Monday March 27, 6:45 PMSingapore's ruling party warns voters against opposition
By Fayen Wong
SINGAPORE, March 27 (Reuters) - Singapore's ruling party, which is likely to call an early election this year, has warned voters if they elect an opposition candidate their constituency stands to lose out on state-subsidised improvements.
Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who visited an opposition ward at the weekend, told local reporters that it would be in the residents' interests to vote for a People's Action Party (PAP) candidate at the next election if they want their estates to be get new lifts and improved shopping facilities.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently asked Goh, a former Prime Minister, to help win back Singapore's two opposition wards. The tiny, fragmented opposition holds only two out of the 84 elected seats in parliament.
Chiam See Tong, chief of the Singapore Democratic Alliance, has led the Potong Pasir constituency for the past 25 years while Workers' Party secretary-general Low Thia Kiang has chaired the Hougang ward since 1991.
"I do not want the two constituencies to be left behind, especially Potong Pasir, an old estate. Five years down the road, assuming Chiam do win, there will be no upgrading," Goh was quoted as saying on state broadcaster Channel NewsAsia's Web site.
Goh's comments echo remarks he made before the January 1997 poll, when he told voters that those wards which elected an opposition candidate would be the last in line for upgrading and risked becoming "slums".
The upgrading of state-built housing estates typically includes a fresh coat of paint, new parks and playgrounds, and facilities for the elderly such as ramps and lifts that stop on every floor.
The ruling PAP has dominated parliament since Singapore's independence in 1965.
Goh told voters in the opposition wards at the weekend that if they elected a PAP candidate at the next poll, he would propose that those two members of parliament be freed of the party whip. PAP members of parliament are required to vote in line with the party.
Analysts say the PAP's decision to put Goh in charge of winning back the opposition wards reflects the increased prominence of the opposition, which recently said it would contest as many as 57 of the 84 elected seats at the next poll.
"The PAP is now focusing on the opposition constituencies, putting them as top priority. This will force the opposition's two top leaders to defend their own wards instead of venturing out," political scientist Ho Khai Leong told Reuters.
Lee, who took over from Goh in August 2004, does not need to call a parliamentary election until mid-2007, but many observers expect a poll in coming weeks or months as the government takes advantage of a strong economy.
Last week, the PAP revealed three new candidates for the upcoming election as it plans to retire some of the older politicians.