Singapore: Singapore`s long-ruling People`s Action Party (PAP) swept back to power as expected in the most contested general election since independence, but the opposition made historic gains in what both sides called a landmark vote.
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.
This year the opposition put up candidates for 82 of 87 seats in Parliament, the most constituencies it has ever contested. In 2006, just over half the seats were contested.
"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."
Lee was among the winners as state television announced that the PAP had secured 81 of 87 seats in Parliament. The six seats that went to the opposition was the highest number it has ever taken.
Foreign Minister George Yeo was among the PAP`s losers as part of the team defeated by the opposition Workers` Party in a five-member constituency.
"You have made history tonight," Workers` Party chief Low Thia Khiang 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.
No policy change
Although it was a sweeping win in terms of seats, the PAP`s share of the popular vote slipped to around 60 percent from around 67 percent at the last election, the results showed. But analysts noted the PAP was firmly in control since it easily retained the two-thirds majority that allows it to amend the Constitution.
No policy shifts, especially in economic policy, were anticipated, they said.
"Given Singapore`s parliamentary system, the ruling party has the ability to pass comfortably key legislation, including constitutional amendments," Prasenjit Basu, chief regional economist at Daiwa Capital Markets, said in a report.
"With the PAP still solidly in control of policy-making and implementation, we do not expect substantive changes in policy post-election -- although marginal changes could occur via debate and deliberation later in the Parliament`s term."
The opposition had focused its campaign on the ills brought by Singapore`s growth -- rising income inequality, high prices and an unwelcome influx of foreigners. It also complained that the PAP government had little time for alternative points of view.
The PAP pointed to its stewardship of Singapore since independence in 1965 that had transformed a sleepy colonial port to a gleaming financial hub. Lee Hsien Loong`s father, Singapore`s founder Lee Kuan Yew, was the longtime party chief.
Financial markets have largely ignored the election since the outcome was never in doubt. External factors were likely to rule in the local stock market on Monday, said Song Seng Wun, an economist with CIMB.
"The results show that Singapore is growing up," he added. "There is greater willingness to allow for more alternative voices to be heard in Parliament."
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.
In 2006, the PAP won 82 of 84 seats.