All Singaporeans eligible to vote will be able to cast their ballot in a general election for the first time in the nation's history next Friday.
Nomination Day yesterday saw 181 candidates file their papers successfully to contest all 89 seats in 16 group representation constituencies (GRCs) and 13 single-member constituencies (SMCs).
With no walkovers, it means all 2.46 million eligible voters will soon receive polling cards to let them vote on Sept 11.
Campaigning begins in earnest today, with the People's Action Party (PAP) and Workers' Party (WP) the first to hold rallies - the PAP in Tanjong Pagar GRC with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking, and the WP in Hougang.
Candidates from both parties and seven other opposition parties will also be fanning out across their constituencies to start wooing voters.
The PAP is the only party with candidates for all seats. Hot contests are anticipated in at least five GRCs - Aljunied, East Coast, Marine Parade, Holland-Bukit Timah and Tanjong Pagar.
At least five SMC contests will be closely watched - Fengshan, Punggol East, Sengkang West, Mountbatten and Potong Pasir. Three SMCs will see three-cornered fights.
The largest opposition party, the WP, is fielding 28 candidates in five GRCs and five SMCs.
The polls come soon after Singapore celebrated its Golden Jubilee, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday described it as "an SG50 election" with much at stake.
Speaking at an evening press conference at the PAP headquarters in Bedok, he said voters will be choosing not only the Government for the next five years, but also the leaders to set the direction for the country in the next 50 years.
"There is a lot at stake and 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. We take this as very likely to be a hard-fought election," he said.
The PAP won 60.1 per cent of the popular vote in the 2011 General Election, where it won 81 out of 87 seats but lost two ministers after a WP team led by secretary-general Low Thia Khiang won Aljunied GRC with 54.7 per cent of the vote.
That made the WP the first opposition party to win a GRC since the team constituencies were formed in 1988 to ensure minority representation in Parliament.
In a message on the WP website yesterday, Mr Low spoke of how the 2011 Aljunied win had changed the PAP and "today, we have a more responsive government that is more sensitive to the needs and struggles of the people". He asked voters if they wanted to send a signal to the PAP that the Government should continue on this path, and if they wanted to empower themselves to shape their future.
But Mr Lee told reporters that policy changes made by the Government "didn't start in 2011" after the outcome of the 2011 polls. The Government aimed to do what was right and needed to be done, and some policies, such as those to strengthen safety nets, had been started 10 years ago at least.
He also said that although there were more opposition MPs, their performance in Parliament had been disappointing, and in contrast to the fierce campaign speeches they made at election time, they tended to keep quiet in Parliament.
"You voted for a tiger in the chamber and you got a mouse in the House," he said.
The PAP has served notice that it will go on the offensive about the WP's running of its Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.
Among other things, the PAP has questioned the competence and integrity of the WP MPs, pointing to how the town council accounts have not received a clean bill of health from their auditors. The WP has stuck to the position that the PAP charges are politically driven.
Voters can expect to hear more about this in the coming days.
Much of the battle over the next eight days is set to revolve around winning the hearts and minds of younger voters, observers say.
Said Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute fellow Norshahril Saat: "The PAP's narrative is, let's not destroy what we have built in the last 50 years, but it must be careful not to play this card too much, as young voters also want to see what lies ahead in the next 50 years."
This article was first published on September 2, 2015.
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