SINGAPORE - Bukit Batok residents stuck with People's Action Party (PAP) incumbent, Mr Murali Pillai, handing him 54.80 per cent of the votes and leaving Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan with an improved showing but yet another election loss.
They had faced off in the single-member constituency's 2016 by-election after PAP MP David Ong stepped down following allegations of an extramarital affair with a grassroots volunteer, with Mr Murali then winning 61.21 per cent of the votes against Dr Chee's 38.79 per cent. This time the margin of victory was much smaller, decreasing from 22.4 percentage points to 9.6, with Dr Chee this time getting 45.20 per cent of the votes from the 29,950 voters of Bukit Batok.
A sombre-looking Dr Chee spoke to the media at the party's headquarters in Ang Mo Kio at about 1.40am, even before the results were confirmed but conceding defeat with the sample counts indicating that the SDP had failed to win a single seat. He said that the SDP had run a "very good campaign" that focused on policy and issues but came up short in the polls. He thanked all the voters, and said the party would continue to "press on".
"We're going to try to see what we can begin to improve on and come back stronger," he said, but declined to take any questions from the media.
Through the campaign, Dr Chee had criticised the 52-year-old Murali for juggling his role as an MP with his career as a lawyer, with the returning challenger promising residents a "full-time" MP.
Mr Murali said that while he spends six days a week listening to residents' concerns and dealing with issues on the ground at the second largest of 14 SMCs, it takes not just one person to serve the residents, but an entire village.
"You need to have leadership, you need to be able to raise money, you need to get the people. That's what community action plans are about," he said during campaigning, adding that there are plans to have the SMC's town council affairs managed together with Jurong GRC and Yuhua SMC. This, he said, will not just lead to cost savings, but also the chance to tap the "collective wisdom" of Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu.
Dr Chee, 57, who started out as a lecturer at the National University of Singapore before entering politics in 1992 after founder Chiam See Tong recruited him to join the SDP, had focused his campaign on a "show and tell" of faults in the SMC, including delayed upgrading projects and safety lapses. His party also said it wants to suspend GST, pay retrenchment benefits, and provide income to retirees.
But his ground work in Bukit Batok got side tracked briefly after a televised debate on July 1, in which he claimed that the PAP wanted to raise Singapore's population to 10 million - a point which was repeatedly refuted by the ruling party as a falsehood.
The SDP maintained that the 10 million figure was from a Straits Times report on remarks by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at a dialogue with Nanyang Technological University students in March last year. But during the recent debate, the PAP's Dr Vivian Balakrishnan told Dr Chee: "Let me state for the record: We will never have 10 million. We won't even have 6.9 million. The Government doesn't have a target for the population."
While Dr Chee claimed this as a victory for his party's Four Yes, One No platform - the "no" being to stop an increase in Singapore's population fuelled by immigration, the PAP went on to describe his use of falsehoods as a character flaw.