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SINGAPORE GENERAL ELECTION

WP support wanes amid swing to PAP

Party chief Low is satisfied with WP's performance and says PAP has fixed problems

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FEWER VOTES: WP's rallies were consistent in attracting tens of thousands but this spectacle did not translate to votes. The mood was subdued at Hougang stadium for most of the night.
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Low Thia Khiang consoling Lee Li Lian who says one factor for her loss was municipal issues; she secured 48.2 per cent of the Punggol East votes.

Singapore

THE Workers' Party (WP) had charged into this year's election with a call to entrench its position as an Opposition voice in Parliament.

However, with the tide having swung decisively in favour of the People's Action Party (PAP), WP ended up barely holding on to its Aljunied group representation constituency (GRC); it also managed to hang on to its Hougang single-member constituency (SMC), although with a reduced vote share there.

WP also lost out in the race for the "hot" SMCs of Fengshan and Punggol East. It also did not make the inroads it had been expected to in East Coast GRC.

For the party, this would count as a dramatic turnaround in support. Its win in Aljunied in 2011 had been a historic coup, and seen as a sign of keen yearning for an alternative voice and a check against the PAP-led government.

Whether the earlier projections of WP's performance this time are accurate - based on its win in Aljunied in 2011 - will now have to be examined by pundits and the party itself in the days ahead.

This time around, the town council issue may have figured in the changing tide in WP's fortunes: the latest available accounts of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) are still qualified, in a matter that had begun with its accounts being scrutinised by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO), and numerous lapses having been found there.

The turning point could have come from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urging Singaporeans to give him and his team a strong mandate to lead the country beyond this jubilee year since independence, into its next 50 years.

WP took 39.75 per cent of the votes for the 28 seats it contested. Of the 28, it won six - five from Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC.

In 2011, the party secured 46.6 per cent of votes from the 23 seats it contested.

The WP team in Aljunied, comprising party chief Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim, Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap, Pritam Singh and Chen Show Mao, lost about 4 percentage points in support. The party's share in the GRC stood at 50.95 per cent after the night's only recount.

Despite the poorer showing against its 2011 performance, WP still has the best standing among all opposition parties.

It had sought to brand itself as a "rational and responsible" Opposition, watchwords which most of its new candidates used.

The party's campaign theme - "Empower Your Future" - pushed the line that Singaporeans should break out of a system where the government "casts a long shadow over every aspect of life", as Mr Low put it.

WP's rallies were consistent in attracting crowds in the tens of thousands. But this kind of turnout failed to translate into votes, giving credence to the power of the silent majority in Singapore.

Early on Saturday morning, the mood was subdued over Hougang stadium, where WP supporters had gathered for most of the night, perking up only the moment the party's two wins were announced.

Mr Low told reporters: "I'm satisfied with the performance of the Workers' Party. We've run a good campaign, we've done our best."

He also congratulated PAP, saying that it had done much to alleviate the issues that were angering voters. He added that the PAP's fourth-generation leaders should do well.

"What I want to remind the PAP is this - that it is important to build trust between the people and the national institutions. These national institutions include the civil service, the judiciary and the mainstream media. They ought to act fairly to every Singaporean - and not only to act fairly but also to be seen to act fairly," he said.

He then said that any politicisation of these institutions to gain political advantage was against the national interest of Singapore.

Mr Low said he was unable to assess "conclusively" whether the town council issue had affected the party's performance, since the support for the opposition was down "across the board".

Although Hougang incumbent Png Eng Huat held onto the ward, he secured 57.7 per cent of the vote, lower than the 62.1 per cent he garnered in 2012.

Over at East Coast GRC, WP secured just 39.3 per cent of the vote. Its team consisted of candidates Gerald Giam, Daniel Goh, Mohamed Fairoz and Leon Perera - who were touted as the party's "B team".

They had gone up against the PAP team led by Manpower minister Lim Swee Say, whose team comprised Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan, Minister of State Mohamad Maliki Osman, and two-term member of Parliament Jessica Tan.

The WP had sought to pit its party-renewal needs against that of the PAP, urging voters to send the younger candidates into Parliament to gain experience.

It was clear, for example, that Mr Giam and Mr Perera had stepped up to take on questions on a proposed national minimum wage - an idea proposed in the party's manifesto - during the campaign hustings.

This sparked responses from the ruling party, which has backed a progressive wage model.

Speaking to WP supporters just after 2am, when the results for the race for East Coast GRC were announced, Mr Giam said the team had done its best, and will continue to fight on.

Over in Punggol East, a late scrum over its accounts in 2013 created a haze over the true fiscal position of the ward.

AHPETC had taken over Punggol East from Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council in 2013 after the by-election.

PAP's candidate in Punggol East Mr Charles Chong said the ward had a surplus under PAP's charge; WP disputed this, and said there had been a deficit.

This issue was fought right till the final minutes before Cooling-Off Day, with WP saying that Mr Chong's comments were "misleading".

WP's candidate Lee Li Lian told reporters that municipal issues figured as one factor in her loss to Mr Chong. In that close fight, she secured 48.2 per cent of the vote.

Fengshan ward was secured by PAP's Cheryl Chan, who beat WP's candidate, shipping lawyer Dennis Tan, with 57.5 per cent.

Ms Chan, a grassroots leader with a decade of experience in the area, was introduced as a candidate to replace former Transport minister Raymond Lim, her predecessor as Member of Parliament for Fengshan.

Voters' unhappiness over shortcomings in the public transport system is said to have led to a swing against the PAP in Fengshan.

Back in 2011, the ward was part of East Coast GRC, which emerged as PAP's poorest performing constituency.

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