SINGAPORE, May 6 (Reuters) Singapore's opposition, seeking to weaken the governing party's four-decade hold on power, held onto two crucial seats in today's parliamentary polls but it was unclear whether its overall support would increase.
The governing People's Action Party (PAP) secured its overwhelming majority as expected with 82 seats in the 84-seat parliament, according to official results. However, the real indication of opposition performance will come with the release of percentage figures for party voting.
The poll was the first real popularity test for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 54, since he was appointed in August 2004 without an election in a planned leadership transition.
The opposition kept its two seats, which the PAP had tried especially hard to win back this time. Low Thia Khiang, secretary general of the Workers' Party, and Chiam See Tong, leader of the Singapore Democratic Alliance, both held on to their seats and saw their winning margins improve.
Singapore's tiny opposition parties had mounted their biggest challenge to the PAP in 18 years by fielding candidates for more than half the 84 seats in parliament.
The city-state of 4.4 million, which borders Malaysia, has grown into one of the strongest trading economies in the region since independence from Malaysia in 1965. It relies heavily on foreign investment and its image as a secure business environment.
Voting is compulsory in Singapore, but only about 1.2 million people out of 2.2 million on the electoral register had a chance to vote due to walkovers in 37 of the 84 seats. Many were voting for the first time.
''This is my first time voting and I voted for the opposition as I felt that they were going to try to do more for the needy. I wanted to give them a chance,'' said Jacinta Huang, a 24-year-old social worker.
Lee, the eldest son of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, needs to get at least 61 percent of the votes and lose no more than four seats, analysts said. That was the result his predecessor Goh Chok Tong got in the PAP's worst electoral outcome in 1991.
Anything less than that would be a ''major psychological blow'', said Song Seng Wun, an economist at CIMB-GK Research.
Singapore bans election surveys and exit polls, making it difficult to gauge opinion.
DEFAMATION SUITS Lee Hsien Loong and his father -- who ruled for 31 consecutive years in the periods before, during and after Singapore's union with Malaya, and who is now the ''Minister Mentor'' in his son's cabinet -- filed defamation suits against the leaders of the Singapore Democratic Party at the start of campaigning.
This is a timeworn PAP tactic that has bankrupted some opposition leaders, thus disqualifying them for parliament.
''I believed in the PAP before, but I think the party no longer represents me or the way I see things,'' said W M Ng, a 36-year-old advertising executive. ''They tell you what to do, and you do it.
They don't listen. I don't agree with their heavy-handed style of government.'' The bedrock of PAP support has always been older voters, who lived through Singapore's rocky post-independence years and witnessed its transformation into an economic powerhouse.
When Lee Hsien Loong became prime minister, he promised more political openness, but there has been scant evidence of that.
The government strictly enforces limits on public speaking and demonstrations and last month said it would require political parties and individuals to register if they wish to post political content on Web sites.
REUTERS PM KN2311