Ruling party may see vote cut at polls
By IAN STEWART
A SERIES of recent speeches by Singapore's leaders reciting the benefits of living under the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and attacking Western liberal ideas prompted veteran opposition leader Joshua Jeyaretnam to tell followers that an election was in the air.
But if Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong is planning to go to the polls two years before he has to, he could see his party's vote cut by an increasingly restive electorate, according to an academic.
Recalling the fall in the PAP's vote in the past two elections, Liak Teng Kiat, a Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said the decline was likely to continue ''without a considerable modification of the PAP's paternalistic 'we know best' style of government''.
Writing in the Singapore-based research centre's publication Trends, he said the party's paternalism no longer sat well with a population that was ''increasingly better-educated, travelled and self-confident, even arrogant''.
Nevertheless, over the past few days, the Prime Minister and his colleagues have lectured the public on a range of issues from the need to preserve family values to the importance of putting national priorities before individual desires.
Analysts said the official exhortations on moral issues appeared to be aimed at reassuring the traditional Chinese core of the community of the Government's conservative credentials while the anti-West campaign was intended to discredit opposition leaders who espoused liberal ideas.
But conservative Singaporeans are already committed PAP voters and those citizens who tend to be more liberal in their thinking see contradictions in The denigration of countries with which the Government has close economic and defence ties.
While moulding its policies to reinforce its conservative support, the PAP may be alienating a segment of women voters.
At a forum on Women and Leadership at the weekend, speakers were especially concerned by Mr Goh's announcements denying government flats for unmarried mothers and rejecting equality of medical benefits for female civil servants.
If women vote against the PAP in large numbers, the continuing decline in electoral support for the party could accelerate, reducing its 77 to four majority in Parliament.
Both the Singapore Democratic Party and the Workers' Party are gearing up for an early election.
Launching a revised manifesto for the Workers' Party, which he heads as secretary-general, Mr Jeyaretnam advocated reducing government salaries - ''the highest in the world'' - restoring the jury system and lifting controls on newspapers.
But the opposition parties may face difficulties in delivering their policies to all voters. The launch of the Workers' Party manifesto was reported at the bottom of page 29 of The Straits Times on Saturday and was not covered by the government-controlled radio and television stations.