Singapore heads to the polls on Sept 11

Writ of Election issued by President Tony Tan Keng Yam was revealed at 4pm on August 25.

Writ of Election issued by President Tony Tan Keng Yam revealed at 4pm on August 25.

Lee Hsien Loong

Lee Hsien Loong

SINGAPORE: Singapore would hold a snap general election on Sept 11, officials said yesterday, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sought a new mandate from voters worried over immigration and the high cost of living.

Despite a slowing economy, the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled for more than 50 years thanks to strict political controls and Singaporeans’ rising affluence, is expected to keep its overwhelming majority in parliament against a fragmented opposition.

But the party will be under pressure to improve on its electoral performance in 2011, when it won just 60 percent of votes cast — its lowest-ever share — despite retaining 80 of the 87 seats in a block-voting system.

It will be the first election without the prime minister’s hugely influential father, independence leader Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March.

The election department set the shortest possible campaigning period of nine days after President Tony Tan dissolved parliament at the prime minister’s request.

Lee, who has been in power for 11 years and had until January 2017 to hold an election, sought support in a Facebook post.

“I called this general election to seek your mandate to take Singapore beyond SG50, into its next half century,” he said, referring to the 50th anniversary of independence from Malaysia.

Singapore celebrated half a century as a republic on Aug 9 with a massive parade which highlighted its rapid economic development and stability under PAP rule.

All eyes will be on whether the opposition can gain more than the seven seats it currently holds.

“I would say this would be the watershed election after independence because we will see whether Singapore moves in a definitive manner towards a two-party system,” said analyst Eugene Tan, an associate law professor at the Singapore Management University.

A survey by local research firm Blackbox said the government enjoyed a ‘satisfaction index’ of 76.4 per cent in July after peaking at 80 per cent in April following Lee Kuan Yew’s death, which triggered an outpouring of grief and stirred patriotism.

But its satisfaction rating on the cost of living in July stood at just 42 per cent, housing affordability at 53 per cent, public transport at 57 per cent and population management at 61 per cent.

An influx of foreign workers and immigrants as the local birthrate declined has seen the population surge from 4.17 million in 2004 to 5.47 million last year, of whom over 2.46 million are eligible Singaporean voters.

Middle-class Singaporeans complain that newcomers are competing with them for jobs and housing while straining public services like mass transport.

After the 2011 election the government invested billions of dollars in building new public housing flats and metro lines while curbing the intake of foreign workers and immigrants. — AFP