The People’s Action Party (PAP) suffered a defeat in a recent by-election, pointing to an increasing powerful opposition network and a continued decline in support for the long ruling People’s Action Party in the nation of Singapore. While this does not mark the first defeat at the polls for the PAP, the party went into this election feeling assured of victory.

People's Action Party

The PAP’s candidate not only lost, but lost by a wide-margin, with Worker’s Party member, Lee Li Lian, getting 54.5% of the vote compared to PAP’s, Koh Poh Koon’s, 43.7%. These results stunned, not only the ruling PAP party, but other political observers and points to the growing discontent of the PAP’s policies and methods of governing.

While part of the blame may fall on disgraced, Michael Palmer, who left office amid revelations of his extra-marital affair, Singaporean voters traditionally do not punish parties for the moral transgressions of individual party members. Many observers believe, instead, that this election was a referendum of the general mood among Singaporeans, many of whom are growing tired of the PAP’s heavy handed politics and governance.

At the heart of the issue is a growing disconnect between PAP leaders, who have built a so-called “nanny-state” in Singapore, and Singaporeans who are now desiring greater freedom and empowerment. While the PAP has done a tremendous job of spurring economic growth in the tiny city-state, rising housing and living costs are putting tremendous pressure on working and middle class Singaporeans.

Further, many Singaporeans are upset at the large number of foreigners. Of Singapore’s 5.2 million people, some 1.4 million are non-citizens. In the eyes of some Singaporeans, these foreigners are driving up property costs and “stealing” jobs from locals. In view of the PAP controlled government, however, Singapore’s future success will be tied directly to the growth of the nation’s population and due to low birth rates among Singaporean nationals, the only way to maintain growth is through immigration.

The PAP has promised its electorate that it will increase spending on public projects, such as housing, and will look for other ways to lower living costs. Among other major issues the PAP faces is the rising income inequaty. Singapore is home to more millionaires per capital than anywhere else in the world. Currently, over 15 percent of Singapore’s population belong to millionaire households. Still working class people are struggling to pay their bills, especially with rent and living costs so high.

Singapore boosts one of the world’s best public transit systems and yet the MRT (subway) lines remain crowded, especially during rush hour. Meanwhile, the cost of purchasing a car and the necessary permits to drive run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, even for basic cars such as Honda Civics.

The Workers Party has accused the PAP of favoring the rich and focusing solely on indicators such as GDP growth, while largely eschewing a more holistic view of developing a fair and equal society that provides opportunity of all. The recent by-election offers proof that, more and more, Singaporeans are beginning to agree with the Worker’s Party and if the PAP does not develop effective policies to counter recent development, they may someday be swept from power.

Still, not all is lost for the PAP. Prime Minister Lee, the son of Singapore’s Founding Father, Lee Kuan Yew, has been very frank in admitting the short-comings of the PAP led government and has promised reform. Elections need not be held until 2016, giving the PAP a few more years to prove to the electorate that it can effectively govern the city-state. Further, the PAP still control 80 out of 87 parliament seats, a sound majority to say the least.