The by-election in Bukit Batok was a needless distraction. The outcome was largely expected, although surprises can never be ruled out in electoral contests. The outcome was driven by the ruling party's programmes for the constituency, and its strong grassroots presence. The "by-election effect" contributed to the almost 12 percentage point swing against the People's Action Party, but it nevertheless won a convincing victory. After all, this was the first time in 37 years it has retained a single seat in a by-election, and with a minority-race candidate.
Now that this local contest is settled, it is time for Singapore to refocus attention on pressing issues at hand. Today's overwhelming concerns are economic. A spate of retrenchments has affected professionals, managers, executives and technicians in particular. Companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, are being forced to evolve to keep pace with market and technological changes, amid global uncertainties. And skills upgrading calls for concerted effort by workers, companies and the Government.
These are necessary steps to take in order for all to grasp the promise of greater vibrancy from economic projects and large-scale infrastructural undertakings, like the expansion of Changi Airport. Achieving optimal and inclusive outcomes will demand all the resources that can be mustered jointly by the Government and the people.
Politics being what it is, it was not surprising to see the usual electoral stratagems surfacing, like upgrading carrots and populist appeals. However, it was gratifying that Bukit Batok's voters mostly rejected reckless calls to vote along racial lines. Nor were they swayed by vague promises of unemployment handouts, which were not backed up by firm plans on how to pay for them. While such a scheme might well become necessary, or even be desirable, voters here have a deeply ingrained scepticism of politicians promising a free lunch, and rightly so. A substantial majority of Bukit Batok's voters preferred the politics of continuity, rather than plumbing for vacuous pitches to serve them full-time and to kick up a storm in Parliament on a sundry of perennial issues, from jobs to immigration and costs. Still, the sizeable swing against the ruling party, just eight months after the General Election, signalled voters' unhappiness over being hauled back to the polls over the sitting MP's indiscretions, and their readiness to punish the ruling party and try out alternatives, should it take their staunch support for granted. Voters signalled last year that they were willing to back a strong government that was able to deliver as it promised, as the PAP had done over the past five decades. After the Bukit Batok distraction, they will want to see politicians getting on with it to tackle the pressing issues that are now troubling them.