SINGAPORE - Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh led his party's A team to a comfortable victory in Aljunied GRC in his first electoral outing at the helm, retaining the five-member constituency with a higher margin than in 2015.
The WP won 59.93 per cent of the vote against the PAP which scored 40.07 per cent.
It is an improvement over the opposition party's performance in 2015, when it barely held on to its turf with the slimmest of margins, triggering a recount.
Then, after a nail-biting wait that lasted into the wee hours of the morning after polling day, the party was declared the winner with 50.95 per cent of votes.
In 2011, the WP's vote share was 54.72 per cent.
The WP's win on Friday is a nod to the leadership of Mr Singh, 43, who took over the reins from the party's former chief, Mr Low Thia Khiang, 62, in 2018. Mr Low did not contest this general election, the first time he has sat out on one since 1988.
Besides Mr Low, fellow GRC MP Chen Show Mao, 59, also stood down from electoral politics.
The WP's GE2020 Aljunied slate included two other incumbent Aljunied GRC MPs: party chairman Sylvia Lim, 55 and Mr Faisal Manap, 45. They were joined by two former Non-Constituency MPs, Mr Leon Perera, 49, and Mr Gerald Giam, 42.
It was up against a so-called "suicide squad" from the PAP, which did not include any ministers.
The PAP slate was led by artificial intelligence fintech chief executive Victor Lye, 58; and included lawyer Alex Yeo, 41; marketing director Chan Hui Yuh, 44; bank executive Chua Eng Leong, 48; and Centre for Domestic Employees executive director Shamsul Kamar, 48. Mr Lye, Mr Chua and Mr Shamsul were contesting in Aljunied GRC for the second time, while Ms Chan and Mr Yeo are newer faces there.
Aljunied GRC, home to 151,007 voters, covers parts of Hougang, Paya Lebar, Serangoon Gardens, Serangoon North, Bedok Reservoir and Kaki Bukit.
In 2011, the WP made history when it won Aljunied, the first time an opposition party wrested a group representation constituency from the PAP. That year, Mr Low had made a last-minute move from his stronghold of Hougang to lead the charge.
The popular politician's decision not to stand for election this time initially sparked speculation that those who had voted the WP to keep him in Parliament may no longer have a reason to do so.
It did not help that his replacement changed in recent months. Sociologist Daniel Goh, a former NCMP, had been shadowing Mr Low the past three years but announced in April that he would not be standing for election owing to ill health. Mr Giam took his place.
With the departure of Mr Low and Mr Chen, the party's Aljunied team lost two Mandarin speakers who connected with the older Chinese ground. Another veteran WP parliamentarian, Mr Png Eng Huat of Hougang, also retired this GE.
This became a talking point during the campaign when the WP did not send a candidate to a televised Mandarin debate, with some saying the party no longer cared to reach out to its Mandarin-speaking voters. The party leaders apologised the next day, saying that they did not have candidates proficient enough to debate in Mandarin, and would work on attracting such talent in future.
In the end though, these factors did not dent the party's chances.
Instead, the WP's message of denying the PAP a blank cheque resonated. It urged voters to send into Parliament more MPs in blues to keep the men in white on their toes.
Mr Singh, returning to the party's slogan "Make your vote count", also appealed to voters to think of their own interests, saying that the Government has shown it is more responsive to peoples' concerns when it loses elected seats.
To hammer home the message, he warned that there was a real risk of an opposition wipe-out.
Meanwhile, the PAP team appealed to voters to "bring us home". It also cited the programmes it had introduced in the constituency, seeking to show that it had stayed to serve residents despite not being elected as MPs.
But the message failed to gain traction.
Some residents lamented the fact that no minister was sent to anchor the team, likening this to the PAP having abandoned the GRC. There is also chatter that the ruling party does not want to take back the constituency, knowing the backlash it could cause if the opposition was truly wiped out of Parliament.
The WP also sought to address questions over a potentially thorny issue - the Aljunied Hougang Town Council (AHTC) saga - which has stretched on since the WP took over the town council in 2011.
It sent out a 32-page newsletter to residents explain its current financial position. After working with auditor KPMG, which was hired following a court order, AHTC finally resolved its financial and governance lapses last year and managed to submit for the first time accounts that were unqualified by its auditors.
While the saga is not over - a lawsuit brought by AHTC against its own town councillors remains unresolved - the party's improved vote share in Aljunied suggests that the issue is not a huge factor at the ballot box.
In the end, it was hardly a fight. Sources from the PAP in the day said that they expected an early night - meaning there will be no recount, which takes place only when if the difference in votes between candidates contesting a constituency is 2 per cent or less.
And so it was.