Singapore's ruling party suffered a rebuke yesterday when it lost a parliamentary by-election despite promising more reforms and massive public spending to appease a restive electorate.
The opposition Workers' Party defeated the People's Action Party (PAP), which has been in power for more than 50 years, following a campaign dominated by issues including the rising cost of living and immigration.
Workers' Party candidate Lee Li Lian, 34, a middle-class corporate trainer, comfortably beat PAP candidate Koh Poh Koon, 40, a prominent surgeon who was strongly backed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
"This is a devastating loss to the PAP," said Bridget Welsh, a political scientist at Singapore Management University.
"There's a gap between what ordinary Singaporeans are experiencing and what the government is telling them."
The prime minister congratulated the winner and said the PAP "will continue to work to improve the lives of Singaporeans, and present our report card for voters to judge in the next general elections."
The PAP has now lost two by-elections in less than a year, adding to its woes after suffering its worst performance in a general election in May 2011.
But it remains in firm control, holding 80 of the 87 seats in parliament. The next general elections are not due until 2016.
The hotly contested election turned a quiet residential suburb into the focus of a nation.
Two smaller opposition parties had also fielded candidates, raising hopes among PAP supporters that the opposition vote would fragment in its favour, but the Workers' Party won 16,038 votes to the PAP's 12,856.
Lawmaker Sylvia Lim, who chairs the Workers' Party, said the election showed "the value of political competition in getting the government to sit up and take notice".