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Voters yearn for real presidential contest, survey finds


South China Morning Post July 20, 1999
BARRY PORTER in Singapore

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MORE than three in four Singaporeans say they want next month's presidential election to be a proper contest.

And almost half would prefer a candidate not linked to the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), according to an eye-opening opinion poll.

Political analyst Kevin Tan said: "People are getting rather curious why, with a just a month to go, nothing has been heard about who are the candidates and what their platforms are.

"People are worried there may be some stage management in the background," said the National University of Singapore associate professor.

Singapore's first democratic presidential election in 1993 saw just one candidate run against the establishment's nominee, former PAP deputy prime minister Ong Teng Cheong - and he was reluctant, to say the least.

The real opposition's proposed candidate, Workers' Party leader Joshua Jeyaretnam, was ruled ineligible.

Instead, retired banker Chua Kim Yeow was bullied into standing to provide a semblance of a contest, but he refused to campaign and publicly stated Mr Ong was the better candidate.

Mr Ong's subsequent victory, with 58.7 per cent of the vote, was lampooned by the international press.

Mr Ong, 63, last week announced his decision to retire. A replacement must be found by August 31 but so far no nominations have been made, with opposition parties not bothering to field a candidate this time round.

A survey released by the Information Department and Singapore Press Holdings' Research yesterday showed an overwhelming public desire for a contest.

Just 18 per cent thought it did not matter.

Housewife C. K. Tan, 50, said: "It makes no difference whether there is a contest or not. The nominations would come from the government."

Public opinion was more divided on whether a PAP-linked candidate would make a better president, with 48 per cent saying yes and 40 per cent no.

Safety officer N. Y. Loh, 26, said: "If he is a PAP man, there might be a conflict of interest and he might be influenced by the ruling party.

"Also, he might be less willing to speak up."

However, businesswoman Lim Sai Khin said: "People from the PAP are morally upright because of its stringent criteria, so I believe anyone chosen by the PAP will be of high calibre."

The survey was conducted on June 29 and 30 (before Mr Ong's announcement to retiure) and involved 430 Singaporeans aged 20 and over.

Published in the South China Morning Post. July 20, 1999.

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