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    Singapore Elections



    S'pore's political awakening likely to impact Johor

    Kuek Ser Kuang Keng
    May 6, 11

    With more than half a million Malaysians working in Singapore, the apparent political shift in the Singapore election campaign is set to shake Malaysia's political landscape, especially in the southern state of Johor - deemed to be Umno last bastion in the peninsula.

    In this polls, described by many as the toughest battle faced by ruling party People's Action Party (PAP) since 1960s, the opposition campaign had gained impressive momentum, reflected by the attendance of animated crowds numbering in the tens of thousands at their mega-rallies over the past few days.

    It has not only rung the PAP's alarm bell but also received wide coverage from both the international and Malaysian media.

    "No question, Singapore's political opening will shape all those who are here to see politics differently, whether they are from Malaysia or Indonesia," said Bridget Welsh, an associate professor in political science at the Singapore Management University.

    She pointed out that the island republic's good governance, security, better salaries and better provision of social services, which remain challenges in Malaysia, will have salience in Malaysian politics.

    "My own view is that Johor will be one of the battleground areas for the Malaysia's next general election, as Sarawak was recently," she said.

    Umno was founded in Johor and the state remained a BN stronghold, weathering the 'political tsunami' of the polls.

    Effects of close proximity

    Most Malaysians working in Singapore are either residing in Johor or originate from the southern state and travel daily to the island through the 1km-long causeway.

    The influence of Singapore on Johor is strengthened by the fact that Chinese Johoreans, especially those living at the southern part of the state, are loyal audience of Singapore's Mandarin TV channels.

    Therefore, some quarters used to attribute the Chinese Johoreans' long-time loyalty to the BN to the influence of Singapore's paternalistic politics practised by the ruling PAP.

    On the other hand, observers of both Malaysia and Singapore politics believe that the 'political tsunami' in Malaysia 2008 general election and the opposition historic breakthrough in the recent Sarawak state polls have contributed partly to the sudden surge in support for the opposition in Singapore.

    "I do believe that there has been an international symbolic affect on the strengthening of the opposition in Singapore, especially the impact of Malaysia," said Welsh (left).

    She pointed out that the Singapore opposition, comprising six major parties, has seen the need to be unified and work together from Malaysia.
    "It has seen the importance of common messaging from places such as Malaysia and Taiwan.

    "The Pakatan Rakyat governments of Penang and Selangor have opened the eyes of Singaporeans, that alternatives do not necessarily fail," said Welsh in an email interview with Malaysiakini.

    Changes spread by air

    "It is important not to discount the 'AirAsia' effect of greater exposure to diversity in the neighbourhood and broader global media coverage of changes in places such as the Middle East," she added, referring to Malaysia's low-cost air carrier providing budget flights to Southeast Asian countries.

    Senior fellow with Singapore-based Institute of South East Asia Studies (ISEAS) Ooi Kee Beng concurred.

    "It is hard to say it doesn't connect (to Malaysia politics). There are half a million Malaysians here and Malaysia is the country that is most reported about by the mainstream media here," he said when contacted yesterday.

    Due to the frequent interaction between the peoples of both countries, it is believed the election results announced tomorrow will have reciprocal impact on Malaysian politics.

    "I do believe that the core issues of Singapore's campaign - inequality, cost of living, housing and healthcare - have extreme salience in Malaysia.

    "They were very powerful in 2008 and are likely to be so in any future campaign in Malaysia. These issues affect all ethnic communities across races," said Welsh.

    Singapore's experience, she said, has made many Malaysians there to understand the need for a social welfare system that works and for a fairer system, even amidst economic success.

    "Economic growth is not enough for quality of life. Those being left out need to be addressed," she added.

    Cyberspace kicks in hard

    Meanwhile, Ooi (left) pointed out that the two countries, separated in 1965 due to a political divide, shared much common ground in their elections, particularly the emergence of the new generation of voters who, empowered by online new media, are willing to stand up to traditional authority.

    "Regardless of the election results, something had already happened here. The culture of fear is broken, people do not fear threats anymore," said Ooi, adding that this polls will be a watershed in Singapore's political history.

    "I also see the impact of the new media and a greater willingness to speak out as most recently in the Middle East and earlier in Malaysia," added Welsh.

    Similar to Malaysia, due to the muzzled mainstream media and the emergence of information technology-savvy young voters, new media like Facebook and Twitter have become an important platform for the opposition campaign.

    The Internet effect in Singapore played a more significant role than in Malaysia as it is one of the countries with highest smart phone penetration in the world.

    Ooi observed that the new media had forced the Singapore mainstream media to allow space for issues and messages hotly debated in cyberspace.

    "If they don't say things there (in the Internet), they would look silly."

    Indeed the state-controlled mainstream media had adopted some bold actions in this election such as airing live debates of representatives from both sides and giving more coverage to the opposition.

    However Ooi noted that its election coverage was still lopsided with the ratio of ruling and opposition news standing at 70:30.

    Bloated egos may get comeuppance

    Although bread-and-butter issue compounded by the huge influx of immigrants in recent years resonated well with voter sentiment, Ooi believed that the political elitism and arrogance demonstrated by PAP leaders will be the major factor that may swing the votes away from PAP.

    "The ministers replied to the issues raised by the opposition in a strange matter. They seemed disconnected from what the people worry about."

    The same arrogance and elitism had been reflected by the BN and Umno in Malaysia's last polls that cost them their two-thirds parliamentary majority.

    However, Ooi observed that PAP's campaign managed to adapt itself to the new political reality faster unlike their Malaysian counterparts.

    "They moved much faster compared to Umno, more pre-emptive... They have the ability to adjust."

    This was illustrated by the quick response of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (right) to distance the party from his father and Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew, after the latter warned the voters of hot-seat Aljunied that they would have "five years to live and repent" should they vote against the PAP.

    The son who is also PAP secretary-general responded by saying that the strongman politics practised by his father was no longer suitable for Singapore.

