Published January 26, 2013
SINGAPORE – Voters handed Singapore's ruling People's Action Party its second by-election defeat in eight months, giving the opposition another seat in Parliament and signaling widening discontent over immigration policies and rising income inequality.
Opposition Workers' Party candidate Lee Li Lian won 54.5 percent of about 29,800 votes cast Saturday in the Punggol East district, beating three other candidates including the PAP's Koh Poh Koon, who received 43.7 percent. The Workers' Party now has seven seats in Parliament and the PAP has 80.
"Despite this victory, the Workers' Party is still a small party with much to do and improve upon," party chairwoman Sylvia Lim told reporters.
The PAP has been in power since 1959 but has seen its support decline in recent years, winning only 60 percent of the votes in the 2011 general election — its lowest share since independence in 1965 — as it struggles to stem rising discontent over the high cost of living, an influx of foreigners and rising income inequality.
The PAP "will continue to work to improve the lives of Singaporeans, and present our report card for voters to judge in the next general elections," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a statement.
Lee had called the by-election after the sudden resignation of PAP lawmaker Michael Palmer over an extramarital affair, adding to a list of sex scandals that have rocked the city-state in the past year.
Lee and other PAP heavyweights had hoped to avoid another electoral embarrassment after the party's loss in a by-election in May last year.
Analysts say the PAP defeat forces the party to re-examine policies that have brought popular discontent.
"This is a shock for the PAP," said Bridget Welsh, an associate professor of political science at Singapore Management University. "They went to the polls so quickly with confidence and had expected to win. So, this is a devastating loss. It forces the PAP to have a very serious evaluation of their policies, and what they've done wrong."
Political blogger Andrew Loh said the PAP's loss "is a reflection of the uncertainty that Singaporeans have about their future. They also want stronger voices in Parliament."