SINGAPORE, July 30 (Reuters) - Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who has been in office nearly 12 months, may call elections later this year, media and analysts said on Saturday.
A parliamentary election does not have to be held until mid-2007. But the city-state's pro-government Straits Times daily quoted several analysts and a member of parliament as saying they expected Lee -- son of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew -- to seek his own mandate as early as the last quarter.
Lee was handed power in August 2004 by Goh Chok Tong, who was prime minister between Lee senior and Lee junior.
"PM Lee has been in office a year and shown he is a capable leader. It would be a good time to get public endorsement of his time in office," the Straits Times quoted veteran member of parliament Mohamad Maidin Packer as saying.
Chen Hwai Liang, press secretary to the prime minister, told Reuters: "The prime minister has said earlier that elections will be held before they are due."
A precedent for early elections was set in 1991, when Goh called an election just nine months after he was handed power.
Analysts say that to secure strong leadership, Lee must at least match his party's tally in the last poll in 2001, when Goh won 75 percent of the vote for the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), which controls all but two seats in parliament.
While there may be uncertainty about the margin, analysts say there is no doubt that the PAP, which has swept every election since independence in 1965, would win a comfortable majority against a fractious and cash-strapped opposition.
"The opposition is too weak and not seen as an alternative to the government," Cherian George, author of "The Air-conditioned Nation", a book on Singapore politics, told Reuters.
The Straits Times quoted political watcher Viswa Sadasivan as saying "the ground is as sweet as it possibly can be" for Lee.
"After the London blast, people are obviously going to be more conservative with their votes and will vote in the stable ruling party," Sadasivan said.
But it quoted other analysts as saying that the Singaporean public may harbour resentment over the Lee government's decision to allow casino gambling, an issue that generated a rare wave of protest in the tightly controlled island state.
In recent weeks the government has also been embarrassed by a scandal surrounding the country's leading charity, the National Kidney Foundation, whose chief executive resigned following uproar about his pay and perks.
Analysts say the Singapore economy's rebound -- it grew an annualised 12.3 percent in the second quarter from the first after contracting in the first quarter -- and a series of measures to boost the real estate market would help the PAP.
"Sentiment 12 months down the road is expected to improve on the back of a stronger feel-good factor on the property market and on the economy front as well. So somewhere towards the year-end and into early 2006, could be the time for elections," Song Seng Wun, senior economist at CIMB-GK, told Reuters. (Additional reporting by Muralikumar Anantharaman)
30 Jul 2005
By Geert De Clercq