PM Lee: Opposition MPs like 'mouse in the House'
Nine parties may be contesting this election but to most observers, the keenest contests will be in wards featuring the People's Action Party (PAP) and the Workers' Party (WP).
The exception is Potong Pasir where PAP faces the Singapore People's Party (SPP).
PAP and WP clash in wards including Aljunied, East Coast and Marine Parade GRCs and single seats in Fengshan and MacPherson.
The clash between the two rival parties underscores two differing agendas.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sees it as an election to find leaders for the next generation while WP says it needs to entrench opposition for a healthier parliament.
For the first time in independent Singapore's electoral history, all seats will be contested. And for the third time since 2006, PAP did not return to power on Nomination Day.
A two-party system is common in some developed countries like the US and Australia. The question is whether Singapore is on the cusp of a similar system.
WP's success at GE 2011 has allowed it to attract better qualified candidates - 12 out of the 19 WP candidates introduced started volunteering with the party from 2011.
For GE 2015, the party was able to field its largest slate ever - 28 candidates - to contest in five GRCs and five SMCs.
Yesterday, at a press conference at the PAP headquarters, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spelt out the battle lines after the close of nominations. "This is an election where there is a lot at stake and where we have to take very seriously people's concerns, people's aspirations, their outlook in a new world and also the way the election is going to be fought," he said.
Reports and pictures by Ariffin Jamar, Azim Azman, Benjamin Seetor, Chai Hung Yin, Choo Chwee Hua, David Lee, David Sun, Elizabeth Law, Foo Jie Ying, Koh Hui Theng, Hariz Baharudin, Jennifer Dhanaraj, Jeremy Long, Jonathan Choo, Mohd Ishak, Ng Jun Sen, Nurul Nabilah, Phyllicia Wang, Ronald Loh, Shahriya Yahaya and Tan Tam Mei
'More is better? Depends on the quality'
PM Lee described the performance of opposition MPs in Parliament over the last term as "disappointing".
"When you go for election rallies, it's very easy to make fierce, rousing speeches," he said, adding that opposition candidates also make many promises.
"But when they come to Parliament, none of these issues are raised... because they know that in Parliament if they raise these issues, face to face in debate, they will be pinned down and the fallacies, insincerities and untruths will be exposed," he said.
"You voted for a tiger in a Chamber and you got a mouse in the House."
PM Lee added that they would then hope that people would not notice this before repeating the tactic in the run-up to the next election.
The WP painted a different scenario of its performance on its website.
In a review of its 2011 to 2015 Parliamentary performance released yesterday, it highlighted several changes its party members effected in Parliament - everything from healthcare to public housing.
So is WP ready to form the next Government?
While its party leadership has said no, East Coast GRC candidate Gerald Giam said on Saturday that taking over the Government remains a long-term aim, but WP wants to "focus on what our goals are for this election".
Singapore Management University (SMU) law don Eugene Tan said: "We can see it as the WP indicating that they are shifting gears and that they now have more confidence that they can move in a more concerted manner towards trying to develop Singapore's political system into a two-party one."
When asked if more opposition parties would give rise to better governance, PM Lee said: "More is better? Depends on the quality."
Dr Gillian Koh, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, said: "The WP will have to convince voters that they can multi-task. They have to be the opposition voice in Parliament but also be effective in local governance, and certainly be above suspicion in how it manages those practicalities as that is the political system today."
You voted for a tiger in a chamber and you got a mouse in the house.
— Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the opposition MPs in last term’s Parliament
'...all 89 seats have to be fought seriously'
The possibility of the People's Action Party (PAP) losing a majority share - all of which are contested - is real, said PM Lee Hsien Loong.
"So we are fighting this election on the assumption that all 89 seats have to be fought seriously."
At the same press conference, Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah said every vote against the PAP could mean a PAP candidate or team of candidates not elected into Parliament, and that would mean the PAP will have less ability to deliver the results voters want.
