May 6, 2006

Singapore opposition leader retains key seat

By Fayen Wong

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore opposition leader Low Thia
Khiang, secretary general of the Workers' Party, kept his hotly
contested seat in parliament, one of two opposition seats in
the 84-seat parliament, according to preliminary results
released on state television on Saturday.

Singapore's tiny opposition has mounted its biggest
challenge to the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) in 18 years
by fielding candidates for more than half the 84 seats in

Singaporeans voted on Saturday in a general election in
which anything less than a resounding victory for the PAP would
be regarded as a failure for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The poll is the first real popularity test for Lee, 54,
since he was appointed in August 2004 without an election in a
planned leadership transition.

Polls closed at 8 p.m. (1200 GMT) and final results were
expected around midnight (1600 GMT).

Voting is compulsory in Singapore, but only about 1.2
million people out of 2.2 million on the electoral register had
a chance to vote due to walkovers in 37 of the 84 seats. Many
were voting for the first time.

"This is my first time voting and I voted for the
opposition as I felt that they were going to try to do more for
the needy. I wanted to give them a chance," said Jacinta Huang,
a 24-year-old social worker.

Lee, the eldest son of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew,
needs to get at least 61 percent of the votes and lose no more
than four seats, analysts said. That was the result his
predecessor, Goh Chok Tong, got in the PAP's worst electoral
outcome in 1991.

Anything less than that would be a "major psychological
blow," said Song Seng Wun, an economist at CIMB-GK Research.

Singapore bans election surveys and exit polls, making it
difficult to gauge opinion.


But opposition rallies have drawn big crowds -- including
the prime minister's own teenage son.

Lee told reporters on Friday night he had asked his son why
he had not attended a PAP rally and his son had replied: "So
boring and logical."

Lee added: "So I think it's okay. Many more (are) like
that, want to hear but when it comes to the moment to vote and
decide, I think they know what's in their interest."

The prime minister and his father -- who ruled for 31
consecutive years including the periods before, during and
after Singapore's union with Malaya and who is now the
"Minister Mentor" -- filed defamation suits against the leaders
of the Singapore Democratic Party at the start of campaigning.

It's a timeworn PAP tactic that has bankrupted some
opposition leaders, thus disqualifying them for parliament.

Some voters seemed to be turned off by Singapore's hardball

"I believed in the PAP before, but I think the party no
longer represents me or the way I see things," said W.M. Ng, a
36-year-old advertising executive. "They tell you what to do,
and you do it. They don't listen. I don't agree with their
heavy-handed style of government."

Aware of the need to woo young voters, the PAP is fielding
24 new candidates, what it calls its "fourth generation" of

But the bedrock of PAP support has always been older
voters, who lived through Singapore's rocky post-independence
years and witnessed its transformation into an economic

"What concerns me most is peace and safety," said
taxi-driver Lee Kwok Seng, 44. "The government has given me
safety and I don't want crime in Singapore."

When Lee Hsien Loong became prime minister, he promised
more political openness, but there has been scant evidence of

The government strictly enforces limits on public speaking
and demonstrations and last month said it would require
political parties and individuals to register if they wish to
post political content on Web sites.

(Additional reporting by Sebastian Tong and Mia Shanley)