    This was followed by an open apology to Singaporeans for the government's mistakes and gaffes since the last polls, including the escape of suspected terrorist Mas Selamat and the Orchard Road flooding.

    On this, Ooi pointed out that PAP leadership has already started the process of softening its political approach since 1990s under the leadership of the then prime minister Goh Chok Tong, gradually moving away from the old paternalistic style leadership.

    Nevertheless, while Malaysians are experiencing the emergence of a vibrant two-party system after 2008, their neighbours still have a long way to go before catching up.

    "They are only prepared to have an opposition that they can take seriously," Ooi said.

    Singapore's democratic opening


    Polls tomorrow amid simmering discontent


    Make or break for Workers' Party in polls
    py

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    Singapore's democratic opening

    Bridget Welsh
    May 6, 11

    COMMENT Singapore's 2011 general election campaign has been historic, and signals a major transformation in the country's political landscape. The intensity and tone of this campaign has been unprecedented as the ruling PAP's (People's Action Party) record has come under attack.

    Given the impressive management of the 2008 global financial crisis and record GDP growth of 14.5% in 2010, this election should have given Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) a strong mandate and seen as a celebration of Singapore's success.

    Instead, from the first day of the campaign when thousands thronged Hougang Stadium to attend an opposition rally organised by the Worker's Party, the PAP has been on the defensive.

    A few days ago, the Singaporean premier, in a brave and unprecedented display of humility, apologised for the mistakes of ministers and failings of his government - repeatedly. This move represented an acknowledgment that all is not right in Singapore and that the concerns of many Singaporeans are not been adequately addressed.

    In fact, the mood on the ground in Singapore has been one of angst, sometimes anger, as this general election campaign has stirred a revolutionary outpouring of open criticism towards the PAP.

    Bold opposition campaign
    As the campaign began, the focus initially was on the credibility of the opposition. The opposition - comprised of a handful of parties - is unified in their focus on the PAP, with only one of the contests a three-cornered fight. The minimal infighting bolstered the opposition's chances.


    All the seats were contested, except for the group representative constituency of Tanjong Pagar, the constituency of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. There, the opposition candidates were disqualified for filing their papers 35 seconds late.

    Singapore's opposition has made a bold move to move its old stalwarts Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Khiang from single-member constituencies - single candidate contests have been whittled down in size through the repeated gerrymandering that happens before every election and is announced only a few months in advance - to the larger group representatives constituency (GRC) where there are four to five representatives contesting.



    The opposition fielded arguably its strongest slate in Singapore's history, featuring the talented Chen Show Mao (left), a lawyer of international fame, and former private secretary to Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, Tan Jee Say.

    While many of the opposition teams are not even and there is considerable variation in the candidate caliber nationally - which is also the case for the PAP - the opposition has neutralised the PAP claim that it is the only one capable of representing Singaporeans.

    The focus has centred on the 'A Team' contest in Aljunied (a GRC that represents the heartland of Singapore), which was won narrowly by the PAP in 1997, and is seen as the strongest possible chance for the opposition to break the monopoly of the PAP on GRCs, which comprise the majority of seats and essentially assure the PAP a two-thirds majority.

    From the onset, the opposition presented the majority of Singaporeans with an alternative choice. In giving more Singaporeans real choices at the polls this election, the opposition has helped expand democratic space.

    Seeking voice and representation

    Time and again, the opposition used the analogy of the “co-driver”, calling for the need to have more review of the single dominant party to check mistakes and share alternative views.

    Speakers at rallies have pointed to the need to “slap the driver if he falls asleep and talk to him when he is awake”, to open up dialogue with different perspectives and stop the government from going in the wrong direction.



    This image - which captures the experience of many ordinary Singaporeans who feel that they have not had a seat in the car, let alone the front, has reinforced a key theme of this campaign - is used to illustrate the need to have a genuinely representative opposition.

    To neutralise this, the PAP changed the composition of the Parliament before the polls to include more nominated members of Parliament (NMP), to allow for approved and chosen alternative voices.

    With the driver analogy, the opposition has attacked this practice, pointing to the need to have voting members on all matters involving governance. This idea of having a check on power has taken root, with calls for a First World Parliament with different perspectives, and more openness in dialogue.

    At the core of the opposition calls for a stronger watchdog role are real concerns about the lack of adequate consultation on policies, such as the construction of two casinos over considerable protest and lingering anger, and need for more transparency in the PAP government.



    The attitude that “government knows best” is being fundamentally challenged by the demand for the government be more accountable and consultative. There are real questions being raised by the failure of some PAP ministers to be accountable for mistakes in areas such as the escape of suspected terrorist Mas Selamat, for example.

    The high salaries of PAP ministers (and bonuses) have continued to come under attack. Underscoring concerns about accountability is a perceived growing distance of PAP leaders from the concerns of ordinary public. Many speak about the first visit of a PAP member of parliament in their lifetime during the campaign, revealing the lack of connection to local communities of many ruling elites, especially to those living in the government HDB flats.

    The recent Facebook chat by PM Lee shows how disconnected the PAP has been from online social media, which has expanded discussion and engagement in Singapore.

    Issues and governance

    The opposition has tapped into the perception of PAP elite distance effectively in its messaging.

    Firstly, the opposition as a whole, led by the popular Workers Party and newcomer Reform Party, has come to the centre, appealing to the middle ground. Traditionally the opposition in Singapore has been marginalised and discredited, and often painted as existing on the fringe.

    The surprising dimension of this campaign is how the opposition as a whole has unified under a more inclusive group, capturing the concerns from bread-and-butter issues to political freedoms, all under the “opposition umbrella”. This unity and shared message has minimised differences among the component parties.



    Where the opposition has hit hardest is by tapping into the struggles of ordinary Singaporeans. The dominant concerns have been the high cost of living, affordable housing and accessible healthcare. These issues have become common rallying cries for the opposition, and forced PAP ministers to go on the defensive.

