Singaporeans Vote for Parliament Representative in Test for Lee

Singapore’s ruling party faces its latest test in winning back support in a by-election, nearly two years after its weakest performance at nationwide polls.

About 31,649 people, or 1.4 percent of the electorate, are expected to vote today in Punggol East district. The seat in the northeastern district fell vacant after Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer, a candidate from the ruling party who won with 54.5 percent of the vote in 2011, stepped down in December over an extramarital affair. Polls close at 8 p.m. Singapore time.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s People’s Action Party is struggling to hold on to support as record-high housing and transport costs, public discontent over an influx of foreigners and infrastructure strains weakened approval for the party. The party retained power with 60.1 percent of the popular vote in May 2011, the smallest margin since independence in 1965.

“It’s a litmus test, to what extent the PAP have support, the backing of the people,” said Terence Lee, an assistant professor of political science at National University of Singapore. “There is probably some amount of trust deficit.”

Candidates for the seat include surgeon Koh Poh Koon from the PAP and sales trainer Lee Li Lian of the Workers’ Party, the only opposition group with elected members in Parliament. Desmond Lim from the Singapore Democratic Alliance and Kenneth Jeyaretnam of the Reform Party are also contesting.

While today’s poll will test support for the government, it won’t alter the balance in Parliament, where the PAP has 80 out of 87 seats. The count for the party excludes the district being contested today.

The election comes as the government struggles to cope with a labor shortage brought on by tighter rules on foreign labor, an aging population and quickening inflation.

Since the 2011 polls, the administration has raised property taxes for non-Singaporeans, cut ministerial pay and speeded up construction of housing. Lee also made permanent a program to provide cash, utility rebates and medical funds for the elderly and low-income households.

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