Opposition delivers Singapore a shocker by-election

Results in indomitable Singapore’s by-elections, generally a sure-thing for the governing People’s Action Party (PAP), turned out to be a bookie’s nightmare.

PAP, which has ruled Singapore ever since self-government in 1959, came up short. In its worst-ever general election result in May 2011, it still won 60% of the votes and 81 out of 87 contested parliamentary seats. As a result then, party’s leader and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong promised some “soul-searching” to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

It wasn’t enough. The slippage is continuing.

The by-election in January suggested Singaporeans are yet to be convinced. The opposition Workers’ Party, winner of the six seats in 2011, took the seat of Punggol East from the PAP. Its candidate, Lee Li Lian, won despite competition from two other opposition-party candidates, and emerged with a margin of 54.5% of the vote to the PAP’s 43.7%. That’s a swing to her party of 10.8%.

For stable, prosperous, run-by-the-book Singapore, where the only doubt at past polls has been the size of PAP’s winning margin, government supporters were left unnerved.

If that pattern is replicated in the next general election, due by 2016, the PAP would be reduced to 42 of the 87-seat House. Horrors.

— Murray Burt

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