Apr 20, 2011
Polling Day on May 7
Time is ripe for me to ask voters for fresh mandate, says PM
ALL SET FOR THE POLLS: Ms Helen Tan, 62, a PAP Aljunied GRC Paya Lebar Branch executive committee member, putting up flags outside the branch office at Hougang Avenue 1 yesterday in preparation for the elections. -- ST PHOTOS: DESMOND LIM, STEPHANIE YEOW
THE date of the long-anticipated general election was finally disclosed yesterday when the President dissolved Parliament and issued the Writ of Election.
Nomination Day will be on Wednesday, April 27, and Polling Day, on Saturday, May 7.
For the first time, there will be a 'Cooling-off Day', on May 6, a day when political parties will be barred by law from campaigning so as to give voters time to reflect coolly and rationally.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told The Straits Times why he decided to call the general election now: 'All the parties have been preparing for these elections for some time. I believe the time is now ripe for me to ask voters for a fresh mandate to take Singapore forward for the next five years.'
Mr Lee, who became prime minister in 2004, will be leading the People's Action Party (PAP) into battle for the second time as prime minister, the first being in 2006.
The PAP secured 66.6 per cent of the votes then, with 47 of the 84 seats contested.
The PAP's vote share in this election is hard to predict and will depend a lot on the calibre and performance of the candidates the opposition is able to field, analysts believe.
Opposition parties have indicated that they will contest at least 71 of the 87 seats - its biggest turnout since 1988, when only 11 of the 81 seats were uncontested.
Like the 1988 elections, which had a former solicitor-general, Mr Francis Seow, contesting on a Workers' Party (WP) ticket, the coming elections will also feature former civil servants on opposition tickets.
The National Solidarity Party and the Singapore People's Party (SPP) together boast four former civil servants who were government scholarship holders.
However, none of the four matches the same high profile that Mr Seow had in 1988.
The most high-profile opposition catch this year is Mr Chen Show Mao, a 50-year-old lawyer with credentials to rival those of the best PAP candidates.
None of the five has prior electoral experience, and analysts are unsure if they will have the same electoral pull Mr Seow had in 1988.
The PAP, on its part, will be fielding 24 new faces, including two who are under the age of 30.
Its slate also includes possibly a dozen potential office-holders who will be part of Singapore's fourth-generation leadership, if elected.
They include Major-General (NS) Chan Chun Sing, Brigadier-General (NS) Tan Chuan-Jin, Mr Heng Swee Keat, Mr Ong Ye Kung and Mr Lawrence Wong.
In a reminder of the importance of putting in place a team of younger leaders, PM Lee said. 'These elections are about our shared future. Voters will be choosing the party and team you trust to lead Singapore, and to improve your lives.
'Please think it over carefully, and vote for the party and candidates best able to keep Singapore safe and prosperous, and to give you and your children a bright and secure future.'
Over and above leadership renewal, analysts also see more immediate concerns dominating voters' minds.
Mr Azhar Ghani, an independent political risk consultant, pointed to cost of living issues, including housing prices and the competition posed by foreigners in the job market, as likely to feature prominently during the hustings.
For younger voters, issues related to one-party dominance will have resonance, he believes.
Mr Terence Chong of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies noted: 'After this GE, it will be clearer as to whether Singaporeans prefer a stronger opposition or all their eggs in one political basket.'
Tapping the perceived desire for an opposition presence, the WP has made 'A First World Parliament' its campaign slogan, urging voters to cast their ballots for opposition parties in order to reduce the dominance currently enjoyed by the PAP.
The PAP government, on its part, made changes to the law last year to enable more opposition voices to be in Parliament.
There can be up to nine Non-Constituency MPs in the next Parliament, an increase from the current three. These seats are for the best-losing opposition candidates in the event of none being elected.
Political observers will be watching to see how this electoral change - and the introduction of Cooling-off Day - will affect voting behaviour.
Also under scrutiny will be the influence and reach of social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Already, some academics are gearing up to study how the use of these online platforms will evolve during the election.
Former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharuddin said: 'There are many things that we may not have seen in the past, such as a significant shift in the way people debate.'
The PAP, too, has been tapping social media aggressively in recent weeks, with MPs, ministers and new candidates alike all establishing a strong online presence.
On the ground, many of the PAP's 87 branches went into high gear yesterday as word of the Writ of Election went round. Some held meetings late into the night to tie up loose ends.
Not that any were surprised by the date. Tampines East branch secretary Benny Yeo said: 'We have all been expecting this, so we have been working towards the May 7 date.'
Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng, who helms the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, which is being eyed by Mr Chiam See Tong's SPP, said: 'We expect a robust contest, and we will focus on issues that affect our GRC residents.'
Over in Aljunied GRC, where the fiercest battle was fought in 2006, Foreign Minister George Yeo made clear his team was geared up and ready to go.
'I have got all my posters half-prepared, and I will be in a jam if there is a change in the last minute; I don't want to be pasting over faces!' he told The Straits Times, referring to the possibility of last-minute candidate switches within the PAP.
There will be nine nomination centres scattered around Singapore to cater to the 27 constituencies, 12 of them single seats and the rest, Group Representation Constituencies.
The Returning Officer for this election is Mr Yam Ah Mee, replacing Mr Tan Boon Huat, who had been the Returning Officer for three general elections since 1997.