    The intensity of the public response to these issues highlights the shortcomings the PAP has faced in policy-making. Behind these issues is a reality that not all Singaporeans have shared equally in the success of the country.

    Singapore - along with Malaysia - has one of the highest levels of inequality in Southeast Asia. Today there are homeless on the streets of Singapore despite its impressive economic growth, and many hardworking families are being squeezed by inflation - especially those taking care of elderly parents and children.

    From a policy perspective, Singapore has to face the reality that its social welfare system is not working and that many of its people are falling through the cracks. And, everyone in the small country like Singapore, sees it.

    Personally, I have seen the struggles of the elderly in hospital grappling with unmanageable health costs, as the refrain that is commonly stated in Singapore is that you can die, but you cannot fall sick in Singapore.

    This problem by the way is not unique to Singapore as the recent health-care debate in the US has shown. The ability to live a life with dignity and basic affordable health-care is a demand worldwide and developed countries are being called on to provide better policies.

    What has happened in this campaign is a questioning of the narrow economic focus of policy for the elites and a challenge to the development model of trickle down benefits without an adequate social safety net. So many people talk about the “pressure” of living in Singapore, which has been tied to intense competition to perform in a system where there is no protection for the weak and diversity in performance.

    No matter what happens in the final results tomorrow, Singaporeans have unselfishly called on the government to look out for everyone, not just the few.

    Immigration a hot-button issue

    Most of the media attention this election has centred on the issue of immigration. In some ways, it ties into the pragmatic concerns of Singaporeans, who are concerned with competition with jobs and the increased demand on services that have strained quality output.

    Civil servants who have traditionally operated with personal care and attention have been overwhelmed by the level of new demands in recent years. This is most obvious in public transportation, but extends to all walks of life.

    Yet, as a foreign worker in Singapore who fondly remembers the Singapore of old, there is more going on than pragmatic concerns. The entire demographic of Singaporean society has changed, and many Singaporeans feel that they are being left out. They resent the perceived favouritism given to foreigners, who are not asked to make the same level of sacrifice in the form of National Service for example to the country.



    In this deeply proud country, the influx of foreign workers has fostered a sense of displacement and in some ways been seen to undercut national identity. This was captured by the commentary of 24-year-old opposition candidate, National Solidarity Party's Nicole Seah (left), who remarked that she was “living in a foreign country”.

    This is not an easy task for the PAP to manage the need for labour and investment with changing identity and interests. The speed at which the demographic change has occurred without adequate appreciation and acknowledgment of the important role of Singaporeans from all walks of life has made this issue very real.

    This election campaign points to the need to move beyond thinking about governance in economic terms, but moving toward a broader sense of humanity and inclusion.

    Engaging the new media

    All of this has played out on the social media. As the campaign has been scheduled during student exams, it has been less viable for many working families to attend rallies. Instead, many have turned to Facebook and YouTube, as speeches have been shared and discussed.



    PAP leaders, such as George Yeo and Vivian Balakrishnan, have made personal appeals to voters, especially younger voters who will be decisive in this election as they comprise 25% of the electorate. This is Singapore's first 'new media' election and the level of engagement is unprecedented. Even the mainstream media have adopted more new media tools.

    While many continue to rely on the Straits Times and other arms of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) for news, the level of dialogue has deepened. What is important that much of this dialogue has largely focused on real issues rather than character assassinations, although there has been a fair amount of “he said, she said”.

    The real change is that Singaporeans - largely seen to be apathetic politically - have stepped up and shown that they are attuned to developments politically in their country and they care. Across the political spectrum and backgrounds, Singaporeans have been shown that they care about the country's future.

    By law, they are required to vote and more and more are going into the voting booth having experienced a broader range of debate.

    Obstacles and political opening

    The obstacles to winning seats for the opposition in Singapore are high. These are well-known - constituency delineation, media control and lack of resources.

    In this campaign, the opposition has defined the debate and provided a real challenge to the government. The issues are now on the table and will have to be addressed, from inequality and inclusion to policy reevaluations, irrespective of the final outcome in seats.

    Minimally, the PAP faces a likely loss in popular support and will not emerge with as strong as a mandate as the past. As to how many seats it will lose, it is too hard to call but chances are we shall see the strongest opposition gains since the 1991 election.

    The main groups that will determine the election are younger voters, middle-class voters who comprise the silent majority that largely did not attend rallies and importantly, the Malay community, which has traditionally voted for the PAP in recent elections and been decisive in hot seats in the past.



    The PAP's initiatives in the last stages of the campaign - the Facebook appeal to younger voters, the repeated apologies and more frequent speeches in Malay - reveal how close some of the contests are. They have embraced humility as a tactic, combined with the reminders of their successes and a call by minister mentor not to have to “repent” by voting for the opposition.

    Today is the cooling-off period - a day for reflection. In this campaign, Singaporeans have shown confidence in themselves by allowing and encouraging discussion. This has been led by both sides of the divide as democracy is expanding in Singapore through dialogue and greater political engagement.

    Voters in Singapore will decide tomorrow whether to continue with the incumbent dominance - to reward the ruling party for the impressive economic gains and management of financial crisis - or to opt for diversity and change, a stronger check on the monopoly of power.

    The global and regional trends toward democratic openings suggest that even Singapore is not immune from change. They have already shown that even in arguably one of the most successfully governed states in the world, the demand for greater representation and better governance lives on.

    DR BRIDGET WELSH is associate professor of political science at Singapore Management University and she can be reached at bwelsh@smu.edu.sg.


    ---------- Post added at 03:49 PM ---------- Previous post was at 03:44 PM ----------



    Polls tomorrow amid simmering discontent

    May 6, 11 11:06am
    10 friends can read this story for free
    The Singapore opposition is hoping to expand its presence in parliament in a general election tomorrow after the most vigorous challenge to the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) in decades.