In the past, opposition politicians had relied on the by-election effect, arguing that since the PAP is returned to power on Nomination Day, voters should then get opposition politicians into Parliament to voice their concerns.
But for the third time since 2006, the PAP was not returned to power on Nomination Day.
So is Miss Indranee's scenario plausible? Is there a likelihood of a freak result with the PAP not securing a majority?
Unlikely, said observers.
Dr Lan Luh Luh, associate professor at the National University of Singapore business school and faculty of law, said: "In by-elections, people will think more of the local, municipal agenda. But on a national level, people do not want to shake the foundations of the Government."
SMU's law don Eugene Tan said: "(The state of play) may affect undecided voters and they might feel that much more is at stake. They might think, 'I should be more careful.'"
'Investing in the young... motivates our whole venture'
PM Lee Hsien Loong said the PAP is constantly looking for ways to connect with the young.
For example, he tries to bond with his Facebook followers through his social media posts on nature, festivals or politics.
"Basically, they are looking for a human connection - not abstract policies - a person they can feel they can connect with, they can understand and who understands what they want.
"Investing in the young... motivates our whole venture."
Unlike GE 2011, where PAP roped in several candidates from the NTUC and the civil service, GE 2015 sees the median age of the new PAP candidates rise from 38.5 in 2011 to 42.3 now.
Of the 24 new faces, 15 are from the private sector.
The WP's pitch appears to be that voters want higher-calibre candidates and since the last GE, it has been attracting some from top universities.
Five of them have law backgrounds, another five business- or finance-related education, and one, Dr Daniel Goh, has a background in academia.
The remaining seven candidates who first got involved with the party before 2011 are from social and grassroots work.
Veteran journalist P. N. Balji said: "2011 was a turning point for WP in attracting solid candidates. That has continued into this election: like Goh, He Tingru and Leon Perera."
NUS sociologist Tan Ern Ser said: "It makes sense to join a winning team. I think WP can be seen as having a good 'business' model."
PM Lee yesterday said this election will be a tough fight, with the country at a turning point.
"As I told our candidates: if you are in a PAP ward, you fight as if you can lose. If you are in an opposition ward, you fight with a conviction that you can win."
'When you vote for someone and he wins, he will run a town council'
Running a town council is a litmus test of whether an MP is capable of going on to run a government, said PM Lee Hsien Loong.
"When you vote for someone and he wins, he will run a town council."
He also said: "People who aspire to be the government will first be tested in running a town council and demonstrating (whether they are) capable of administering, managing, leading and producing results to Singaporeans."
PM Lee said the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) saga was a serious issue concerning governance, profitability and propriety.
WP chairman Sylvia Lim had earlier accused the PAP of using the Ministry of National Development (MND) to make political attacks.
But PM Lee said it was the government agency's responsibility to investigate and take action if necessary.
He pointed out that the Aljunied GRC and Punggol East SMC town councils were running healthy surpluses before they were amalgamated into AHPETC, which then reported a deficit.
Meanwhile, AHPETC's former managing agent, FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), went from nothing into a rich company, said PM Lee.
"In such a situation, can you say that it's not my business? I think voters should be able to tell it's not so simple," he added.
WP has said that AHPETC's latest annual report, filed on Monday, shows the town council had made a $1.7 million surplus if the $7.2 million operating grant withheld by MND is factored in.
The report was also filed on time - an improvement over the filing of the previous year's report that was 10 months overdue.
Asked if AHPETC would become a significant issue in this General Election, Ms Lim said earlier: "I'm sure the PAP wants to make it an issue."
BY THE numbers
Total number of voters 2,460,977
Total candidates 181 29 in SMCs and 152 in GRCs
Parliamentary seats 89 with 9 NMP and up to 9 NCMP seats available
Number of political parties contesting 9 (PAP, WP, SPP, SDP, NSP, SDA, RP, SingFirst, PPP)