Lee faces tough test as Singapore election looms

05-Sep-2015 Intellasia | FT | 7:53 AM Print This Post

Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong faces one of his toughest challenges yet in next week’s general election, amid a weakening economy and increasingly vocal opposition to his People’s Action Party.

For the first time in the Southeast Asian city’s half-century of statehood, all of Singapore’s 2.5m registered voters will have more than one party to choose from, with opposition candidates standing in all 89 seats across the country’s 29 voting districts. At the last poll in 2011, opposition parties contested 82 of 87 seats, up from 47 of 84 in 2006.

Although the PAP, which has ruled since independence and is aided by a favourable block-voting electoral system, is virtually certain to win next Friday, the growing opposition highlights underlying concerns dogging citizens of the island nation.

Public discontent is on the rise, with the government the target of criticism over years of pro-immigration policies, malfunctioning public transport, a slowing economy, widening social inequality and the high cost of living.


“The elections come at a time when the economy is at risk of slipping into recession, weighed down by both weakening external demand and stricter foreign manpower policies,” wrote Hak Bin Chua, analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, in a note.

Chief among the concerns is the economic slowdown, with the Lion City, recently downgrading its 2015 growth projections to 2-2.5 per cent, from 2-4 per cent previously.

Immigration into the tiny nation has also fuelled anger among its citizens, with some opposition parties blaming foreign workers for taking jobs from Singaporeans, overcrowding the transport system and heightening competition for school places.

While extolling the positive impact of immigration, the PAP has slowed the stream of newcomers, a move causing discontent of a different sort among the hospitality and other industries reliant upon the influx of labour.

“If we close our doors to foreign workers, our economy will tank,” Lee said recently.

The election comes in a momentous year for the city-state. Lee Kuan Yew, father both of the current prime minister and of the nation, died in March aged 91; the poll will be the first in Singapore’s history that will not feature his overarching presence. It also coincides with the country’s 50th anniversary. The prime minister fired the starting gun on the vote in late August amid a burst of patriotism from the birthday celebrations.

“Singapore is at a turning point,” Lee said this week. “And this election will be critical. You will be deciding who is governing Singapore for the next five years – but more than that. You will be setting the direction for Singapore for the next 50 years.”

Lee’s PAP has dominated Singaporean politics since independence from Britain with its unique mix of authoritarian rule and free-market economics, but is coming off a tough 2011 election where it garnered its lowest-ever vote share of 60.1 per cent – a poll subsequently labelled it the “watershed elections”.

“The government is not in danger [of losing power] but questions could be raised over Lee Hsien Loong,” said Michael Barr, associate professor of international relations at Flinders University in Adelaide. “He won’t lose the premiership, but questions about his legitimacy are likely to be raised in cabinet.”

However, Chua of BofA Merrill Lynch noted that “this current downturn, with growing anxieties over falling markets and neighbouring Malaysia’s political crisis, may work to favour the PAP”.




Category: Singapore

Print This Post

Comments are closed.