Even long before the Hougang by-election was called, it was a foregone conclusion that the PAP would be defeated and could be by a bigger margin than in the General Election (GE) in May 2011. And so the PAP candidate Desmond Choo went into the fray as something of an underdog. He had some of the PAP big guns, prominant among whom was DPM Teo Chee Hean, giving him sterling support in his campaign in the vain hope of turning the tables on the Workers' Party (WP) candidate. Even PM Lee Hsien Loong came out to canvass votes for Desmond Choo.
Despite all their eloquence in appealing to the Hougang voters to vote for the PAP candidate for an improvement in their livelihood, it became obvious that their blandishments had had little or no effect on majority of the voters.Even the strenous efforts by DPM Teo Chee Hean to discredit the character of WP candidate Png Eng Huat failed to strike home the effect.When the by-election results were announced officially , Desmond Choo only managed to gather 37.9 per cent of the votes. This is slightly better than the 35.9 per cent he obtained at the GE in May 2011 if it could be of any credit or encouragement to him. Of course the PAP leaders could not show disappointment to the detriment of their standing and they had willy-nilly to put up a bold front that it was an improvement of Hougang voters' support.
The WP candidate Png Eng Huat was obviously riding on the strong personal loyalty of Hougang voters to their former MP Low Thia Khiang and emerged as the winning candidate with a convincing 62.1 per cent of the votes. It was a slight dip from the 64.8 per cent obtained by former MP Yaw Shin Leong in the GE in May 2011 and this was played up by WP detractors. In fact, a bigger margin of victory was expected but that it did not materialise could be a credit to the vigorous campaign put up by the PAP whiich is their only consolation in defeat.
PAP big guns took pain to emphasise when the by-election was called that this was a local election strictly about choosing the MP who can best help its residents solve their problems and not a national referendum. Knowing that the final result will be against them, they had followed strictly in their campaign as a local election and avoided falling into the trap of being pursued as a national issue. On the other hand, WP leaders drummed on the emphasis that Hougang by-election was a national issue.
The PAP may find to its discomfort that this is not the end of the matter.Right-thinking Singaporeans, especially Hougang voters who voted for the WP candidate, will regard the result of the Hougang by-election as a referendum on the performance of the PAP since the GE in May 2011.PAP leaders can pooh-pooh this phenomenon at their peril because they will regret it when the next general election comes along in 2016 and Singapore voters show their wrath. The PAP Government may not face the danger of falling, but opposition, not necessarily WP alone, making inroads into a few more GRCs may be the order of the day. Hougang voters may be local in character but their indomitable spirits are alive and will spread to other constituencies.