Political observers say the Workers Party’s win in Punggol East has dealt a huge blow to the PAP and indicates rapidly growing resentment on the ground.
Describing PAP’s loss as "devastating" for the party, associate professor Bridget Welsh said that it showed a "massive downturn in support".
“It is not just about demographics but a national erosion of support sustained over the last four elections. The trends indicate that the PAP is in deep trouble – it’s efforts to win over the electorate are not working,” said Welsh, who is from Singapore Management University’s Political Science faculty.
“This is more than a wake-up call, it’s a fire alarm.”
In the end, Workers' Party candidate Lee Li Lian finished with 16,038 votes against PAP's Dr Koh Poh Koon’s 12,856 to become the first female opposition member to win a single member constituency since 1965.
[VIDEO: PAP responds to loss in Punggol East]
Former Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong was also surprised at the nearly 11 per cent winning margin, saying that it sent out a clear message that the ground was shifting – and not in favour of the PAP.
“The size of the margin emphasises how unhappy voters continue to be. It’s clear that voters continue to be angry about issues like housing prices, public transport, COE prices, and the AIM issue,” he said.
He admitted that he had thought it would be too close to call but "the size of the swing was a surprise”, considering that WP's Lee Li Lian managed only 41 per cent of votes when she contested the same ward at the 2011 General Elections.
Eugene Tan, assistant law professor at Singapore Management University, said the "stunning" margin of victory would have surprised the WP itself.
"A 13% increase in votes for the WP in a mere 20 months does suggest that all is not well for the PAP," said the current NMP.
'Demographics helped swing votes'
The demographics of Punggol East voters, mostly young families with children, drew crucial votes to the Worker’s Party, said the analysts.
“The fact that the electorate in this constituency is young only highlights the serious gaps the party faces in connecting with the electorate in future. The policy tinkering and elitist materialist approach is not working,” said Welsh.
Tan said many Punggol East residents are also part of the post-independence generation and therefore "less enamoured of the PAP".
"The message of a strong opposition as a safety net appealed strongly. And then there is the by-election effect in which voters were less constrained in their choices because the outcome would not result in any change of government," he added.
On the other hand, Singapore Democratic Alliance Desmond Lim's and and Reform Party K Jeyaretnam's poor vote shares, at 168 and 353 votes respectively, was "not a surprising result" for Siew.
“I think the fact that SDA and RP also contested didn’t make a difference,” he said.
All three analysts also said PAP will have to have a good, hard think about the policies they have lined up since their poor showing at the General Election in 2011.
“They still have up to three years until the next GE, so there is definitely enough time for them to make a difference. The question is whether they have learnt the right lessons from GE2011 and this by-election,” said Siew, who added that key issues like public housing and transport would have to be tackled and solid policies introduced.
Tan said the PAP had much to do to stem the "political bleeding" and that the ruling party had to find a way to "excite" the voters vis-a-vis their vision and policies for the country.
"How to stop the PAP's political vulnerability from being seen as normal is a key matter that it needs to deal with. Once electoral defeats of the PAP become normalised and are seen as no big deal, then the PAP's political longevity will be severely challenged," cautioned Tan.
WP, on the other hand, will need to step up to make sure that they give their voters what they promises – a louder and alternative voice in Parliament. With Lee joining their ranks, WP will now have a total of nine representatives -- six from Aljunied and Hougang, one from Punggol East and two NCMPs.
It also "shortened the runway" for the WP to grow to contest in every seat in future elections, said Tan.
“They will have to be more active on issues, and this boost will likely give WP more confidence to set the agenda and engage issues,” said Welsh.
Watch the Workers' Party respond to their historic win: