Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan yesterday vowed to stay on in Bukit Batok and win over its residents, even as his contest in the by-election ended in defeat.
In a five-minute speech to thank supporters at Bukit Gombak Stadium shortly after the result was announced at 11.30pm, he said: "Bukit Batok, you've invited me here... I've come to know you, and hopefully you'll come to know me better in the years to come.
"We'll see better times, better results, for the SDP the next round."
Dr Chee, 53, was presented with garlands and was joined by his wife Huang Chih Mei on the podium as he addressed the crowd.
"I want to bow - not in defeat, but with grace and to thank again everyone who worked so hard to make this situation a possibility," he said.
GRACE IN DEFEAT
I want to bow - not in defeat, but with grace and to thank again everyone who worked so hard to make this situation a possibility. We go out with our head held high.
SINGAPORE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHIEF CHEE SOON JUAN, addressing supporters at Bukit Gombak Stadium
"We go out with our head held high."
He later told reporters, when asked if he will stand in Bukit Batok at the next election if it remains a single seat: "Definitely, definitely."
The opposition veteran, who entered politics in 1992, won 38.8 per cent of the vote against his People's Action Party (PAP) rival Murali Pillai, who scored 61.2 per cent.
This was his best electoral performance over five attempts to enter Parliament since 1992, and marked a swing of 12.4 percentage points over the 26.4 per cent won by SDP candidate Sadasivam Veriyah in last year's general election.
Dr Chee's four-man team got 33.4 per cent of votes in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC in GE2015, which marked his political comeback after having to sit out two previous general elections as he was an undischarged bankrupt.
The SDP chief said while he was disappointed at not having won, he felt encouraged by the result.
"Given that we've so few resources, what we're up against is never easy," he said.
"We were never under the illusion that this was going to be anything other than an uphill battle."
He stressed that the SDP had continued to emphasise both local and national issues, "despite our opponents engaging in the kind of politics we wish we wouldn't see in Singapore".
He also repeated his view - made several times during the hustings - that the contest was not just a direct one between him and his rival.
Asked for his response to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comments on Facebook last night that Mr Murali's win shows "the Government and people are united in building a better nation together", Dr Chee said the media had not been fair to him.
SDP member Damanhuri Abas said the party will serve Bukit Batok residents in whatever way it can. He told The Sunday Times: "We surely will want to continue whatever we can do in Bukit Batok, if we are given the space by Mr Murali."
Mr Sadasivam said the party will spend the next few days taking stock of the result. But he said he was encouraged that SDP managed to win some voters from the PAP.
Analysts were divided over what the result meant for Dr Chee, who has moved away from his adversarial politics of the past to adopt a more conciliatory tone.
Dr Norshahril Saat of the Iseas- Yusof Ishak Institute said his improved result shows "people are willing to forgive and forget Dr Chee for what he has done in the past".
But former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin said the outcome also showed that "despite Chee's best effort, his past will still haunt him for a while".
Dr Chee told reporters he was determined to press on in future elections. He said: "This is a journey, a process. The destination is still far away, and we'll have to keep at it. One day, we'll get there."