    The PAP, in power since 1959, is widely expected to secure a large majority after having won 82 of the 84 seats contested in 2006 but is worried by voter discontent over the cost of living, immigration policies and other concerns.

    Close to half of the 2.2 million voters will be casting their ballots for the first time, due to uncontested seats in past elections, adding an element of uncertainty in a state where publishing pre-election poll results is banned.

    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (right) has apologised for policy mistakes and gaffes since the last poll, including the 2008 escape of a suspected Islamic militant, failure to prevent floods in 2010, high home prices and crowded metro trains.

    “We're trying our best on your behalf. And if we didn't quite get it right, I'm sorry but we will try and do better the next time,” he said at an open-air rally in the financial district on Tuesday.

    Lee, son of independence leader Lee Kuan Yew, followed it up a day later with an hour-long chat on Facebook in a bid to connect with younger voters, but was overwhelmed by 5,000 postings ranging from messages of support to insults.

    Opposition parties have relied heavily on the web, particularly social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, because the mainstream newspapers and broadcast media are widely regarded as PAP mouthpieces.

    The PAP is facing its most widespread challenge since the 1960s with 82 of the 87 seats contested and the opposition fielding successful professionals, entrepreneurs, former civil servants and ex-PAP activists as candidates.

    Inflation, economic competition from immigrants and foreign workers and the growing gap between rich and poor have inflamed the campaign.

    'Considerable resentment against gov't'

    “There is considerable resentment against the government and its policies,” admitted Foreign Minister George Yeo, who is leading the PAP in the most hotly-contested district.

    The PAP needs to take “a very hard look at itself and the way it does things," Yeo told the Straits Times newspaper in an interview published today.

    The PAP has long relied on its strong economic record to overwhelm the opposition in elections, but has been accused of stifling dissent to perpetuate its hold on power.

    The economy grew a record 14.5 percent in 2010 and per capita gross domestic product stood at S$59,813, according to the statistics department, making Singaporeans the second wealthiest Asians after the Japanese.

    But the prosperity has not been spread evenly and inflation this year is forecast at 3.0-4.0 percent as a result of rising food and oil prices.

    Official data showed the city-state's Gini coefficient - a measure of the income gap in a society - worsened to 0.472 last year from 0.471 in 2009.

    The scale ranges from zero to one, with zero regarded as perfect equality.

    “The opposition has done their homework and are focusing on the messages and keeping the PAP on the back foot,” said Siew Kum Hong, a former lawmaker.

    He said the PAP was “put on the defensive” by the opposition's attacks and had “clearly lost touch” with voters.

    When popular portal Yahoo! Singapore posted comments by Lee Kuan Yew, the prime minister's father, saying voters in foreign minister Yeo's district would regret voting for the opposition, Internet users were furious.

    Some 4,000 posts flooded the site, many of them highly critical of Lee.

    'Anger much more pervasive'

    “The anger is much more pervasive and widespread than in 2006,” said Siew.

    “I have never seen this before and it's unprecedented for me.”

    Apart from seats won or lost, the PAP's overall share of the popular vote in tomorrow's polls will be closely watched.

    The party won 67 percent of the overall vote in 2006, down from 75 percent in 2001.

    While the PAP appears to be rattled, some analysts say a last-minute switch to the ruling party by undecided voters worried by the prospect of instability could set back the opposition's plans to win more seats.

    They are not even ruling out an 87-0 victory for the PAP, which would be the first clean sweep by the ruling party since 1980.

    - AFP
    py

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    Make or break for Workers' Party in polls

    May 6, 11 7:15pm

    Tomorrow, Singapore undoubtedly, will be the focus of most Malaysians as the island republic goes to the polls.

    While their interest - albeit only from across the causeway - would be purely in its democratic process, there is bound to be keener interest on the Singapore Workers Party, one of only two opposition parties which have won seats in the 87-member parliament.

    Observers said the interest would most certainly revolve around the fact that it was a make-or-break situation for the Workers Party (WP) which has placed its best bets in the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC).

    The WP was said to have taken a bold decision to contest the GRC, shifting away from its normal focus on Single Member Constituency, and further more, against People's Action Party (PAP) heavyweights led by Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo.

    The WP has put up quite a formidable team, dubbed the 'Dream Team', for Aljunied GRC led by secretary-general Low Thia Khiang. The team includes its chairman, Sylvia Lim, Chen Show Mao, Pritam Singh and Faisal Abdul Manap to contest against the PAP heavyweights led by Yeo.



    Tagging along with Yeo to defend the seat are Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Hwee Hua, Zainul Abidin Rasheed, Cynthia Phua and Ong Ye Kung.

    The GRC, first introduced by Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew during the 1988 election, is a unique electoral system which was established to ensure there will always be one elected member from each minority racial group in parliament.

    Some 2.35 million Singaporeans are eligible to vote in 27 constituencies to elect 87 members of parliament (MPs) tomorrow, as they can elect an MP in each of the 12 single member constituencies and four-to-six MPs in each of the 15 GRCs.

    For example, voters can elect 12 MPs for 12 single constituencies and 75 MPs for 15 GRCs (two six-MP GRCs, 11 five-MP GRCs and two four-MP GRCs).

    What makes this election more interesting is the fact that opposition parties have never won a GRC, either the WP (with a total of 23 candidates), National Solidarity Party (24), and one each from Reform Party, Singapore Democratic Party, Singapore People's Party and Singapore Democratic Alliance.

    Even the bravest among political pundits does not dare to say if there would be the slightest possibility for the opposition parties to win anywhere near the 44 seats needed to wrest power from the ruling PAP.

    But analysts said the result of the election would remain interesting due to rising discontent over bread-and-butter issues which could give the opposition more seats.

    It was reported that the reason why WP picked Aljunied with such a formidable team was that the opposition has gained 44 per cent of votes in the Aljunied GRC in the 2006 election and though it still lost, that was considered a glorious defeat.

