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SINGAPORE GENERAL ELECTION

Coming GE to be fought in different landscape

It'll be first GE without Lee Kuan Yew's presence

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The GE ahead comes after years of govt initiatives on public housing, public transport, curbing foreign labour and left-leaning social policies.

Singapore

AND so the battle has well and truly begun - this time it will be fought in a landscape that observers say would be quite different from the one at the last general election (GE) four years ago.

The first event to trigger much debate and chatter took place last Friday when the five-member Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) made public its report showing a new list of 29 electoral boundaries.

The report suggests that Polling Day could take place in the next couple of months, even though there is still plenty of time for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to send some 2.46 million Singaporeans to the ballot boxes; he has until January 2017 to do so.

Among the public, many believe it would happen as early as the middle of September.

One popular date being bandied about is Sept 12. That is a Saturday, a popular day to hold a poll, given that the last three GEs - in 2001, 2006 and 2011 - also took place on Saturdays.

This time round, the EBRC took just over two months after its formation to complete its work and submit its report, about half the time taken for the 2006 and 2011 GEs.

This rather quick turnaround has added to the speculation of a September GE date, said Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan, who noted that the Prime Minister could make his move at the first available window after the end of next month's National Day celebrations.

Evolving landscape

By most accounts, it has been a rather eventful period on several levels for Singapore since the last GE on May 7, 2011.

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) government has worked expeditiously to tackle the hot-button issues such as transport, housing and immigration.

More flats have been or are being built, new train lines are on the way and more buses are plying the roads; the foreign labour inflow has been tightened over the last few years.

There has also been a significant shift to the left in national policy of late. Whether it was the S$8 billion Pioneer Generation Package, the new MediShield Life universal health insurance or regular cash payouts to the poorest seniors in society, the moves have signalled a huge step forward in terms of inclusiveness in the country.

There is now an ongoing national movement, called SkillsFuture, to provide Singaporeans with the opportunities to develop their fullest potential throughout life, regardless of their starting points.

It has been four years since the Workers' Party (WP) made history by wresting the group representation constituency (GRC) of Aljunied from the PAP.

What soon followed were two by-elections in the space of eight months, both won by the WP. Png Eng Huat took over the Hougang single member constituency (SMC) in May 2012; while Lee Li-Lian won in Punggol East in January 2013, after a four-cornered fight.

All its three constituencies are now served by a single town council, called the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

It was the manner in which this large town council and its finances were managed that led to the WP and PAP crossing swords in parliament, following an independent financial audit by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) into AHPETC's accounts. That report, made public, uncovered numerous lapses in the town council's accounts, including a lack of governance over transactions with related parties, poor monitoring of arrears in service and conservancy charges and a poor record and accounting system.

In a letter to residents in June this year, WP chairman Sylvia Lim wrote that the town council has made some improvements since the AGO report, and hired external accountants to clean up its accounts and to strengthen processes and controls.

The AHPETC saga aside, the WP is likely to once again be the opposition party that fields the most number of candidates at the coming GE - 28, said Ms Lim - as it looks to contest a total of five GRCs and five SMCs.

The WP has conducted frequent walkabouts and launched initiatives such as a centralised WP Grassroots Committee that oversees its division teams and takes charge of major events. The party also has an independently-run Community Fund, set up in June 2014 to provide financial support to needy residents in its wards.

Fresh blood

Six opposition parties took part in the 2011 GE, but this time, there could be nine. Two new parties recently entered the scene - Singaporeans First, led by former presidential candidate Tan Jee Say, and the People's Power Party, helmed by opposition veteran Goh Meng Seng.

Over the next few weeks, all parties are expected to formally introduce their candidates to the voters. The PAP officially unveiled its first new face on Sunday, ex-public servant Joan Pereira, who is likely to contest in Tanjong Pagar GRC.

PAP organising secretary Ng Eng Hen, speaking on Sunday at a community event in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, said the ruling party will introduce the bulk of its slate shortly after National Day on Aug 9. Most of its new faces have been understudying the incumbent MPs and engaging residents - some for as long as the last two years.

For some, the next GE is significant for various reasons. One person who is looking forward to the polls is Chee Soon Juan, the secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, who was barred from standing in the 2006 and 2011 GEs as he was still a bankrupt.

With all 89 seats expected to be contested, all eyes now turn to a meeting this Friday among the opposition parties; the aim of the meeting, hosted by the National Solidarity Party, is to discuss where each party will field its candidates in order to avoid multi-cornered fights.

The LKY factor

This GE will be the first since Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's death in March; Polling Day could take place at around the same time as what would have been the elder stateman's 92nd birthday on Sept 16.

Many will remember the outpouring of sorrow and gratitude for Mr Lee during the week-long national mourning period. Hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans braved the elements outside Parliament House, where his casket was lying-in-state, to bid him a final farewell.

The PAP's Dr Ng said: "For this GE, for the first time, it will be a GE without Mr Lee. No Mr Lee Kuan Yew to tell us what is a better choice, no Mr Lee Kuan Yew to give comments on the choices that we make. This will truly be a General Election where Singaporeans have to decide what is a post-LKY Singapore.

"Once the vote is decided, a certain cast has been laid for Singapore. I think, for that reason, it will be a watershed GE. Every GE shapes our future, and we will have to wait to see how Singapore is shaped by this coming elections."