On 26 May, 2012, the Worker's Party (WP) once more defeated the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) at the polls in the by-election at Hougang Single Member Constituency in Singapore. The 10-day campaign had been closely watched not just by residents of the constituency, but by all Singaporeans. Many felt that it would be a “report card” on the performance of the PAP a year after the 2011 general election where it had received its lowest vote share in history.
The PAP tried their hardest to win over voters, with their candidate Desmond Choo giving out free porridge at a temple, setting up free legal clinics and promising all sorts of upgrading work to be done in the estate. Even Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean stepped into the fray, doing his best to highlight the shortcomings of the WP and to question the ability of their candidate Png Eng Huat, asking why Png had not been chosen by his party to be a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) after the general election.
When Png replied that it was because he had indicated that he did not want to be an NCMP, a leaked copy of the minutes of WP's ballot for NCMP was published in the mainstream media showing that Png's name had been on the ballot sheet, although he had only received one vote. DPM Teo then took this opportunity to question Png's integrity. WP's Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang labelled DPM Teo's comments as an attempt to “sabotage” Png's campaign.
Despite the PAP's efforts, Png won the election by 62%. Singapore's socio-political bloggers began to analyse the results, and what it may mean for both parties and Singapore in general.
Alex Au from Yawning Bread feels that this result will further damage PAP's ability to recruit:
The PAP’s defeat in Hougang with hardly a budge in vote share only underlines the fact that electoral calculations have now changed irrevocably.
Potential candidates approached by the PAP will be asking themselves whether the investment the party expects of them – in time, energy, loss of privacy, suffering possible attacks in new media – will pay off. What if the party places them in Aljunied or Hougang at the next election? Or some other constituency that suddenly becomes a hard fight, such as East Coast or Tanjong Pagar?
The Online Citizen praised Desmond Choo for having run a good campaign, but felt that his own efforts had been undermined by that of his party bosses:
At a youthful 33 years of age, Mr Choo unflinchingly took on decades of Hougang history where even more seasoned politicians would have blanched. The energetic Mr Choo has certainly been an improvement from the forgettable (indeed, now very much forgotten) Eric Low.
Mr Choo’s campaign had much to commend it, but he must surely be rueing the day his party bosses put their foot in it.
Dr Wong Wee Nam disagreed with the PAP's attempts to characterise the result of the by-election as being specific to Hougang rather than a reflection on Singapore as a whole:
Much as they would like to think so, how can the results not be partly the result of national sentiments? With the PAP promising the voters many programmes that are likely to be fulfilled by the resources at their disposal, purely local considerations could have given the PAP a resounding victory.
The PAP would be seriously mistaken if they believe that the result of the Hougang by-election does not reflect the unhappiness of Singaporeans in general.
Every Houganger has relatives or friends living outside Hougang. The problems these people face in their daily lives are the same. With the thousands of Singaporeans thronging the opposition’s rallies, the collective support must have had some strong influence on the minds of Hougang voters.
This election is, therefore, also a referendum on the PAP’s policies and its style of management. The PAP must take the bitter pill and change if they are going to make any future headway. The message from the result is clear. In the eyes of the voters, the PAP has not changed much since the last general election as reflected by the vote.
Ng E-Jay criticised the mainstream media for their double standards when it comes to reporting on different political parties:
I have just a couple of questions for Mr Wu. Would he have done the same thing had the issue concerned a PAP candidate and the leaked minutes concerned a PAP internal meeting instead? Or would he have waited for the PAP’s clarification before proceeding to publish the story?
I think the answers to these questions are pretty obvious. The MSM’s track record is very clear: they have never crossed the line with the PAP before, and if the issue concerned the alleged conduct of a PAP candidate or alleged information about internal PAP matters, they would most assuredly NOT have published anything until and unless due clarification came from the PAP.
I do not think there is any doubt whatsoever that the MSM would have given the PAP enough time to respond, at the PAP’s own discretion, should the issue have involved a PAP candidate.
But once it involves an opposition candidate, such rules no longer apply. Suddenly, the media is free to speculate, rumour-monger, and publish stories from anonymous sources who in some instances could very well be telling lies.
Tang Li at publichouse.sg highlights that the PAP seems unable to adapt to the change in Singapore's electorate:
If one looks at the by-election, it seems that the PAP remains unaware of how times have changed. Previous tactics of promising money and threats or challenges to sue might have worked in the past. Unfortunately, the public no longer accepts these sort of things.