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PAP members canvassing for votes at Bukit Batok with Mr Murali at the background (Photo - Terry Xu)

Bukit Batok By-election victory within expectation, SMC has been a stronghold of PAP

By Alvin Tan

Murali wins

After weeks of campaigning, the Bt Batok by-election is over. People's Action Party (PAP)'s candidate, Mr Murali Pillai became Bt Batok's new Member of Parliament by winning 61.21% of the votes while Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP)'s candidate, Dr Chee Soon Juan won 38.79% of the votes.

A total of 24,192 votes were cast and 622 votes were rejected.

Dr Chee Soon Juan of the SDP was looking to capture his first seat in parliament. The SDP had contested this SMC a year ago, which undoubtedly influenced Dr Chee's decision to contest in this by-election. In 2015, SDP’s Sadasivam Veriyah garnered 26% of the votes vis-a-vis PAP's David Ong's 73%. Dr Chee has done better than Mr Sadasivam, winning almost 39% of the votes.

Comparing Bt Batok SMC and Punggol East SMC

This by-election bears resemblance to the Punggol East SMC by-election in 2013. In 2013, Punggol East PAP MP Michael Palmer abruptly resigned due to an alleged extra-marital affair, triggering a by-election as well. But sadly, for the SDP, this is where the similarities end.

Lee Li Lian of the Workers' Party contested, winning 54% of the votes, and shocking the PAP by becoming Punggol East's new MP. Undoubtedly, the SDP was hoping for a similar outcome in Bt Batok this time around.

After Li Lian's win, the Institute of Policy Studies at NUS conducted a rather detailed survey. They concluded that younger voters and voters who are of a higher socio-economic status are more likely to have pluralist values (i.e. to vote for the opposition parties).

Punggol East is quite unique in terms of its demographics—it is a relatively young and well-off constituency. Punggol East has no 3-room flats and 60% of its residents live in 5-room flats, executive flats or private housing. Only a quarter of its residents are from the pre-1965 generation (above 50 years old) and the rest are from the post-1965 generation. Punggol East's demographics favour the opposition parties.

In 2015, PAP's Charles Chong regained control of Punggol East, winning 51.76% of the votes vs Ms Li Lian's 48.24%.

In contrast to Punggol East where there are no 3-room flats, almost a third of Bt Batok residents live in 1-3 room flats. 39% live in 4-room flats and only a mere 29% live in 5-room flats, executive flats or private housing. Notwithstanding some voters' anger at Mr David Ong's alleged misconduct, the demographics in Bt Batok SMC are quite advantageous for the PAP.

To make it even more onerous for the SDP, before 2015, Bt Batok SMC was historically part of Jurong GRC, a ward that the PAP usually wins very comfortably. Bt Batok has always been a PAP stronghold. The nearest the PAP came to losing Jurong GRC was in 2011, when they won 67% of the votes vs the NSP's 33%. The PAP has since rebounded in the new Jurong GRC that excludes Bt Batok SMC, winning almost 79% of the vote in 2015, with political heavyweight Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the helm.

So, the odds were against Dr Chee from the beginning.

Tough by-election

In the 2015 General Elections, PAP candidates contested 14 SMC wards. They lost 1 ward—Hougang SMC—to the Workers' Party. In the majority of wards won, PAP candidates won 60-70% of the votes. Mr Murali's 61.21% is lower than the median, and about 12% lower than the 73% won by Mr David Ong a year ago. In PAP-held SMCs, only MPs in Hougang, Punggol East and Fengshan SMCs received lower percentages of votes.

Unsurprisingly, Mr Murali has called it a 'tough by-election'. So the PAP adds another feather to its cap and the SDP loses another election.

One might even say it is business as usual.