Never in its more than fifty years of history has the PAP experienced such a humiliating defeat as in the recently concluded Punggol East by-election. Although the PAP candidate Dr. Koh Poh Koon had diligently emphasised during the campaign that the by-election was about local issues, the Punggol East voters have nevertheless unmistakably delivered a clear message that this is a referendum on the PAP's performance since GE 2011. PM Lee Hsien Loong and his millionaire ministers cannot continue to be oblivious to the massive anger of the people over the undemocratic policies of the PAP Government.
The PAP brought in an eminent colorectal surgeon to be its candidate thinking that his professional status would be an added advantage in winning the heart of Punggol East voters. As a credit to him, he did not exhibit any of the PAP arrogance in his approach to the voters and in fact was quite down-to-earth in presenting his election programme to them which was aimed at ameliorating their livelihood and living conditions. But the PAP leaders did not consider it important that Dr. Koh was a newbie parachuted into the constituency which may have been a handicap in his effort to commune with the voters, especially the elderly women. With the PAP big guns coming in to give much needed support to Dr. Koh in his campaign, it would have been reasonable to suppose it would have improved his chances to win. Especially with PM Lee extolling Dr Koh's eminent qualities and promising that, if elected, he would make him a political office holder. PM Lee might have overdone it as this could have a counter-effect to the more down-to-earth Punggol East voters and cut no ice with them.
On the other hand, the Workers' Party (WP) candidate had the advantage of being familiar with Punggol East voters, having contested in this SMC in GE 2011. She had an inimitable knack of blending harmoniously into the heart of the Punggol East voter, especially the older women who seemed to treat her like their loving daughter. Her election programme is in some way not widely dissimilar to that of the PAP candidate but she also brought in national issues which give the Punggol East contest the appearance of a referendum. In fact WP leaders who spoke at their election rallies stressed that the Punggol East by-election was not confined to only local issues. If the attendances at the WP rallies were any indication of the popularity of the candidate, they could have foreshadowed the outcome of the by-election. The attendances at PAP rallies paled in comparison.
This by-election defeat of the PAP is a great loss of face and prestige to PM Lee and the PAP leaders. The margin of defeat by 3182 votes or 10.8 per cent of valid votes is not insignificant. The WP candidate Lee Li Lian secured 16,038 votes or 54.52 per cent and the PAP candidate obtained 12,856 votes or 43.71 per cent. This is a microcosm of the election pattern that the PAP will face in GE 2016. The WP and the Singapore People's Party (SPP) are the only opposition parties with MPs in Parliament, the SPP having one NCMP. With opposition unity, there will be other credible opposition parties which could reprise the WP's performance in GE 2016. WP conquest of Aljunied GRC in GE 2011 was an auspicious start followed now by an equally auspicious sequence in winning the Punggol East seat. The wheel of history only moves forward and the predominance of the PAP will fade with time. It may be just as well as PAP leaders are not unknown to be arrogant and to pay themselves humongous sums from taxpayers' money long enough to the disgust of Singaporeans, besides their other iniquities.
As predicted, both Desmond Lim of the Singapore Democratic Alliance and Kenneth Jeyaretnam of the Reform Party lost their deposits with their very dismal performance. They were portrayed as spoilers who entered the fray to dilute the WP votes and were splitters of opposition unity. Desmond Lim could only manage to secure a minuscule 0.5 per cent of the valid votes while Kenneth Jeyaretnam secured only 1.20 per cent. Their future as politicians looks very bleak.