Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan's fifth attempt to enter Parliament ended like the previous four - in defeat - but his supporters who gathered at Bukit Gombak Stadium remained upbeat about the result.
The 38.8 per cent vote that Dr Chee won was his best election showing since he entered politics in 1992. It also 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.
"There is definitely some potential in the SDP based on this by-election and they should work on it," said civil servant Kit Tan, 42. Mr Tan, who lives in Marine Parade, added that Dr Chee had shown he could be "eloquent, effective and combative".
At Bukit Gombak Stadium, the assembly site for SDP supporters, the mood swung from exuberant to sober and eventually to one of quiet satisfaction as the evening wore on.
As they waited for the results, the crowd occasionally chanted "SDP" and "Dr Chee".
Many snapped up books authored by Dr Chee and SDP merchandise like umbrellas.
In a show of support, other opposition figures like the Reform Party's Mr M. Ravi and Mr Osman Sulaiman, and Singapore People's Party's Mrs Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss showed up at the stadium.
The festive mood turned sober when news filtered in around 9.25pm that the sample count showed Mr Murali Pillai of the People's Action Party (PAP) comfortably leading the race against Dr Chee. Derived from a random count of 100 ballot papers at each of the nine polling stations in Bukit Batok, it showed that Mr Murali was on course to bag around 61 per cent of the vote, compared with Dr Chee's 39 per cent.
This was to be remarkably close to the final tally.
The stadium turned silent for a while as SDP supporters turned to their phones to confirm the news.
Some, like Mr Muhammad Salihin Murah, 27, who was at the stadium with his two-year-old daughter Sarah Edora, were disappointed.
The Ang Mo Kio resident had thought that Dr Chee had a good chance of winning.
"I expected more people to swing to the SDP because of the David Ong scandal," said the security supervisor, referring to the former PAP Bukit Batok MP who resigned over an alleged extramarital affair.
"Dr Chee would have been quite tough in Parliament, you can tell from the way he spoke against the Prime Minister," he added.
This was Dr Chee's second bid in eight months to enter Parliament, after he made his political comeback in last year's election.
He had to sit out two general elections because he was an undischarged bankrupt, having been sued for defamation after the 2001 election by former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.
Once they had accepted defeat, several of Dr Chee's supporters said the result was a sign of progress for him. Bukit Batok resident Sami Rasu, 54, said: "I think they should feel encouraged and work on improving the result in the next GE."
Fellow resident Hamidi Saidi, 38, felt "disappointed but encouraged" by the result. Said the facilities manager: "He managed to pull some PAP voters over, and I think it's a good sign going forward."
• Additional reporting by Walter Sim