The Workers’ Party’s victory in the Hougang by-election was no surprise. Even the People’s Action Party’s leaders conceded their underdog status and that they faced an uphill task.
Eventually, the WP retained the seat with a reduced majority. What was behind the figures?
Most voters rejected calls to give Hougang a “fresh start” because they believed in the innate strengths of the WP and what it has symbolised in national politics. Compared to the PAP, the WP had entered the polls with more at stake, having effectively lost one parliamentary seat through Mr Yaw Shin Leong’s expulsion.
The by-election presented opportunities for the PAP to raise questions about the WP’s internal workings and about the party’s future viability.
But in the end, the WP’s victory was a function of its 21-year stranglehold on the largely working class ward; Hougang voters’ affinity for the WP; and the ward’s symbolic importance as a bastion of Opposition. These are the main factors that explain the PAP’s inability to dislodge the WP.
Mr Png Eng Huat, the WP candidate, was a known entity to voters, having been involved in various welfare projects since 2006. The clincher nonetheless was Mr Low Thia Khiang – the ward being practically synonymous with him, making it difficult for anyone to alter the status quo.
The dip in the WP’s share of the vote and the rise in support for the PAP is insignificant in the larger picture of national politics.
Even so, the fact that the WP’s support fell by more than 2 percentage points signals voters’ unhappiness on a number of issues. Mr Yaw’s personal indiscretions, the doubts cast on Mr Png’s integrity and, more importantly, the PAP’s promise of estate improvements, were factors that chipped away at the WP’s support.
The strong PAP campaign led by party heavyweights also helped Mr Desmond Choo improve on his 2011 General Election showing.
The final tally spoke loudly for the status quo in Hougang and residents’ confidence in the WP. But voters were also, very gently, signalling something: That the WP must get its act together and do much more for discerning voters.
While the “Hougang Spirit” is undented, the demands on the WP have also increased.
Here is where Mr Choo’s improved showing is equally significant. A power shift can take place if the WP continues to bungle. Also Mr Choo’s performance partly reflects his success in reaching out to younger voters, an area in which Mr Png would need to do much more.
The by-election results signal to both parties that the ward can indeed be up for grabs if either party is able to win the hearts and minds of voters as well as come up with effective programmes to serve them. We will only know in the next General Election.
by Bilveer Singh
Dr Bilveer Singh is a political scientist from the National University of Singapore.
Link : Today ~ Result shows power shift possible if…