    WP was said to be counting on a highly-educated candidate, Chen Shao Mao, a 50-year-old lawyer holding economics degrees from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford universities and a partner with a prominent US-based law firm before returning home to contest in this election.

    Operation's 'biggest catch'

    Chen was dubbed by many as the 'biggest catch' by the opposition.

    In the past, many opposition candidates were ridiculed for being relatively non-achievers compared to the PAP's picks, but Chen has changed that perception overnight when nearly 20,000 people turned up at a recent WP rally to listen to him.

    However, some political observers pointed out that the Aljunied GRC has been re-demarcated, five years later. As a result, Low was taking a big risk this time on whether he could lead his team to break the spell and walk out from the more than two decades-old dilemma faced by the opposition.

    Moreover, they said academic qualification was not only the sole criteria for most middle-class Singapore voters to pick their choices.

    Undeterred, WP and other opposition parties used the new media to gain advantage, in addition to mass rallies.

    The global phenomenon that the younger generation advocates the new media, has reportedly caused some worries to the ruling PAP when young Singaporeans started to obtain electoral and political information from the new media and that the opposition's website was said to be very popular, too.

    One example was, as of 10am on May 3, the number of Singaporeans who joined the Facebook of 24-year-old Nicole Seah (left), a fresh woman candidate of the National Solidarity Party, was recorded at 60,244, and that of Workers Party's Chen's Facebook, 14,266 fans.

    Will the number of fans and hits be translated into votes? Well, that's for Singaporeans to decide tomorrow.

    - Bernama
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    Singapore Elections: The ping-pong has started.

    A mini-wave has crossed the Johor Straits. The pong will come back as a ping to hit Johor in GE 13.

    S'pore opposition makes historic gains

    "It marks a distinct shift in our political landscape," Lee told an early morning news conference on Sunday. "Many (Singaporeans) wish for the government to adopt a different style and approach."

    "Many desire to see more opposition voices in parliament to check the PAP government."
    He said the PAP will undergo "soul searching" and expressed willingness to work with lawmakers from the opposition.


    May 7, 11 11:58pm

    The People's Action Party (PAP) has scored a thumping victory at the Singapore general elections today, but opposition parties made significant gains.

    In all, PAP maintains its near absolute control of Parliament with 81 out of 87 seats, with the opposition increasing its tally from two to six seats. The ruling party won 60.14 percent of the votes, down from 66.6 percent in 2006.

    Among the biggest casualties was Foreign Minister George Yeo, who together with four other team mates, lost the Aljunied group representation constituency (GRC) to the opposition Workers' Party - a pro-poor group of lawyers and professionals.

    This is the first time PAP has ever lost a GRC. The five victorious Workers' Party candidates have been dubbed as the 'A-Team' due to their popularity.

    Workers' Party's success is highly significant as it is also the first time a cabinet minister had lost in the elections.

    "A new chapter has been opened in Singapore's history," said Yeo, adding he respected the voters' decision. At the 2006 general elections, Workers' Party secure 43.91 percent of the votes in Aljunied and lost by a narrow majority.

    Among the five are party leader Low Thia Kiang, who took a gamble by moving from his seat of Hougang to lead the fight for Aljunied, and Chen Show Mao (left), a top lawyer and economist with degrees from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford universities.

    The Workers' Party also managed to defend its hold of the Hougang single member constituency (SMC).

    The opposition picked up six seats - all of which were won by Workers' Party - surpassing its previous best performance in 1991, when it won four seats. At the last election in 2006, the PAP won 82 of then 84 parliamentary seats.

    Aside from a handful of single seats, most parliamentary seats are contested in clusters of four to six candidates, a setup seen as favourable to the well-entrenched PAP - but also offering a windfall to the opposition if one of its tickets gets lucky.

    PAP wins 81 seats, opposition, 6

    During counting last night, there were heavily speculation that the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC and Marine Parade GRC would slip from PAP's grasp.

    However, both the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and National Solidarity Party (NSP), lost in both contests respectively but with a higher share of the votes.
    Another oppposition party, the Singapore People's Party, suffered a setback when it failed to retain its Potong Pasir seat.

    More opposition MPs may be coopted into Parliament, through the nominated member of Parliament (NMP) system.

    Prior to the dissolution of Parliament, there were nine NMPs to complement the two elected opposition lawmakers.

    In an immediate reaction, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it was a watershed election and indicated it could bring change in the city-state, one of the wealthiest and fastest-growing nations in Asia but tainted by criticism of political restrictions and little tolerance of dissent.

    "It marks a distinct shift in our political landscape," Lee told an early morning news conference on Sunday. "Many (Singaporeans) wish for the government to adopt a different style and approach."

    "Many desire to see more opposition voices in parliament to check the PAP government."
    He said the PAP will undergo "soul searching" and expressed willingness to work with lawmakers from the opposition.
    Prior to the polls yesterday, there were already rumblings in coffee shops and opposition rallies over inflation and the state's liberal policy towards hiring migrant workers.

    The campaign also saw PAP lose its almost complete monopoly over the dissemination of information as opposition parties and activists took their battle to cyberspace, where Facebook and Twitter became crucial conduits.

    Four days before the election, Lee apologised in public for the government's shortcomings.

    Supporters of Workers' Party jubilant

    Observers said the opposition also took advantage of the growing political consciousness of Singaporeans.

    Especially younger people, who voice their dissent in popular political internet forums, were no longer willing to accept the PAP's overwhelming political dominance, said analysts.

    Supporters of the Workers' Party were jubilant on hearing the results.
    "You have made history tonight," Workers' Party chief Low told supporters. "This is a political landmark in modern Singapore.

    "Your votes tell us that Singapore is not just an economic success, Singapore is our home.

    "Your votes tell us that you want Singapore to develop as a nation. Your votes tell the government you want a more responsive, inclusive, transparent and accountable government."


    As he spoke, supporters dressed in the party's blue colours chanted "Ole, Ole," and threw confetti on each other, shouting and clapping.

