Members of the public and political analysts largely welcomed the announcement by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that he would call for a by-election in Hougang, although some expressed disappointment to keep the time-frame open-ended.
Bridget Welsh, associate professor in political science at Singapore Management University (SMU), said PM Lee’s decision to call for a by-election in Hougang was a “step in the right direction” as it “shows respect for the voice of the people in Hougang”.
Speaking to Yahoo! Singapore, Welsh, however, pointed out that the “unwillingness to be transparent on the timing and explanations [PM Lee] offered on why he should not set the timing attempts to obscure the fact that this is about politics and the fortunes of his political party”.
“The reality is that in parliamentary systems elections are called when they either provide the advantage for the party in government or when the law requires that they have to be called by. Delays are often an indicator of a lack of confidence in calling a poll,” said Welsh.
But Welsh’s prediction on the outcome of Hougang’s by-election remains gloomy for People’s Action Party. “Given the size of the margin of the Workers’ Party’s (WP) victory, arguably in the WP’s political heartland, the PAP is at a serious disadvantage and [they] seem unwilling to face another possible loss.”
She added, “This issue at this juncture is not about a win but the direction of the margin. Ironically, the longer the PM delays setting the timing of the election, the more advantage this gives the WP to recover from the damage caused by the scandal of their former MP and to work the ground to garner support for their new candidate.”
Political analyst Derek da Cunha, author of Breakthrough: Roadmap for Singapore's Political Future, a book on the 2011 general election and its aftermath, offered a different perspective.
Calling this announcement not “entirely surprising”, da Cunha said, “The PM would like to indicate that the government is generally in control of events, and also that that the government will not yield to pressure but will proceed along its own timeline.”
He said, “It seems to me that in the ultimate analysis the PM would like to give a perception that he is being generally fair. As such, he will provide a measured response, in terms of the timing of when the by-election will be called. If you ask me, holding a by-election beyond this calendar year would not square with the perception of being fair or of providing a measured response. However, the PM will base his decision on a range of considerations, some of which might be developments that unexpectedly crop up.”
Meanwhile, while some netizens welcomed the PM’s decision, some thought a by-election might be a waste of time.
Facebook user Anthony Low wrote on Yahoo! Singapore ‘s wall, “It is only fair to have an election and regardless whoever win is secondary; the primary issue is to have a representative to assist the people of Hougang to speak and solve certain problems.”
Another user, Jessica Chan, said, “Better sooner than later, especially if [it] can’t be avoided. If the budget goodies have sunk in, the chances of winning are higher.”
Commenting on the issue, Facebook user James Teo said, “Why waste time on such decision? We have better important global stuffs to resolve. Either go for it or no by-election.”