SINGAPORE: Singaporeans spooked by the prospect of a contentious two-party political system delivered a massive swing vote to keep the long-ruling People's Action Party (PAP) in power, analysts say.
Large crowds turned up for opposition rallies ahead of Friday's election, but hopes for stronger checks and balances on the PAP quickly dissipated when the stunning results of the snap election became clear.
The PAP, in power for 56 years, won 83 of the 89 parliament seats and scooped up 70 per cent of all votes cast, reversing a setback in 2011 when its share of the popular vote fell to an all-time low of 60%.
The Workers' Party (WP), which was aiming for 20 seats, won only six.
Opposition parties admit they are not yet in a position to oust the PAP, and their main goal was to influence policy with a strong presence in parliament.
Analysts say the PAP also benefited from a patriotic wave generated by the March death of PAP co-founder and independence leader Lee Kuan Yew, the father of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and triumphant August celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Singapore as a republic.
"I think it is a flight to safety. The concern of the PAP being severely weakened has contributed to voters, particularly the middle ground or undecided voters, deciding to plump for the tried-and-tested plan," said Eugene Tan, associate law professor at the Singapore Management University.
Under the PAP, Singapore grew into one of the world's richest societies with near universal home ownership, low crime and a per capita gross domestic product exceeding $50,000.
But the government has also been criticised for quashing protests, jailing dissidents, muzzling the media and driving political opponents to bankruptcy with costly defamation suits.
Yet political freedom was not even one of the hot topics during the campaign, which centred on immigration, the high cost of living, strained public services and the needs of the poor and elderly in a fast-ageing society.
The opposition called for more curbs on immigration and foreign workers, more spending on welfare, and a minimum wage.
Read: Singapore PM defends immigration policy ahead of general election
After its popularity dipped in 2011, the government moved quickly to address voter gripes.
It sharply reduced the intake of immigrants and foreign workers - accused of stealing Singaporeans' jobs and causing overcrowding - and poured billions of dollars into improving public housing and mass transport.
It also expanded a "baby bonus" scheme to encourage parents to have more children, and unveiled benefits for the elderly and lower-income families in the run-up to the vote.
Bridget Welsh, a senior research associate on Asian politics at the National Taiwan University, said the PAP benefited from a "pendulum swing" in the final phase of the nine-day campaign.
"The stronger the opposition became, the stronger the response against the opposition, especially among the silent majority," according to Welsh.
In an emailed message to Singaporeans on Saturday, Prime Minister Lee said the results "show that you have rejected divisive politics, and supported rational approaches to solving our problems."
"Our rallies may have been less exciting than the opposition's, but you understood what was at stake, and stood with us. I thank you for that."
Read: Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew dead
Daniel Goh, a sociologist who ran unsuccessfully under the WP, wrote Saturday on Facebook that the people had spoken "and the collective wisdom is always right."
"For me, the meaning of the results is clear. It is a ringing endorsement of the PAP's programme of going back to its centre-left roots and PM Lee's leadership."
WP chief Low Thia Khiang also acknowledged that there was a "massive swing" in favour of the PAP.
"I believe all of us have to accept it," he told journalists.
The PAP did not wage a benign campaign.
It attacked the character of some candidates and cast doubt on the divided opposition's ability to govern.
In particular, it accused the WP of mismanaging funds for public services in the Aljunied district, which it wrested from the PAP in 2011.
In densely populated Singapore, MPs also oversee municipal services, not just create legislation.
David Black, managing director of local research firm Blackbox, said the attacks on the integrity and alleged incompetence of the WP put the opposition party on the defensive.
"Traditional heartlanders rallied back in droves tonight and chose to ignore all the new voices in favour of what they know," he said late Friday.
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