. Right now, it seems that there isn't sufficient healthy debate."

Singapore's leaders say debate has limits, and point to Thailand and the Philippines as examples of places where unfettered, Western-style democracy led to upheaval. The tiny city-state is a neighbor of Indonesia, where ethnic and other tensions often explode in violence.

So while Singapore remains a Southeast Asian oasis of calm and market success, it has muted dissent with strict controls on freedom of speech and assembly.

Government leaders have bankrupted some opposition figures with defamation lawsuits, making them ineligible to run for public office.

Any suspense in the election lies in whether the struggling opposition can boost its number of elected seats beyond two out of a total of 84. In a bold gesture, the opposition Workers' Party is challenging Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his stronghold of Ang Mo Kio.

But the opposition already has no chance of winning 37 seats because it did not field candidates in those constituencies.

In a campaign speech this week, Lee cited political gridlock in Taiwan and said he would be distracted from running Singapore if he had to deal with an opposition that had 10 to 20 seats in Parliament.

"Instead of spending my time thinking of what is the right policy for Singapore, I have to spend all my time thinking what is the right way to fix them, what's the right way to buy my own supporters over," said Lee, the son of Singapore's founder, Lee Kuan Yew.

The comment drew instant fire from the Workers' Party, which said Lee's use of the term "fix" was ominous and that his comments suggested he was not competent to handle a robust opposition. In a rare retraction, Lee's office later said the prime minister was sorry if his "direct language" had offended anyone.

Opposition candidates have highlighted a growing income disparity between the rich and poor in Singapore, where some people struggle financially despite the country's status as a high-tech, manufacturing hub.

Critics also cite a recent corruption scandal at Singapore's largest charity, the National Kidney Foundation, as a sign that the government should be subject to the checks of a vocal opposition.

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