SINGAPORE, May 27 — Yesterday’s by-election in Singapore was billed as a test of support for the long-ruling People's Action Party (PAP) but in the end it made only small inroads against the Workers' Party that won historic gains in parliament last year.
There was little chance the Workers' Party, the biggest opposition group in the wealthy city-state, would have lost Hougang, a northeastern constituency it has held against the dominant PAP for two decades.
But the per centage of the vote was key for both parties to see whether they are on the right track.
The PAP, which had told residents it was time for a fresh start, picked up 37.4 per cent of the vote - just a bit more than the 35.2 per cent it won in Hougang in the 2011 general election.
"I want more opposition voices in the government because it's important we have dissenting voices," said Teo Jiahao, a 23-year-old doing his compulsory military service.
The PAP, in power since independence in 1965, has overseen Singapore's emergence as a global financial and manufacturing centre, helped by low taxes and easy access for foreigners.
But with prices rising relentlessly, the policies have sparked a backlash from citizens concerned about overcrowding and competition for jobs and school places, resulting in the PAP's worst-ever showing during the May 2011 election.
While the PAP has since made it harder to bring in cheap labour and tried to cool home prices, it still welcomes skilled or wealthy foreigners such as bankers and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, who recently renounced his US citizenship.
"The government has worked hard together with Singaporeans to implement its programme to build an inclusive Singapore and improve the lives of all," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the son of founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, said this month.
The by-election was triggered when the Workers' Party sacked Yaw Shin Leong, its member of parliament for Hougang, over his failure to respond to allegations of marital infidelity.
Quek Hang Wee, a 41-year-old banker, said many older residents tend to vote for the PAP out of a sense of gratitude.
"Most of us would say they've done good things for Singapore. But we cannot confuse that with moving towards a better and more balanced parliament," he said.
While the Workers' Party has lost some lustre, the PAP is still coming to grips with issues that eroded its public support and its reputation for efficient government, including a yawning wealth gap and breakdowns on the commuter rail system.
"It remains to be seen if the ongoing efforts to mitigate these concerns will help allay the worries," said Satish Cheney, news editor at inSing.com, a popular news and lifestyle website.
The PAP's share of the national vote fell to a record low of 60 per cent last year from 67 per cent in the 2006 election.
The ruling party suffered more embarrassment in August when former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan got just 35.2 per cent of the vote in a four-way fight for Singapore's directly elected presidency, narrowing beating the second-place candidate. — Reuters