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People's Action Party (PAP)

Singapore's People's Action Party (PAP), founded by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, remains firmly entrenched in power, as it has been since 1959, when Singapore first won from Britain a degree of self-rule. Given its continued supermajority, electoral gerrymandering, and the ability to squelch troublesome oppositionists by extra-parliamentary means like defamation lawsuits, the PAP need not worry what opposition activists or bloggers think, but it remains watchful for signs of wider popular discontent.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong may not be as charismatic as his father Lee Kuan Yew, but the PM has shown himself to be a highly competent and effective technocratic leader for Singapore. To be sure, there are voices within Singapore calling for more open democracy, but many Singaporeans remain more focused on preserving the prosperity and security that PAP rule has helped provide.

The PAP maintained its political dominance in part by circumscribing political discourse and action; however, restrictions were relaxed during the campaign period. The belief that the government might directly or indirectly harm the employment prospects of opposition supporters inhibited some opposition political activity, but there were no confirmed cases of such retaliation.

The PAP has an extensive grassroots system and a carefully selected, highly disciplined membership. The establishment of government-organized and predominantly publicly funded Community Development Councils (CDCs) further strengthened the PAPs position. The CDCs promoted community development and cohesion, and provided welfare and other assistance services. The PAP dominated the CDCs even in opposition-held constituencies from which it threatened to withdraw publicly funded benefits.

The PAP completely controlled key positions in and out of government, influenced the press, and benefited from weak opposition parties. Often the PAPs methods were fully consistent with the law and the normal prerogatives of a parliamentary government, but the overall effect was to perpetuate PAP supremacy. The constitutional requirement that members of parliament resign if expelled from their party helped ensure backbencher discipline. Since 1988 the PAP changed all but 12 single-seat constituencies into GRCs of four to six parliamentary seats, in which the party with a plurality wins all of the seats.

According to the constitution, such changes are permitted to ensure ethnic minority representation in parliament; each GRC candidate list must contain at least one ethnic minority candidate. These changes made it more difficult for opposition parties, all of which had very limited memberships, to fill multimember candidate lists. Nonetheless the opposition fielded candidates in 26 of the 27 constituencies in the 2011 general elections.

Young PAP is the youth wing of Singapore's ruling People's Action Party (PAP). Although one of Young PAP's original objectives since its 1986 founding was to help renew the PAP leadership over time, Leong and Chng agreed that its success in this respect has been limited. YP has been one source of leadership and technocratic talent for the PAP, but the party has drawn equally, if not more, on the youth wing of the National Trades Union Council, the civil service, and sources unconnected to the party or government.

Young PAP nurtures close ties with its communist Chinese counterpart, Communist Youth League (CYL). YP has more difficulty maintaining active relationships with other fraternal parties in the region. Parties in Indonesia and Malaysia are more "closed" to YP than the Chinese Communist Party. The presence of active opposition parties in both countries posed occasional dilemmas for YP. YP appears focused on trying to make the ruling party more attractive to young people and acting as one of the many channels through which Singapore fosters closer relations with China.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on 27 May 2009 plans for three reforms intended to enhance the quantity and quality of debate in Singapore's Parliament. Reaction from Singapore's small, fractured opposition was mixed. For the next elections, due by early 2012, the government would increase the minimum number of opposition members in Parliament and would redraw the electoral map to make it slightly easier for opposition parties to contest more districts. It would also institutionalize the system of appointed non-partisan members who bring alternative points of view to the legislative body. These announcements came six months after the PM said Singapore needed continued strong government by the long-ruling People's Action Party and would suffer under a true multi-party system.

Under the reforms, the minimum number of opposition members of Parliament would increase from three to nine (just over 10% of the 84 elected seats). Since 1984, Singapore has guaranteed that at least some opposition candidates will be seated after an election: if fewer than the minimum number win at the polls, the electoral system seats the opposition candidates who garnered the highest losing vote percentages as "non-constituency" members (NCMPs). Although NCMPs can introduce and vote on ordinary bills, they cannot vote on constitutional amendments, bills relating to taxation, government borrowing, or appropriations, the annual budget, or no-confidence motions against the government. As their name suggests, NCMPs do not have constituents to whom they can render services.




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