Singapore elections: tiny party criticizes government

A tiny Singapore opposition party has drawn sharp criticism from the prime minister and other government leaders for challenging long-running policies in the run-up to expected parliamentary elections. One minister described the proposals of the Workers' Party as "time bombs," and local media on Wednesday quoted another as saying they were "poison in a concoction of medicine."

The group holds just one of the 84 elected seats in Singapore's Parliament. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong must hold parliamentary elections by mid-2007. Some political analysts expect the elections to be announced sooner, possibly in the weeks after Lee presents a new budget in Parliament on Feb. 17, so that the government can benefit at the polls from Singapore's current economic health.

The ruling People's Action Party, which holds all but two of Parliament's 84 contested seats, has won every election since splitting from Malaysia in 1965. It is expected to retain its overwhelming dominance. Opposition leaders say tight political controls make it difficult to get their word out, but the government says Singaporeans are free to voice their ideas. The government acknowledges that it does not seek a Western-style democracy or unfettered political debate, which it says could disrupt public order or undermine economic growth in the affluent city-state.

The government has been particularly critical of the Workers' Party's call for an end to ethnic quotas in public housing complexes, saying it could undermine racial integration in Singapore, which is made up of about 80 percent ethnic Chinese, along with large Malay and Indian communities.

"You leave it laissez faire and choose their freedom, then you go to the expression, 'birds of the same feather flock together,' and you have Indian town, Chinese town, Malay town," television news station Channel NewsAsia quoted Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan as saying Wednesday.

"I'll put it as poison in a concoction of medicine," Khaw said of the opposition proposal. Singapore experienced deadly race riots in the mid-1960s, but has remained calm since then amid vigorous economic growth.

The government has also criticized a Workers' Party proposal to dismantle government-backed grass-roots committees and allow citizens to organize themselves in times of crisis, such as the spread of SARSб or severe acute respiratory syndromeб in 2003.

"It seems that the government perceives Singaporeans to be a docile lot with no initiative who need to depend on" the committees, Sylvia Lim, chairman of the opposition party, said in a statement. The Workers' Party, whose symbol is a yellow hammer, also wants to raise subsidies for the poor. The government, which has its own proposals for helping low-income workers, says the idea is vague, reports the AP. N.U.