Fresh off the feel-good celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence from Malaysia, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is moving up elections by more than a year to September 11 — just 17 days from now.
It wasn’t exactly a surprise, and a sometimes-divided political opposition has spent the summer mobilizing to prepare for the vote.
Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong is the son of Singapore’s longtime leader Lee Kuan Yew, who died at age 91 in March and is widely credited with Singapore’s transformation from a colonial-era trade hub (even 50 years ago, it wasn’t quite a sleepy backwater) into a major international financial center. Breakneck GDP growth in the last half of the 20th century, however, is slowing today, and critics argue that Lee Kuan Yew ran an authoritarian city-state with little freedom for speech, organization the press, political opposition or even, in many cases, individual expression.
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As China’s economy sputters under the weight of a stock market crash, Singapore’s economy is already feeling the effects. Its GDP fell by an annualized 4% in the second quarter of 2015, and its annual GDP growth rate is now estimated to be between 2% and 2.5%, some of the weakest growth in the country’s post-independence history.
In the most recent election in May 2011, the PAP won just 60.14% of the vote, with the second-placed Workers’ Party of Singapore (WP) winning a mere 12.82%. Still, it was the worst showing for the PAP since it took power in 1959 — six years before independence, when Lee Kuan Yew enthusiastically embraced a role for Singapore within the Malaysian Federation.
In the fragile years after independence, first-generation Singaporeans were more willing to embrace the tradeoffs between freedom and economic growth. And Lee certainly delivered. On a nominal basis, Singapore has one of the world’s highest levels of GDP per capita — and, after Qatar and Australia, the third-highest in Asia. At over $56,000, it exceeds New Zealand, Hong Kong and even the United Arab Emirates. The political marketplace is far less mature. For example, though the country has first-world living standards, Freedom House ranks it as merely partly free, and Singapore ranked just 150th in Reporter Without Borders’s World Press Freedom Index last year — just lower than Burundi, Ethiopia, Russia, Afghanistan, Angola and Tajikistan. Continue reading Singapore calls snap semicentennial elections