11 Mar 2006

Singapore's opposition aims for 57 parliamentary seats

M&G News

Singapore - Singapore's opposition parties are gunning for 57 seats in Singapore's impending general election to prevent the ruling party from being returned to power on nomination day for the first time since 1991, members said Saturday.

Political sources said that the goal was ambitious. A more realistic figure in the city-state, dominated by the People's Action Party (PAP), would be closer to the low 40s, they said.

The agreement reached at a Friday night meeting among the fragmented opposition was described as 'fruitful' by veteran opposition leader Chiam See Tong, leader of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA).

The PAP has dominated parliament since independence from Malaysia in 1965. It currently holds 82 out of 84 seats and has never lost more than four seats in any election.

Opposition members agreed to contest in all nine single-seat constituencies and nine out of the 14 group representation constituencies.

No date has been announced for the polls, but Singapore's leaders have made it clear an election will be held soon.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who became premier when his predecessor stepped down two years ago, recently challenged the opposition parties to contest all 84 seats.

Chiam, who has held his seat since 1984, said that the government would have to first lower the election deposit of 13,500 Singapore dollars (9,385 US dollars) per candidate for the asset-scarce opposition to consider contesting more seats.

'You reduce the deposit amount, and maybe we'll consider,' Chiam said.

He stressed the importance of capturing a group representative constituency (GRC), which includes as many as six candidates.

The psychological effect would be 'tremendous,' Chiam said. 'Once one stronghold is toppled, the rest may just follow like falling dominoes.'

Opposition parties have never won a GRC since they were introduced in the 1988 polls.

Opposition veteran J.B. Jeyaretnam is going to court Tuesday to make a bid to emerge from bankruptcy in time to run.

The 80-year-old politician, who was bankrupted by libel suits brought by leaders of the PAP, has applied to pay off his debts totalling 600,000 Singapore dollars (369,200 US).

People in bankruptcy cannot contest elections in Singapore.

If he does run, it will be the eighth time that the former Workers' Party leader takes part in an election.

He broke the PAP's 15-year complete dominance of parliament in 1981 but lost the seat in 1986 when he was declared bankrupt in a libel suit. He returned to parliament in 1997 but lost that seat in 2001 when he became bankrupt again.

Many of the best-known opposition figures have faced legal action filed by prominent PAP members.

Critics such as Amnesty International maintain that the defamation lawsuits are aimed at crippling the opposition. Singapore's leaders say they are necessary to safeguard their reputations.

© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur

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