    PAP backers said there were lessons to be learned.

    "It is definitely good for Singapore, but I think the leaders and government realised that there's a gap between them and people on the ground," said Jagjit Singh, a 72-year-old.
    Compulsory voting ensured a high turnout, with close to 2.06 million people - 93 percent of the electorate - casting ballots.

    GRCs now seen as vulnerable

    Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at the Singapore Management University, stressed the significance of the opposition's first ever win in a group representation constituency (GRC), a setup widely seen as favouring the ruling party but now shown to be vulnerable.

    "The GRCs have been a cornerstone of one-party dominance in the Singapore state, and the breaking of its GRCs is really allowing a diversity of political views in the country," Welsh said.

    Six opposition parties took part in the election with the modest goal of winning more seats from the PAP - resigned to the dominance of the party that led Singapore to political independence and economic prosperity.

    They divided electoral districts among themselves to fight the PAP on several fronts.

    "The opposition has come together in terms of not contesting against each other. When push came to shove, they put aside personal differences for the larger cause of opening up political space," Welsh said.

    - Agencies
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  5. #5
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    Johor can be a solution to a lot of Singapore's problems.

    Analysis: Singapore may now have to tackle income gap

    By Saeed Azhar and Kevin Lim
    SINGAPORE | Sun May 8, 2011 4:19am EDT
    (Reuters) - Pressure may mount on Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to introduce policies that lift wages for low-income workers, make housing more affordable and limit the influx of foreigners after a less than sweet election victory.

    The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) won 81 of 87 seats in parliament in Saturday's polls, but the opposition emerged victorious in six -- the highest it has ever taken since independence in 1965.

    The more significant factor was the swing of the popular vote away from Lee's party, which won about 60 percent, the lowest since independence and below the around 67 percent at the last polls in 2006.

    The swing is a strong signal that Singaporeans are not entirely satisfied with government policies despite strong economic growth in the last five years, including a record 14.5 percent expansion in 2010.

    The PAP has resisted introducing social welfare schemes as practiced in the West, but there was strident criticism at this election over the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the high cost of living and complaints about foreign workers stealing jobs.

    However, analysts said any changes on the margins are unlikely to threaten Singapore's status as one of the world's most friendly places to do business and as Asia's major wealth management center.

    "It is a wake-up call," said Chua Hak Bin, an economist at Bank of America's Merrill Lynch. "There will now be a tilt away from companies and more toward workers and wages, especially the lower income."

    The bottom 10 percent of Singaporean households had an average monthly income of S$1,400 ($1,130) last year, versus S$23,684 for the top 10 percent, according to government data.

    Many young Singaporeans feel they can no longer afford homes, unlike their parents' generation. Analysts say the government is likely to provide more financial incentives to couples to afford newly built Housing and Development Board (HDB) apartments.

    Political commentator Cherian George wrote that tackling high prices of state HDB apartments, traffic jams and the cost of living were election issues that the PAP can easily solve.

    "These are problems that are open to technocratic solutions, and the PAP leaders and their civil servants are masters of navigating complex policy terrains when they have the political will to do so," George said.

    "Instead, the real challenge post-election is to win back the people's trust."

    Financial markets, which have barely been affected by the election campaign, are unlikely to be impacted when they open on Monday because PAP's share of popular vote did not fall below the critical 60 percent level, said Robert Prior-Wandesforde, senior economist at Credit Suisse.

    FOREIGN WORKERS

    Merrill's Chua said hopes among employers that the government will loosen tight caps on foreign workers in booming sectors like construction and services have faded.

    "There is a lot of unhappiness on the ground about immigration, about congestion," Chua said, adding the government will limit foreigner workers to one-third of Singapore's population.

    Foreigners now make up 36 percent of Singapore's population of 5.1 million, up from around 20 percent of 4 million people a decade earlier. This has led to complaints about increased competition for jobs, schooling and housing, and over-crowding on buses and trains.

    The government has introduced measures to screen for better qualified semi-skilled migrant workers and differentiate between privileges for citizens and permanent residents.

    But there lies Singapore's dilemma.

    Many of foreign workers take up jobs that ordinary Singaporeans are reluctant to do, such as menial work and low-cost manufacturing.

    The issue is complicated by demographic issues -- the majority Chinese population is growing at a lower rate than minority Malays and Indians due to different birth rates, and the government has made repeated efforts to encourage citizens to have more children.

    "Immigration would be seen as an imperative but the numbers will be moderated in terms of how the infrastructure can cope with the increase," said Eugene Tan, assistant professor of law at Singapore Management University.

    In the near term, the PAP-led government could be forced to focus on better distribution of wealth as the city-state's fast economic growth has not helped to effectively tackle income disparity.

    "There will be less focus on GDP growth for the sake of GDP growth and more on distribution of the wealth for the sake of gro
    py

  6. #6
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    May 10, 2011

    Democratic gap narrows in Singapore

    By Megawati Wijaya

    SINGAPORE - Voters returned the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) to power on Saturday, giving the long-ruling party 81 seats out of the 87 parliamentary seats contested. The opposition turned in its best performance on record, winning nearly 40% of the popular vote and handing the PAP its poorest showing since the island state achieved independence in 1965.

    A record 2.06 million out of 2.21 million eligible voters went to the polls in the most widely contested election since 1972. Only one constituency, the five-member constituency under Minister Mentor and PAP founder Lee Kuan Yew, went uncontested. In past polls, many seats went uncontested due to the PAP's dominance.

    "[T]he voters have decided, and I'm honored that they have once again entrusted the PAP with a clear mandate to form the next government," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, son of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, after the votes were counted.

    During the 2006 polls, only 47 out of 84 seats were contested by the opposition. The PAP won 66% of the votes in 2006 but notched 82 of parliament's 84 seats due to the group representation constituency (GRC) system, a controversial scheme where candidates compete in teams of four to six.

