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Election Watch
Singapore Calls November 3 Election
(Reuters)

24 October 2001 by John O'Callaghan
Singapore's government called an early general election for November 3, just six days after unveiling a stimulus package to tackle the city state's worst recession in more than 30 years.
Thursday October 18,

Recession-hit Singapore calls Nov 3 election

By John O'Callaghan

SINGAPORE, Oct 18 - Singapore's government called an early general election for November 3 on Thursday, just six days after unveiling a stimulus package to tackle the city state's worst recession in more than 30 years.

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP), which has kept a hammerlock on parliament since independence in 1965, had been widely expected to go to the polls before the August 2002 deadline.

"The returning officer has declared that Saturday, 3 November, 2001, is polling day. Polling day is a public holiday," the government said in a statement.

Parliament was dissolved earlier on Thursday. Nomination of candidates will take place on October 25, allowing the traditionally brisk nine days of campaigning to begin.

Despite the economic malaise -- brought on by slumping demand for electronics and the ill health of key trading partners -- the PAP is unlikely to lose more than a handful of seats.

"They have just released their off-budget measures to help Singaporeans," said National University of Singapore political science professor Lee Lai To.

"The economy is not doing well and there will be all sorts of economic problems ahead, so this is probably the opportune time for the party in power to have a general election."

Singapore's economy grew a blazing 9.9 percent in 2000 but sank into recession in the second quarter. The government expects a three percent contraction in gross domestic product this year and sees weakness persisting well into the first half of 2002.

OPPOSITION FACES UPHILL BATTLE

Opposition parties complain the system is stacked against them but have long had problems mounting a credible challenge to a government that has delivered phenomenal improvements to Singapore's standard of living over the past 36 years.

In the previous two elections, opposition candidates contested fewer than half the seats. But they bristle at the notion that the PAP can hold 81 of 83 elected seats when it won 65 percent of the vote in the last election in 1997.

Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong -- also chairman of the central bank and son of Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister -- introduced four new candidates on Thursday and said the PAP would publish its manifesto on Friday.

After unveiling a S$11.3 billion ($6.2 billion) stimulus package last week, the government announced redrawn electoral boundaries on Wednesday. Voter rolls opened last month.

Opposition parties, which often cannot muster resources to contest multi-candidate wards, were angry at the creation of more five- and six-seat group representation constituencies (GRCs).

The Singapore Democratic Party called it "a clear indication of the desperation of the PAP government to deprive the majority of our voters their right to exercise their franchise".

Under the "first past the post" system, the party winning the vote in a GRC takes all of the seats.

PAP MACHINERY HUMMING

Gillian Koh, a research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies think-tank, noted there were still nine single-seat wards for opposition parties to contest but said they would face tough times with the elimination of three- and four-seat GRCs.

"The PAP has got its machinery going 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The opposition is going to be hard pressed to come up with five good, credible guys in these other GRCs," she said.

"What they need is a good, solid platform on national issues."

The government said more super-wards and the expansion of parliament to 84 seats were needed to account for a rise in the number of voters and changes to where they live.

It also set out new rules for Internet use during the election, allowing photographs of candidates, calls for members and chat rooms but banning opinion polls and appeals for funds.

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