Singapore opposition eyes bigger role as election campaign starts

Lee Hsien LoongCampaigning for Singapore’s September 11 election began Tuesday, with a resurgent opposition seeking a greater political role as voters chafe at immigration and high living costs.

The People’s Action Party, founded by independence leader Lee Kuan Yew who died in March and led by his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has ruled for over half a century and is certain to retain power.

But the opposition hopes to improve on the seven seats it gained in the 2011 elections, when the PAP suffered its lowest ever share of the popular vote at 60 percent — despite winning 80 seats thanks to a block-voting system.

It is the first time since 1963 that all parliamentary seats — now totalling 89 — are being contested.

“It will be a good fight. We are looking forward to it,” the prime minister told reporters.

The PAP, which has strictly controlled dissent but also delivered rapid economic growth, has been in power since 1959, when Singapore gained self-rule from Britain.

In 1965 it became a republic headed by Lee Kuan Yew, a respected but feared authoritarian figure who stepped down in 1990.

His death sparked an outpouring of patriotism and national grief.

Candidates filed nomination papers in schools across the city-state on Tuesday.

The main opposition Workers’ Party is contesting only 28 seats, assuring the PAP of a clear majority since smaller parties are poorly organised and meagrely funded.

Pritam Singh, a member of the Workers’ Party team that wrested the five-seat Aljunied district from the PAP in 2011, urged supporters to increase opposition numbers in parliament.

“Let us not slide back to a one-party parliament landscape dominated by the PAP,” he said amid loud cheers.

Also running is Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, who has endured jail terms as well as bankruptcy arising from libel suits filed by PAP leaders.

At a school where Lee filed his candidacy, housewife Hidayah Mahazam, 54, told AFP she showed up because “he’s a good, kind leader and I want to show my support for him so he can continue as PM.”

Opposition supporters said they want more non-PAP candidates in parliament.

“Without the Workers’ Party in parliament, the PAP can do whatever they want,” said a 66-year-old retiree.

Security guard Simon Yap, 48, said his main grouse was the large number of foreigners.

“Everywhere you go now, you see foreign faces, they don’t speak English… how many more do they want to bring in?” he asked.

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

Citizens complain that newcomers are competing with them for jobs and housing while straining public services like transport.

The government slowed the intake after the 2011 vote.

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