SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore's government dissolved parliament on Thursday and called an election for May 6, a poll that will be the first real test of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's leadership.
Lee, eldest son of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, was appointed to the post in August 2004. He had been deputy prime minister since 1990.
"The President, on the advice of the Prime Minister, has dissolved Parliament," the government said. In a separate statement, it set May 6 as polling day.
The ruling People's Action Party (PAP), which has dominated parliament since independence in 1965, had been widely expected to go to the polls before a June 2007 deadline to take advantage of a strong economy.
Analysts have no doubt that the PAP, which has ruled with an overwhelming majority since independence from Malaysia in 1965, will win by a large margin.
But it might face a tougher contest than in previous polls, with Singapore's tiny opposition parties vowing to field candidates for more than half the seats in parliament.
Sylvia Lim, chairwoman of Singapore's oldest opposition party, The Workers' Party, said her team looked forward to the contest: "We've been preparing for the elections for some time so we're glad the wait is finally over."
The last three polls in 2001, 1997 and 1991 were walkovers after the opposition put up candidates for fewer than half the seats. In 2001, only 29 of 84 seats were contested, but analysts expect more than 42 will be contested this time.
Of the 84 elected members of the current parliament, 82 are from the PAP, one from the Worker's Party and one from the Singapore Democratic Alliance.
Analysts say the Singapore opposition is too weak to be a viable alternative to the government. But in every election, the opposition parties capture a significant number of protest votes in the constituencies that they do contest.
A key question is whether Lee can match former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's 2001 result, when he won 75 percent of the votes cast.
Lee, 54, has played down that comparison, saying the 2001 poll came just after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, when people were worried about growing Islamic radicalism.
"Since he came into power, Lee has been saying that he wants to build an open and inclusive society. The government has translated that into various policies. During this election, we shall see how well that resonates on the ground, and if people welcome Lee's new policies," said Gillian Koh, a research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, a think-tank in Singapore.
Analysts expect the PAP to benefit from the strength of the Singapore economy. Gross domestic product is set to grow as much as 6 percent in 2006, jobs growth is the fastest in nearly five years, and consumer confidence is riding high.
Even so, the wealthy city-state of 4.4 million people still has about 250,000 citizens earning less than S$1,000 ($625) a month.
In recent months, the government unveiled measures to help low-wage workers hit by competition from China and India. Several PAP-led town councils have announced plans to upgrade state-built housing blocks, at a cost of several hundred million dollars.
© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.
20 Apr 2006
Thu Apr 20, 2006 2:46 PM IST