May 26 (Bloomberg) -- A member of a Singapore opposition party won a by-election today that tested Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s ability to draw back support after the ruling party’s poorest performance at polls last year.
Png Eng Huat, a 50-year-old businessman representing the Workers’ Party, won 62.1 percent of valid votes in the seat for the northeastern Hougang district that has been held by his group since 1991. The seat was left vacant after Yaw Shin Leong, who won 64.8 percent of votes in 2011, was expelled from the party in February for what it called “indiscretions in his private life.”
The People’s Action Party was returned to power in May last year with the smallest margin of victory since independence in 1965 and record opposition gains, prompting Lee to pledge his party will change the way it governs. While candidates had campaigned on local issues such as improving public housing, a survey of 50 residents by Today newspaper this month showed a majority of residents were looking at national policies, including the cost of living and the influx of foreigners.
“The by-election is seen as a report card on how the government has fared in the past year,” Kit Wei Zheng, a Singapore-based economist at Citigroup Inc., said before the results.
About 23,000 people, or 1 percent of the electorate, were eligible to vote in the district. Png got 13,447 out of 21,951 ballots cast, of which 294 were considered spoiled votes, Returning Officer Yam Ah Mee said in a national broadcast.
The People’s Action Party candidate, Desmond Choo, 34, a trade union official and former police officer, received 8,210 votes, Yam said.
While today’s poll will be a barometer of support for government policies, it won’t alter the balance in parliament, where Lee’s party has 81 of the 87 seats. The People’s Action Party has governed the country since 1959.
The government is under pressure to placate voters without disrupting the arrival of talent and labor that helped forge the only advanced economy in Southeast Asia. In the past year, Lee’s government has implemented stricter immigration policies and cut ministerial pay to appease voters.
The administration has raised property taxes for non-Singaporeans and accelerated construction of housing. Lee also made permanent a program to provide cash, utility rebates and medical funds for the elderly and low-income households. The government is subsidizing bus companies’ purchases of new vehicles to reduce crowding on public transport and adding hospital beds.
More than a third of the 5.2 million population is made up of foreigners and expatriate permanent residents, and efforts to reduce the inflow of workers since 2010 have had little effect. The foreign workforce has grown 7.5 percent annually over the last two years, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in February as he imposed new rules on the percentage of overseas labor that companies are allowed.
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