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Leaders concede faults, face election test

SINGAPORE | The prime minister is acknowledging mistakes and apologizing. It’s a sign that the party that has dominated Singapore and told the island state what is best for a half-century could be facing its strongest electoral challenge.

The People’s Action Party, with the son of Singaporean founding father Lee Kwan Yew at the helm, is still expected to win Saturday’s parliamentary election overwhelmingly and remain in power for at least the next decade.

But more seats are being contested than ever before, by a new crop of well-educated opposition candidates. A gradual opening of traditional media alongside unfettered Internet debate has meant an increasingly substantial discussion of campaign issues, such as immigration and housing costs.

“The opposition in the past was not able to recruit because there was a very strong climate of fear for a very long time,” said Gillian Koh, a senior research fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies. “The situation today is very different. We’ve seen a liberalization of the political space.”

Dozens of PAP posters have been defaced. Such action is rare in this Southeast Asian country, where vandalism can result in caning, the Colonial-era punishment famously meted out to American teenager Michael Fay in 1994.

From wire dispatches and staff reports