Singapore government faces test in by-election

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 2:44pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 2:48pm

Voters in a Singapore suburb began casting ballots on Saturday in a by-election that tests the public mood two years after the ruling party suffered its worst ever poll performance.

At stake is a seat left vacant when former Speaker Michael Palmer stepped down and quit the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has been in power for over half a century, after he confessed to an extramarital affair in December.

The campaign has been dominated by socio-economic issues like the rising cost of living. Analysts said the presence of three opposition candidates could split the anti-PAP vote.

Lines of voters started forming at polling stations in the Punggol East constituency, a quiet residential district, before polls opened at 8:00am (0000 GMT).

They will close after 12 hours and results are expected to be declared before the night is over.

More than 31,000 Singaporeans are eligible to vote in the by-election, the second since the May 2011 general elections when the PAP’s share of all votes cast fell to an all-time low of 60 per cent.

A year later, the PAP was again rebuffed by voters during a by-election in an opposition stronghold, but it still controls 81 of the 87 seats in parliament, where most seats are elected in clusters.

“I’m getting used to going to the polls,” Nick Chong, a 44-year-old sales trainer said. “I’m just glad we have the chance to make a decision.”

The main candidates in Saturday’s vote are a surgeon from the PAP and a sales executive from the Workers’ Party, which holds all six of the opposition seats in parliament.

Two smaller parties are contesting the election, threatening to draw votes away from the Workers’ Party.

The publication of voter surveys is banned in Singapore until polls close.

The PAP first came to power in 1959 when colonial ruler Britain introduced self-rule in Singapore, which became a republic in 1965 after a brief union with Malaysia.