Singapore's ruling party defeated in by-election | Asia Pacific

Singapore's ruling party defeated in by-election

Singapore's ruling party defeated in by-election

Updated 28 January 2013, 21:43 AEDT

Singapore's ruling People's Action Party has been defeated in a second by-election in eight months.

The opposition Worker's Party won 54.5% of the votes in the Punggol East by-election, in what is seen as a substantial swing against the government.

The weekend vote centred primarily over a national debate about the cost of living and immigration.

Correspondent: Liam Cochrane

Speaker: Dr Cherian George, political analyst, Nanyang Technological University

GEORGE: I certainly didn't predict it, I was expecting a comfortable win for the ruling party and I think many people were as well, probably because the incumbent party within that ward had won comfortably less than two years ago. So I don't think many people were expecting such a dramatic swing within that short time.

COCHRANE: So what was it that changed people's minds at the ballot box?

GEORGE: That's what we're still trying to figure out. It is certainly not frustration with the ruling party has grown that much within the last two years. The situation hasn't gone downhill, but if anything the ruling party can be said to have addressed some of the concerns that were raised in the 2011 general election, even if the results are not fully felt yet. So we're still trying to figure this out, but the best guess I have right now is that the simple reason, more convinced regardless of what the government does that a good government needs a substantial check(?) in parliament. And I think most Singaporeans, including the voters in that constituency of Punggol East, figure that six seats out of 87 doesn't count as, it's the not the opposition strength that it has in mind in terms of an equilibrium level, substantially more. So I suspect that it boils down to that, the conviction that the opposition does need to grow regardless of whether the government happens to being do the right thing right now.

COCHRANE: And as you point out, six out of 87 seats it's a long way from taking power and I understand that the Worker's Party chief has admitted in fact that the role of the opposition isn't necessarily, they're a long way off governing. How do you see the opposition building its political platform over the next few years?

GEORGE: Well I think it's a safe bet that it will grow and the next general election which is due in 2016, could be held in 2015, should see perhaps a doubling of the opposition size, but still that would be 14 seats out of 87? There's a long way to go before we even reach the one-third strength in the house that would prevent the government from re-writing the constitution, let alone close to 50 per cent that would be a serious threat to PAP power. It is possible, if the opposition make a dramatic increase in the coming election and the one after that, it would probably be because the ruling party has just screwed up, perhaps more scandals or it really loses touch with the ground and hostility against the regime grows dramatically, then yes it is conceivable that we will actually, the new government two elections down the road.

COCHRANE: What about on some of these big issues that keep coming up as things that do influence voters and are of concern to people? I mean the high cost of living and also immigration as national issues, is this a bit of a wakeup call perhaps for the government that it needs to take some action or be seen to take some action on these issues?

GEORGE: Yeah but overall I don't think that the wakeup call comes at this time necessarily. That was already the very, very strong message from the 2011 election, and even before that. I mean to be fair to the government even before 2011 it was well aware that cost of living in particular was becoming a painful issue. The statistics couldn't lie, Singapore's wealth gap had grown substantially, what we were finding is Singapore going up and down economically, largely because of international factors. Singapore's extremely close to the global fluctuations that we've seen over the last ten years because we're such an open economy. We don't have minerals the way you do, so we're highly dependent on economic cycles, that kind of play has altered local economy and infrastructure planning and so on. So even before 2011 the government was looking at new redistributed measures because it was quite obvious that while there is a growing class of rich and super-rich, including many foreigners, those at the bottom have reached … stagnant or even … were slightly formed. So the redistributed measures actually happened before 2011. It is still like in many, many mature economies difficult I think for the middle class and the lower middle class. I think the opposition party, Worker's Party, that is now the only opposition party in parliament is realistic in admitting that it doesn't have a cure-all answer either. So these are genuinely difficult issues that Singapore needs to address. I think the most honest analysis say that the government is trying to address many of them but both the Prime Minister and the opposition leader stated on election night the effects of these reforms are just not yet being felt on the ground.

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