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A more challenging political landscape
THE year which has just passed will go down in history as the one when the People's Action Party (PAP) stamped its dominance in Singa- pore's political scene anew with some gusto.
A little over four years after the ruling party collected just 60.1 per cent of the popular vote - its lowest vote share since Independence - at the May 2011 General Election (GE), the PAP bounced back in style.
Even the party's top leadership admitted they were surprised by the landslide victory after Polling Day on Sept 11. The final figure - 69.9 per cent - was far higher than many had predicted.
But in retrospect, the signs for a big win had long been on the cards.
For one thing, the country was in the midst of a year-long celebration of its Golden Jubilee, as one feel-good event after another was held to mark 50 years of nation-building in 2015, among them a grand National Day Parade at the Padang on Aug 9.
The death of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, at the age of 91 on March 23 after a long battle with pneumonia, produced a tremendous outpouring of grief as thousands upon thousands of Singaporeans turned up, rain or shine, to pay their last respects.
His demise, in many ways, also reminded this tiny city-state of how much it had achieved in just five decades, thanks largely to the contributions of the pioneer generation of leaders.
Both the SG50 celebrations and Mr Lee's passing stirred a level of patriotism and nationalistic fervour never before seen in Singapore. At the same time, the government had moved to address the thorny issues of housing, transport and immigration since 2011. All these tipped the scales in the PAP's favour at the polls.
Still, when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong finally ended months of speculation by calling for an early general election in September, many political observers and analysts were of the view that the opposition would end up making further inroads.
Instead, it was the PAP that managed to scupper the opposition's plans. The ruling party won 83 out of 89 available seats in Singapore's 13th Parliament, reclaiming the Punggol East single-seat constituency from the Workers' Party (WP), and narrowly lost in Aljunied GRC (group representation constituency) only after a dramatic recount of the ballots.
As PM Lee, the PAP's secretary-general, said on Dec 6 as he delivered an early post-mortem of the results, the "solid victory" assured Singaporeans of at least another decade of predictability, political stability and good governance.
The strong performance at the polls also paved the way for Singapore to complete the "crucial transition" from Singaporeans and leaders who experienced 1965 and the country's transition to Independence to a completely post-Independence generation, he told activists at the PAP Convention.
For the crucial task of leadership transition, the last two GEs have given Mr Lee the vital opportunity to assemble a new team of leaders with enough time for them to gel and take over the reins well before the election after next.
As for the opposition, it is now back to the drawing board as the various parties try to figure out how things went so pear-shaped after the build-up to GE2015 had promised them so much.
The WP now finds itself with one less elected Member of Parliament after Lee Li Lian's unsuccessful bid to retain her Punggol East ward. The incumbents in Aljunied and Hougang must also come to terms with the fact that they were re-elected with reduced margins.
The other parties are also busy taking stock of their heavy defeats. The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) was favoured to win at least one constituency, but the Chee Soon Juan-led party did not even get close in any of the areas they contested.
All eyes will now be on two upcoming major events in Parliament.
The first session of the 13th Parliament is scheduled for the afternoon of Jan 15, which will start with the election of the Speaker and the swearing-in of the MPs. About a quarter of the new House's members are new.
Later that day, President Tony Tan Keng Yam will deliver his opening address in Parliament in which he will set out the priorities, policies and programmes of the government for its fresh five-year term. MPs will then debate the President's Address over five days from Jan 25 to 29.
Parliament reconvenes amid a difficult period of economic transition and restructuring in Singapore. One of the key challenges for the government is how to cushion the impact of slower growth in a very volatile and uncertain global economy.
The second opportunity for parliamentarians (especially the newbies) to make an early impression will be in the two-week Committee of Supply debate in April, after Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivers his first Budget on March 24.
Last February, Mr Heng's predecessor Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced Singapore's largest Budget - total expenditure for the 2015/16 Financial Year was estimated at S$68.2 billion - as the government took significant strides towards achieving its goal of building a more inclusive society.
Looking forward, it is even more imperative that Singapore gets its politics right and acts as one united people, if it wants to keep succeeding in the next 50 years. This was, in fact, one of the main messages Mr Lee put forward during the hustings last year.
"The world is changing. Singapore is changing. Our politics will have to change . . . But we have to work together even if we have to work harder to have a national consensus," he said at the PAP's lunchtime rally at UOB Plaza on Sept 8. "So when we move forward, we move as one people, and we get there as one united people."
- For more of BT's year-in-review stories, visit bt.sg/review_15