WP will be hot favourite for Punggol East by-election: analysts

WP chief Low Thia Khiang holds up another copy of the PAP manifesto that was distributed to Hougang residents, saying, "I’ve told the PAP it’s not their money — it is the country’s money, and Lee Kuan Yew admitted before that the government’s money is the people’s money," (Yahoo! photo/Jason Ong)

The Punggol East constituency seat left vacant by MP Michael Palmer’s sudden resignation would be fiercely contested, say two analysts Yahoo! Singapore spoke to.

And if the Workers’ Party played their cards right, the opposition could add another seat to their parliamentary voice.

Bridget Welsh, associate professor in Political Science at Singapore Management University (SMU), said that while Palmer did the “right thing” by stepping down, the more immediate challenge would be the by-election.

“This is a competitive seat with a three-corner fight last round. A one-on-one contest will make this a potentially winnable seat for the opposition,” she said.

“How the opposition responds to the situation, timing of the by-election and the political jockeying will shape the contest and make for another important test for political parties at the polls,” she added.

Political analyst Dr Derek da Cunha, also said there would be a strong moral obligation for the PM to call a by-election, especially as Punggol East was a single member constituency, and also because Hougang had established a very important precedent for the calling of by-elections. 

Da Cunha, who authored the book Breakthrough: Roadmap for Singapore's Political Future, which analysed the 2011 General Election, said the PM might be able to resist demands for a by-election if a member resigned from a Group Representation Constituency (GRC) as others could cover up for a member who had stepped down or left.

But this is different for an SMC, he said.

"We are still not even halfway through the current parliamentary term and not to hold a by-election within the next few months would defy the democratic right of the voters in Punggol East to have an MP of their choice," said da Cunha. 

If a by-election is called, he expects that the Workers' Party would be hot favourites to take the seat. 

Earlier on Wednesday, the Workers’ Party said in a Facebook post it urged the PM to hold by-election “as soon as possible” and that it was ready to contest.

At the last general election in May 2011, Palmer defeated WP candidate, Lee Li Lian, by 54.5 percent to 41 percent of votes. A third candidate, Singapore Democratic Alliance's Desmond Lim, received 4.4 percent of votes.

Meanwhile, Welsh said Palmer’s resignation would not greatly impact the reputation of the PAP but warned that politicians are facing higher scrutiny than ever before.

“The party has been shown to have members who human failings and is adjusting to new demands of accountability. It has abided by the principle of resignation here,” she said.

“Politicians face higher scrutiny and expectations, compared to earlier generations. The application of this principle of maintaining personal marriage fidelity on a first-time PAP MP illustrates a broadening of the areas of accountability and highlights for the PAP that personal attacks can backfire on its own.”

Just minutes after the announcement of Palmer's resignation broke, a Facebook page calling for an immediate by-election for Punggol East SMC surfaced.

Related links:

Speaker of Parliament, PAP MP Michael Palmer resigns due to 'improper conduct'

Punggol East residents divided over MP’s resignation

PM Lee expresses 'great sadness' over Palmer's resignation

Workers' Party calls for by-election in Punggol East 'as soon as possible'