Singapore keeps tight rein on poll: All presidential candidates have been scrupulously vetted, writes Raymond Whitaker

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The Independent Online
IT PROMISES to be one of the politest election campaigns in history. The leading candidate does not plan any public meetings, because his opponent - whose backers admit he is only standing to provide a contest - does not want them. All other candidates have been ruled out for lacking such qualities as 'top integrity, good character and reputation'.

But voting is compulsory, and the post at stake, the presidency of Singapore, has been given greatly increased powers. The main question is why Lee Kuan Yew is not running for a job seemingly designed for him.

Mr Lee, whose 31-year term as prime minister saw Singapore rise from a sleepy port to First World status, and who retains power behind the scenes as senior member without portfolio in Goh Chok Tong's cabinet, has often warned that a freak election result could bring in a corrupt government which might wreck the economy and squander the island state's reserves of about dollars 43bn (pounds 28.85bn). His solution was an executive presidency with sweeping veto powers over economic matters, national security policy and official appointments.

Stung by accusations that this was a device to retain power, Mr Lee said he would not be Singapore's first executive president. He has not ruled out standing another time, however, and at 69 appears healthy enough to be in the running when the post next comes up in 1999.

To ensure the voters are given no opportunity to choose someone unsuitable, presidential candidates have to show a depth of training and experience - not to mention subjective requirements such as 'integrity' - that makes no more than 400 Singaporeans eligible, according to Mr Goh. Earlier this week a government- dominated committee rejected the credentials of two opposition leaders, Tan Soo Phuan and J B Jeyaretnam. It found only the two pro-government candidates worthy of a 'certificate of eligibility'.

Yesterday Ong Teng Cheong, 57, who resigned as deputy prime minister last week, and the 67-year-old former accountant-general, Chua Kim Yeow, who agreed to stand to ensure a contest, filed their nomination papers. Police escorted Mr Tan out of the building when he tried to do the same, despite lacking a certificate.

Few doubt that Mr Ong will win on 28 August. 'Basically there's only one candidate, with the other candidate supporting his opponent,' a Western diplomat told Reuters.