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Singapore's ruling party holds on to power as opposition make minor gains

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People's Action Party Secretary-General and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, arrives to vote in Singapore's general election, Friday, July 10, 2020.
People's Action Party Secretary-General and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, arrives to vote in Singapore's general election, Friday, July 10, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's long-governing party comfortably won Friday's general elections as expected amid the coronavirus pandemic, but faced a setback as the opposition made minor gains.

Lee said his People’s Action Party secured 83 parliamentary seats, retaining its overwhelming majority with 89% of the total seats, but its popular vote dipped to 61%. The Workers' Party, the only opposition with a presence in Parliament, increased its seats from six to 10 — the biggest victory for the opposition since independence.

It marked a decline in the PAP’s performance from 2015 polls when it took 93% of seats and nearly 70% of total vote. Several key PAP leaders also lost, including two former ministers.

Lee called the polls ahead of April 2021, when his government's mandate expires.

"In the Singapore context, this is a defeat (for PAP)," said Bridget Welsh, honorary research associate at Malaysia’s University of Nottingham. "Worst seat performance and loss of popular vote in an election that they called early in a pandemic mistakenly thinking the crisis would help them."

The PAP has dominated politics since 1959, when Lee’s father, Lee Kuan Yew, became Singapore’s first prime minister and built the resource-poor city-state into one of the world’s richest nations during 31 years in office. But it has also been criticized for tight government control, media censorship and use of oppressive laws and civil lawsuits against dissidents.

The PAP is also one of the world’s longest serving parties — after those in China and North Korea.

Lee, who has ruled since 2004, vowed early Saturday to navigate Singapore through the virus crisis. “I’m determined to hand over Singapore intact, and in good working order to the next," he said.

Just weeks ago, Singapore emerged from a two-month lockdown aimed at controlling one of Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. The tiny nation of 5.8 million people has reported more than 45,000 cases, most of them foreign workers living in crowded dormitories that were overlooked in the early phase of its crisis management.

Voting in Singapore is compulsory and turnout at Friday's election was 96%.