Posted: 06 May 2011 06:58 PM PDT
Voting is compulsory in Singapore, a former British colony which in 1965 became a republic after breaking away from Malaysia, and a steady stream of voters was filing into polling stations since they opened at 8 a.m.
Voting ends at 8 p.m. and results should be known a few hours after that. About 2.2 million people are eligible to vote.
"This election is different. So many constituencies are being contested and the opposition has fielded many quality candidates," said Andrew Poh, a regional manager with an aviation firm.
The opposition is contesting 82 of 87 seats in parliament, the most ever, with the PAP returned unopposed from one, small constituency. At the last election in 2006, just over half the seats were contested.
Analysts say the PAP's huge majority of 82 seats in the previous 84-seat house may be cut back as the opposition benefits from irritation over sharp income disparities and an unwelcome influx of foreigners.
Several prominent Singaporeans have joined the various opposition parties to run against candidates from the ruling party.
But the PAP is seen likely to win anyway, due to strong grassroots support and the backing of older Singaporeans who have seen the city transformed from a sleepy port to a modern, world class financial hub under its rule.
Opinion polls are not published in Singapore but an online poll conducted by Australian group UMR Research indicates that the PAP's share of the vote may fall to 61 percent from about 67 percent in 2006. — ReutersFull Feed Generated by Get Full RSS, sponsored by USA Best Price.
Posted: 06 May 2011 06:26 PM PDT
And as the two experienced politicians, who are leading their respective party's charge in Aljunied Group Representation Constituency, addressed the crowds simultaneously, the big contrast in their messages came down to this: Change that should come from within the PAP, versus change that is wrought from outside.
Mr Yeo zeroed in on the frustration and discontent with a "high-handed Government" he had heard expressed by many Singaporeans, and vowed that, granted a strong mandate, his five-member team would be the force from within for a new, transformed PAP that would communicate more and listen better. "The stronger the mandate, the more influence we will be able to wield," he said of his team's self-appointed task.
Mr Low, however, said the only way the PAP would listen to Singaporeans and change its policies is if there were a strong Opposition presence in Parliament. And voters would have the chance today, at the ballot box, to change the face of politics and policy-making in Singapore, said the WP chief.
The candidates' speeches at the final rallies summed up both parties' campaigns in an electoral battle that lived up to its billing as the one to watch.
Hours after the nomination papers were filed on April 27, confirming that the WP was going for broke by putting all its big guns on its Aljunied GRC slate, Mr Yeo told this newspaper that his team had, for some time, half expected Mr Low to switch wards.
Mr Yeo — an MP in Aljunied GRC since 1991, the same year constituents in neighbouring Hougang voted Mr Low into Parliament for the first time — said his team was confident it had done its best on municipal issues and "built a relationship of trust with residents". "Over the years we've strengthened this and I place my faith in them on Polling Day," he had asserted.
As the contest took on a life of its own, Mr Yeo turned the screws on his opponents by repeatedly asking the WP to show its plans for Aljunied residents. With the WP framing its contest as a bid for a political breakthrough — no Opposition has managed to win a GRC since the scheme was introduced in 1988 — Mr Yeo also called the WP out for forcing on Aljunied residents the unnecessary burden of an "emotional dilemma".
Making it clear he himself was putting the constituents above everything else, Mr Yeo criticised the WP for "playing with the lives of over 200,000 Singaporeans".
The WP's bid came under heavy fire from the PAP's big guns too, with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew describing its Aljunied team as "one MP, one NCMP, one celebrity who has been away for 30 years and two unknowns". Mr Lee said Mr Low's ambition was "to take over" the Government eventually: "Let's have no hypocrisy about this."
In contrast, it was emphasised by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong that Mr Yeo and his team were valuable members of Government, with much to contribute. Besides Mr Yeo's importance to Singapore as Foreign Minister, Mrs Lim Hwee Hua was Second Minster for Finance and Transport and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, while Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed was slated as the next Speaker of Parliament.
PM Lee, after a walkabout in Aljunied GRC on Monday, advised constituents to vote in their own best interests for the team that would take care of Aljunied at a municipal level — "your estate, your own block, your flat and make sure it preserves the value of your property" - as well as on the national stage. As campaigning ended on Thursday night, Mr Yeo, emphasising his bonds of 23 years with them, reminded constituents that the WP, with its "limited capabilities", could not match the PAP on meeting local needs.
Adopting a disciplined gameplan, the WP kicked off its campaign with Mr Low making clear what was at stake. Reiterating that he would not take up a Non-Constituency MP seat should his team lose, Mr Low warned that the Opposition could end up with no elected MPs in Parliament. "This election is going to be a watershed election for Singapore as well as for the Opposition," he declared.
He described his switch from Hougang as one of his hardest decisions yet: Over the last 20 years, he had seen the Opposition regress and "I decided to move out so that Singapore Opposition will have a future".
He also told voters at a rally that, "if no Opposition is able to break through a GRC", they would be "forever shackled" under a system with only symbolic power to vote and a limited voice.
The WP, Mr Low noted, had put together the best team it could offer to Aljunied GRC voters - with party chairman Sylvia Lim, top corporate lawyer Chen Show Mao, post-graduate law student Pritam Singh and counsellor Faisal Abdul Manap. "WP too needs to ensure a credible and responsible batch of leaders to work towards a First World Parliament where the Government is accountable to the people," Mr Low said.
Responding to their opponents' accusation of exploiting constituents, Mr Chen said voters should not have to bear the burden of looking after the Opposition's larger interest. Exhorting them to look after themselves, he posed the question: Were they better off compared to five years ago, or more hopeful for the future?
And after initially saying the team would reveal its plans for the GRC only after being elected into Parliament and taking over the town council finances - as this was the responsible thing to do, the WP had argued - it went ahead to unveil plans on Wednesday, the penultimate day of campaigning. Nine projects were promised, including community gardens and more private child care centres at suitable void decks.
But the focus of Mr Low's speech at the WP's final rally was all on its primary platform from the start — to bring about change in Singapore politics.
"A First World Parliament, with strong Opposition presence, will ensure that power stays with the people," Mr Low said in closing. — TodayFull Feed Generated by Get Full RSS, sponsored by USA Best Price.
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