Singapore voted in its most hotly contested general election on Friday, a test of the long-ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) dominance of politics in the rich, clean and green city state, even though it is bound to win.
There are about 2.46 million eligible voters — in a population of 5.47 million — up from 2.35 million in 2011, with an increased number of voters born after independence. Most of these young voters take Singapore's prosperity, stability and a corruption-free, low-crime society for granted. These were the main selling points of the PAP in past elections, which appealed to the first few generations that saw Singapore rise from a backward trading port city to a thriving and technologically advanced metropolis, and the ninth richest country in the world.
Singapore’s economic success and an influx of foreign workers have also brought high property prices, crowded public transport and a widening wealth gap, all of which have contributed to resentment among many residents in a city that surveys rank as one of the world's most expensive.
Opposition parties are hoping to take advantage of the grumbling and are contesting all 89 seats in parliament for the first time since independence in 1965.
The opposition has focused its campaign on the bread-and-butter issues of jobs, healthcare and housing. Preliminary results are expected within hours of the 8 p.m. poll closing.
"I want to see more opposition members in parliament from more parties," said one voter, a lawyer in his 40s who gave his family as Tan. "I hope there are enough opposition members to fill the front benches because we can then have shadow ministers to effectively suggest alternative policies."
Voting began amid the seasonal "haze" caused by forest fires in neighboring Indonesia, but the air quality index was down from "very unhealthy" levels on Thursday night.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who cast his vote in a constituency in the south of the city with his wife, Ho Ching, said he was confident.
"We've done our best," Lee told reporters. "It's a major turning point for Singapore."
The PAP, which has ruled since independence, will win the bulk of parliament's seats but opposition inroads would challenge its dominance.
"In this election, we are showing a report card, we are proud of it," Lee told his last rally late on Wednesday.
The PAP's share of the vote dropped to 60.1 percent in the last election, in 2011, its lowest ever. Nevertheless, it held 79 of a total 87 seats in the outgoing parliament.
The main opposition Workers' Party held seven seats while one, that of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the current prime minister's father who died in March, was vacant.
The PAP is hoping that a sense of patriotism inspired by this year's 50th anniversary and respect for the elder Lee will work in its favor. The elder Lee drew praise for his market-friendly policies, but also criticism at home and abroad for his strict controls over the press, public protest and political opponents.
Since 2011, Prime Minister Lee has launched a multi-billion-dollar healthcare insurance program for the elderly, introduced cooling measures for the property market and curbed the flow of foreign workers.
But the election comes as economic risks are in focus due to uncertainties stemming from China's economic slowdown and wobbly markets. DBS Bank, Singapore's biggest lender, this week cut its economic growth forecast for Singapore to 1.8 percent, below the official forecast of 2-2.5 percent.