    The opposition never won a GRC until Saturday when the Workers' Party of Singapore (WP), under the charge of its secretary general Low Thia Khiang, crushed a PAP team led by foreign minister George Yeo in the five-member GRC in Aljunied. "You have made history tonight," said Low in a speech to his supporters after his victory. "This is a political landmark in modern Singapore."

    WP also retained its single member constituency (SMC) in Hougang, thus giving the opposition party six members in parliament. That will triple the number of opposition members in parliament, raising new hopes that some alternative voices to the PAP will be heard during policy discussions.

    Five other opposition parties, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), the National Solidarity Party (NSP), the Reform Party (RP), the Singapore People's Party, and the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), challenged but failed to beat the PAP in various constituencies.

    Prominent blogger and political observer Alex Au attributed the WP's relative success to persistent groundwork, strong quality of candidates and clear party branding. Political analysts will look to anticipated studies and surveys to answer in more detail why and in what ways some opposition parties succeeded and others failed at the polls.

    Unhappy voters, stronger opposition

    This year's election was set against the backdrop of both strong economic growth and growing grass roots angst over the rising cost of living, a high influx of foreign workers, and soaring property and rental prices.

    Pre-election voter surveys are uncommon in Singapore, making it difficult to statistically gauge the mood of the electorate before the polls. The city has bounced back from the 2008-9 global financial crisis, recording 14.5% gross domestic product (GDP) growth year on year in 2010. But heated debates in on-line forums and other alternative media revealed rising frustrations among many Singaporeans.

    "I notice a certain restlessness, even restiveness, among different sections of the people," said veteran editor P N Balji last month. "Because the government has played a critical role, a womb-to-tomb role, in people's lives, now there's a boomerang effect. They blame the government for everything that goes wrong in Singapore."

    Balji coined the term "Orchid Evolution" after the Middle East's and North Africa's "Jasmine" uprisings to reflect a new angry mood among Singaporeans, observed in their rising use of social media to express unhappiness with the government.

    Singapore's opposition parties had leveraged this discontent throughout the nine-day intensive campaign period. Well-attended rallies of tens of thousands hit on where the government had failed the people in the past five years.

    The WP's last rally held at Serangoon Stadium was estimated to have drawn 35,000-40,000 people. Pictures posted online played on the stark comparison of the WP's big crowds and the PAP's less-attended campaign events.

    The election also saw the opposition put up a more united front. Horse trading took place long before candidates' nomination day, whereby opposition parties gave way to one another where particular parties felt their candidates stood the better chance of beating the PAP candidate in particular constituencies.

    This allowed opposition parties with comparatively limited resources to contest almost all of the constituencies and avoid three-cornered fights, a scenario that in the past split opposition votes and benefited the PAP.

    "[The oppositions'] guns are pointed in only [one] direction - that is the PAP," said Socialist Front (SF) secretary-general Chia Ti Lik in a political forum last December. SF pulled out of the running before the election, saying that it wanted to avoid causing three-cornered fights.

    One reason for PAP's long dominance has been the historical lack of strong opposition figures. Analysts say the quality of opposition candidates was much improved at Saturday's election. For instance, high flyer civil servant Tan Jee Say, the former principal private secretary to senior minister Goh Chok Tong, joined the SDP. Former government scholars Tony Tan and Hazel Poa joined the opposition NSP, giving its candidacy higher credibility than in the past.

    "Although the opposition lost to PAP in so many constituencies, to me they are already winning," said cargo coordinator and SDP supporter Razlan Karzali. "They have improved their performance compared to the last election."

    Barring the SDA, all opposition parties performed better this year than at the 2006 election, the government-influenced Straits Times reported. The SDP turned in the most improved performance, winning an average 39.3% of votes in the areas they contested, up from 23.2% in 2006. WP placed second in improved performance, winning 46.6% in contested constituencies, compared to 38.4% in 2006.

    Campaign apology

    To be sure, PAP, Singapore's ruling party since 1959, sailed comfortably to victory at Saturday's poll. The PAP had touted this year's election as a watershed poll as it forwarded a new generation of leaders on the ballot. However, several new PAP candidates had come under fire even before the election campaign started.

    Netizens singled out Janil Puthucheary, a new Singapore citizen criticized for not doing compulsory national service. A young PAP candidate, Tin Pei Ling, was criticized for her perceived lack of media savvy and for allegedly relying on her personal networks rather than hands-on experience to enter politics.

    Several PAP blunders, including the unexplained escape of Jemaah Islamiyah leader Mas Selamat Kastari from a detention center in 2008 and perceived overspending in the Youth Olympic Games, were opposition fodder during the campaign. Despite having the upper hand in deciding the timing of the snap polls and drawing constituency boundaries, a large part of the campaign saw the PAP rebuking opposition criticisms rather than touting the success of party policies.

    Perhaps realizing the growing disenchantment among voters, Prime Minister Lee took a big political gamble halfway through the campaign. In a rally, he apologized not once, but twice, for the mistakes his government had made over the past five years, including for the Mas Selamat escape, floods in the Orchard Road shopping mall district and overstretched housing and public transport. He pledged to make adjustments to the system and do better in a new term.

    "When these problems vex you or disturb you or upset your lives, please bear with us. We're trying our best on your behalf. And if we didn't quite get it right, I am sorry but we will try and do better the next time," he said. In the same rally, he said: "I think you want a government which has a strong mandate but at the same time is acutely aware that they are servants and not masters, that they are accountable to the people."

    The apologetic speech was widely analyzed on the blogosphere. "The themes of government accountability and arrogance played so strongly with the electorate, that the prime minister was compelled to apologize for the errors of his government late in the campaign. But it was clearly too little, too late for disenchanted voters," former nominated member of parliament Siew Kum Hong wrote in his blog.

    "My own sense is that the middle ground, that big chunk of voters in the middle who decide the fate of elections, largely approves of the PAP as the governing party, but had grown to dislike the PAP and its style," he wrote.

