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June 23, 2017

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Workers' Party talks down its victory

To many supporters of the Workers' Party (WP), its performance in the Punggol East by-election was a result beyond their wildest expectations.

Its candidate, Lee Li Lian, 34, a trainer in the financial industry, won the single-seat ward with 54.5 percent of the vote and a convincing margin over her main opponent, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) rookie Koh Poh Koon.

Yet at the post-result press conference last Saturday, WP chief Low Thia Khiang had a somber expression. The only substantive answer he gave during the 20-minute press conference was even more intriguing.

Instead of expressing joy over the big win or rubbing salt into the PAP's wounds when asked about the by-election's significance to the WP's future growth, Low replied that the party would assist "whenever we can" alongside the government in improving policies and Singaporeans' lives.

Clearly, there is something about the by-election outcome that has startled the WP chief, and he has good reasons to be.

First, are Punggol East voters putting a lot of hope in the WP?

Party leaders and insiders told The Straits Times that they were surprised by the polling outcome as they thought they would at most win by a slim margin, instead of the eventual 10.8-percent margin over Koh.

Even Low himself admitted as much to reporters at the press conference, saying: "We did not expect such a good result."

If even the WP — known for its indefatigable legwork and close reading of the ground during elections — did not foresee such an outcome, which was also beyond the predictions of many others, one is tempted to ask whether this was as close as possible to a freak election result that Singaporeans should be concerned about.

Of course, voters cast ballots based on a myriad of reasons, ranging from their belief in a political party's cause to their preference in a particular candidate, and to their trust in the candidate's ability to improve their lives either on the local or national level.

But this time round, one of the key factors cited for the WP's big win in Punggol East is the lingering dissatisfaction among Singaporeans toward the PAP over bread-and-butter issues like the cost of living and immigration.

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