Singapore in the late 1980s was effectively a single-party state. The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew has dominated the country since 1959. In 1961, the radical wing of the PAP split from Lee's majority faction to form a new party, the Socialist Front (SF), also known as the Barisan Socialis. In 1966, 11 SF members resigned their seats in parliament, and 2 others joined the underground opposition to the Lee government, leaving the PAP as the sole party represented in parliament. In the general elections of 1972, 1976, and 1980, the PAP won all seats in parliament, but carried a declining percentage of the total votes; 65 seats (84.4%); 69 seats (72.4%); and 75 seats (75.5%) [Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) 77.7%], respectively. The Workers' Party (WP), the strongest opposition party, won its first parliamentary seat in a 1981 byelection; under its leader, Joshua B. Jeyaretnam, the WP has been critical of undemocratic practices within the PAP government. In the 1984 general elections, the PAP won 77 of the 79 seats, even though it captured only 62.9% of the popular vote, compared with 75.5% in 1980.
In the 1984, 1988, and 1991 general elections opposition parties gained small ground, and the PAP continued to garner a declining percentage of the total votes: 77 seats (62.9%) PAP [FEER 64.8%], 1 seat Workers Party (WP), 1 seat Singapore Democratic Party (SDP); 80 seats (61.7%) PAP [FEER 63.2%], 1 seat SDP; 77 (61%) PAP [FEER 61%], 1 seat WP, 3 seats SDP, respectively. In the 1991 elections Chiam See Tong was again the winner for the SDP, along with Ling How Doong and Cheo Chai Chen. The Workers' Party MP was Low Thai Khiang.
The two other seats went to J. B. Jeyaretnam (WP) and to Chiam See Tong of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), the two main opposition parties that are tolerated but subject to almost continual harassment by the government. For instance, in 1984, Jeyaretnam was accused of making false statements involving irregularities in the collection of WP's funds; he was acquitted of two of three charges and fined. In 1986 the government appealed the case and the higher court set aside the initial judgment; Jeyaretnam was again fined and jailed for one month, enough to disqualify him from parliament and ban him from contesting elections for five years. On the basis of his criminal convictions he was disbarred and denied a pardon. He was refused permission to appeal against the conviction and sentence that resulted in his disqualification as an MP. But on appeal to the Privy Council against the decision to disbar him, he was vindicated and allowed to practice law again. In October 1991 Jeyaretnam avoided bankruptcy by paying legal costs in a defamation suit he lost, filed by Lee Kuan Yew over remarks made by Jeyaretnam in a 1988 election rally. On 10 November 1991, the ban on Jeyaretnam standing election expired. By avoiding bankruptcy he would be able to contest the by-elections that Prime Minister Goh promised to hold in the next 12–18 months. However, the WP failed to field the four required candidates for a GRC.
Then, in March 1993 Dr. Chee Soon Juan, an opposition politician from the SDP who ran against Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in the 1992 by-election, was expelled from his post as lecturer in the Department of Social Work and Psychology at the National University of Singapore (NUS) based on claims of "dishonest conduct" for using us$138 out of his research grant to courier his wife's doctoral thesis to a US university. In the end, Dr. Chee ended up losing his case to be reinstated.
The main opposition parties are the SDP and the WP. Smaller minority parties are the United People's Front, which is also critical of antidemocratic aspects of the government rule and is pro-Malaysian; the Singapore Malays' National Organization; and the Singapore Solidarity Party, formed in 1986 by three former leaders of the SDP. There were 22 registered political parties at the beginning of 1993: Singapore Chinese Party; Persatuan Melayu Singapura; Partai Rakyat, Singapore State Division; Angkatan Islam; The Workers' Party; Pertubohan Kebangsaan Melayu Singapura; People's Action Party (PAP); United People's Party; Barisan Socialis (BS), Socialist Front (SF); Parti Kesatuan Ra'ayat (United Democratic Party); Singapore Indian Congress; Alliance Party Singapura; United National Front; National Party of Singapore; The People's Front; Justice Party, Singapore; Democratic Progressive Party; People's Republican Party; United People's Front; Singapore Democratic Party (SDP); National Solidarity Party (NSP); Singapore National Front. The Malay Communist Party and the underground Malayan National Liberation Front are illegal.
In 1997, parliamentary elections were again held and, again, the PAP maintained its virtual monopoly of seats. Of 83 seats up for election, the long-ruling party captured 81 with 47 unopposed. The two opposition leaders Jeyaretnam and Tang Liang Hong, both with the WP, won seats. After the election, in a move that has been commonplace in Singapore, leaders of the PAP, including Prime Minister Goh and Senior Minister (and longtime leader) Lee sued Tang for defamation. Tang promptly fled the country, saying he feared for his safety as the government froze his assets and imposed travel restrictions on his family. Jeyaretnam continued to face bankruptcy and the loss of his parliamentary seat as well, from a defamation payment awarded against him for allegedly defaming a PAP parliamentarian and nine other members of the Tamil community in an article written by a colleage in 1995. In the 1997 elections, the SDP lost all three seats it had won in the 1991 round.
In parliamentary elections held on 3 November 2001, the PAP won 82 out of 84 seats with 75.3% of the vote. Opposition candidates contested only 29 of the seats. The WP took one seat, as did the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), which includes the Singapore People's Party (SPP), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), National Solidarity Party, Singapore Justice Party, and Singapore Malay National Organization SDA. The opposition parties complained that constituency changes and a range of regulations imposed by the PAP made it more difficult for them to win votes. The Parliamentary Elections Act was amended, curbing the use of the Internet for political campaigning and banning the publication of opinion polls during elections.