    Cherian George, political observer and associate professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at the Nanyang Technological University, wrote that Lee's apologies "potentially signals nothing less than a new compact, a recasting of the relationship between the PAP and the people."

    "If he had then turned defensive and declared that the PAP had already delivered such a government, he would have lost me," wrote George. "Instead, he said: ‘That's the kind of government which we would like to be able to [form] from this election.' The sub-text: there is room for improvement; my next government will embody these principles in a way that my previous ones did not," wrote George.

    PAP apologies aside, there is no illusion that the current opposition is poised to take power any time soon. WP candidates consistently hammered the message that it wanted to be a check and balance for the PAP and its dominance over government.

    "If Singaporeans were to throw out the PAP government, which other parties could come in and govern at this point in time?" WP chairwoman Sylvia Lim said in March. She conceded that "The WP is not ready to do that now."

    Clearly many voters agree. "You see how developed Singapore is now? You see how prosperous this country is? PAP is the best political party, not only in Singapore, they are the best in the world," said Leo Chin Kuan, a taxi driver. "After this election, PAP will surely change for the better. They know the whole electorate has changed ... They have realized how powerful the voters are."

    Megawati Wijaya is a Singapore-based journalist. She may be contacted at megawati.wijaya@gmail.com
    py

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    Defeated PAP leader George Yeo calls it quits


    May 10, 11 3:25pm

    Former Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo reiterated that the People's Action Party (PAP) must transform to respond to the significant developments in Singapore's political landscape, stressing it would determine the island-nation's fate in the 21st century.



    In a statement today following his remarkable defeat on home turf Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC), which he has held since 1988, Yeo (right) admitted that he had felt the need to voice the ruling party's need to transform, well before the campaign for the 2011 Singapore general election began.
    "It was not something I felt I could say when the campaign started.

    "As we ended our campaign on May 5, I talked about the importance of transforming the PAP. This is a belief I've held for some time," said the two-decade politician.

    Yeo said as campaigning progressed, it became evident that the issue was a major one among the electorate.

    “Like it or not, we are entering a new phase in Singapore's political development. How we respond to it will decide Singapore's destiny in the 21st century.”



    On the eve of polling day on May 7, Yeo made 'transformation' his battle cry to defend his GRC against an unprecedented assault from the Workers Party (WP) team, which eventually unseated the minister.

    According to news reports, Yeo had urged his constituents to give his team, comprising then Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Hwee Hua, Zainul Abidin Rasheed, Cynthia Phua and Ong Ye Kung, the mandate to lead the change in the PAP.

    His opponents, dubbed the WP's 'Dream Team', led by secretary-general Low Thia Khiang and comprising WP chairman Sylvia Lim, Chen Show Mao, Pritam Singh and Faisal Abdul Manap, eventually unseated Yeo, chalking a milestone as Singapore's first opposition party to win a GRC.

    Yeo quitting politics?

    Yeo in his parting statement commented on Low's remark that WP had won not because the PAP team did not do a good job, but because the electorate wanted a new voice to represent them.



    “Mr Low's analysis is fair and I agree with him. This desire for a strong WP voice in Parliament was a political tide which came in through Aljunied, which we were unable to withstand despite our very best efforts.

    “Right from the start, the Workers Party made Aljunied a national battleground,” said Yeo.

    He added that he would not be contesting Aljunied in the next GE, preferring to leave the task to someone younger.

    “Many of my supporters asked me to stay on to win back Aljunied in five years time. I wanted to level with them and told them last night that it is better for a younger person to take on this important task.

    “I'm already 57 years old and would be 62 by then. Naturally I would help to ensure a smooth handover,” Yeo added.
    py

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    If George Yeo is a gentleman, Nicole Seah is a true lady.


    A 'Thank You' letter from Nicole Seah
    AsiaOne
    Sun, May 08, 2011



    Shortly after the final results of the General Election were announced this morning, we received an e-mail from opposition candidate Nicole Seah. This is her letter, in full.

    My friends, my fellow Singaporeans,

    We may have lost an election but tonight we have rediscovered something so much more valuable - the pride of being Singaporeans. My fellow party members and I began all of this because we felt that we needed to speak up not just for you, but also ourselves.

    The competition has been robust; sides were taken and things were said. But now that the contest is over, we must come together as one country and work to build that future we want.

    When we choose our leaders, we ask of them not just their industry but also their judgment. We may not always agree with our government, but it is our responsibility to engage them in intelligent debate so that policies made in our name serve the common good.

    Tonight our hearts are with Mr Low Thia Kiang and the Workers' Party. They have made political history in Singapore and they have made us proud. For the next 5 years, we will depend on them to be our voices in Parliament. We are comforted that we will be well represented.

    The great joy we feel at the election of the Workers' Party is matched only by our profound sadness at the exit tonight of two great men from the political scene.

    We want to pay tribute to Mr George Yeo, the outgoing Foreign Minister. Not since the tenure of the late Mr S Rajaratnam has anyone defined our foreign policy like Mr Yeo. A soldier, a scholar, a statesman. And to top it all off, a perfect gentleman. We hope that he will consider a run for the Presidency later this year. We believe he will be another peoples' President and we cannot think of a better person to continue representing us to the world.

    We also want to express our gratitude to Mr Chiam See Tiong who together with the late J B Jeyaretnam fought for ordinary Singaporeans at a time when it was much tougher for opposition politicians. Mr Chiam, all Singaporeans owe you a debt of gratitude and we salute you. We will carry on the work you began.

    And so my friends, in closing I just want to remind all of you that while the votes have been cast and tallied, the work has just begun.

    We know the kind of Singapore we want - we have been talking about it for months now. The time for talk is over; lets get it done.

    Sincerely,
    Nicole Seah
    NSP Candidate for Marine Parade GRC
    GE 2011
    py

  9. #9
    Singapore is very nice city..Election time very crowded.Peoples are very exited to Elections

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