Campaigning mixed with regret that vote already a done deal

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 October, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 October, 2001, 12:00am

As campaigning in Singapore's election started yesterday there were as many pleas for votes from rival politicians as there were expressions of regret from commentators that the result was already known.

The incumbent People's Action Party (PAP) was assured of another term in office on Thursday after opposition candidates fielded just 29 candidates for the 84 seats on offer on November 3.

In all, the absence of challengers means 67 per cent of the city-state's 2.04 million-strong electorate will not see a ballot paper this year.

The pro-PAP the Straits Times was jubilant about the victory but lamented the lack of a fight.

'The PAP is undeniably most Singaporeans' choice,' it said in an editorial, 'but it would not hurt the country and the cause of parliamentary democracy if there were an opposition that was not merely entertaining.'

In the 55 no-contest seats, PAP nominees will take their places in Parliament without a vote being held, handing the party a majority before polling day.

The practice is known as a 'walkover' and prompted another local newspaper to decorate its election coverage with graphics of shoe-prints alongside victorious PAP candidates.

Chua Lee Hoong, one of the Straits Times' most high-profile political commentators, went further, and appeared to suggest the ruling party should create some form of opposition itself.

'Another idea is to have a 'shadow opposition', the way the opposition in some countries has a shadow cabinet,' Chua wrote. 'Yes, yes it sounds like a very weird idea, but how else are you going to ensure your political leaders stay in fighting shape?'

Singapore, controlled by the PAP since independence in 1965, already has a dual constitutional mechanism to ensure some dissenting voices are heard. The law states that if the ruling party takes every contested seat, between three and six opposition figures are allowed to sit in the Parliament as 'non-constituency MPs'. They are selected from the ranks of the 'best losers' at the preceding election.

In addition, the president names nine 'nominated MPs' to two-year terms. These are 'persons who have rendered distinguished public service or who have brought honour on the republic'.

At the 1997 election, the PAP took 81 of 83 elected seats, while the opposition claimed two seats. In addition, there was one non-constituency member and nine nominees.

Opposition groups have long complained of unfair electoral rules. They cite candidates' deposits of S$13,000 (HK$55,700) and the spread since 1988 of multi-member constituencies. These require between five and six candidates, stretching the resources of smaller parties.