, SINGAPORE, Aug 25 – Singapore’s parliament was dissolved on Tuesday, clearing the way for a snap election as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong seeks a new mandate from voters worried over immigration and the high cost of living in a slowing economy.
The People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled for more than 50 years with a mix of strict political controls and rapid economic progress, is widely expected to keep its overwhelming majority in the 89-seat parliament because of a fragmented opposition.
But the party will be under pressure to improve on its worst electoral performance in 2011, when it won 60 percent of votes – it’s lowest-ever share – despite retaining 80 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.
By law a general election must be held within three months of parliament’s dissolution by President Tony Tan. The date for nomination day, when candidates file their papers, is to be announced separately.
The prime minister, who had until January 2017 to hold an election, sought support in a televised address on Sunday.
“This election will be critical. You will be deciding who’s governing Singapore for the next five years, but much more than that… you will be setting the direction for Singapore for the next fifty years, you will be determining the future for Singapore,” he said.
Singapore celebrated 50 years of independence on August 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.
– Watershed election -A survey by local research firm Blackbox said the government enjoyed a “satisfaction index” of 76.4 percent in July after peaking at 80 percent in April following Lee Kuan Yew’s death, which triggered an outpouring of national grief and patriotism.
But its satisfaction rating on the cost of living in July stood at just 42 percent, housing affordability at 53 percent, public transport at 57 percent and population management at 61 percent.
An influx of foreign workers and immigrants as the birthrate declines has seen the population surge from 4.17 million in 2004 to 5.47 million last year.
The influx remains a source of tension, with middle-class Singaporeans complaining that the newcomers are competing with them for jobs and housing and straining public services like mass transport.
“I would say this would be the watershed general 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.
“The last four years has seen the PAP government pulling out all stops to deal with the hot-button issues that featured in the last election,” Tan told AFP.
“If despite this massive effort, voters seem to be throwing more support to the opposition, then it could suggest voters, as much as they want a strong government, also appreciate the value of a healthy and credible opposition,” he added.
Popular opposition to high levels of immigration and the rising cost of living was blamed for the PAP’s weakened showing at the last election, when the opposition Workers’ Party won a five-seat constituency.
It later extended its gains with two by-election wins.
The government subsequently invested billions of dollars in building new public housing flats and metro lines while curbing the intake of foreign workers and immigrants.