Singapore opposition forms alliance


SINGAPORE, Reuters

Singapore’s fragmented opposition formed an alliance on Saturday to fight the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in the next election, hoping to steer the island state towards a two-party political system.

“The purpose of the formation of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) is to unite the opposition in Singapore… and be a counter force to balance the power of the ruling party,” founding chairman Chiam See Tong said at its inauguration.

“We hope one day to have a two-party system in Singapore.”

Singapore’s 22 opposition parties have remained relatively small and disunited throughout the PAP’s 36-year rule — since the island’s independence from the Malaysian Federation.

The alliance groups four parties — the Singapore People’s Party, National Solidarity Party, Singapore Justice Party and the Malay-based Pertubohan Kebangsaan Melayu Singapura (Singapore Malay National Organization).

But two key opposition parties — the Workers’ Party and the Singapore Democratic Party — have not given any positive indication that they would join the group.

The PAP must call for elections by August 2002.

Judging from past polls the PAP, which controls 81 of 83 seats in parliament, is expected to run unopposed in many constituencies.

The alliance offers the opposition a chance at fighting for larger wards which group three to six candidates of different ethnic groups, rather than the single seats they most hotly contested before. Under the “first past the post” system, the party winning the vote in the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) takes all the seats.

The alliance marks the first time the opposition will try to campaign under a common banner after 10 months of negotiations.

“Individual parties exists as such, but as a front they will subsist their interests to the interest of the SDA,” said veteran opposition politician Chiam, one of two elected opposition members of parliament, and head of the Singapore People’s Party.

The opposition was dealt a blow when the former head of the Workers’ Party J.B. Jeyaretnam recently lost his seat in parliament and will be barred from contesting the polls after losing his appeal against bankruptcy.

The 76-year-old firebrand best known for breaking the PAP’s parliamentary monopoly in 1981 had entered parliament again in 1997 under a “best loser” provision after he narrowly lost the elections. The Workers’ Party current leader holds the other elected seat in parliament.