The Anson by-election, 1981, was held in Singapore on 31 October 1981 to choose a representative for the constituency of Anson in Parliament. It was triggered by incumbent MP Devan Nair stepping down in order to become President of Singapore (succeeding Benjamin Sheares, who had died on 12 May 1981). The by-election was won by the leader of the Workers' Party, J.B. Jeyaretnam, defeating the candidate of the governing People's Action Party (PAP), Pang Kim Hin. The by-election marked the first occasion since Singapore's independence in which a PAP candidate was defeated in an election for a seat in Parliament.
The Nomination Day for the by-election was 21 October 1981. The election deposit for candidates was set at $1500. Three candidates stood in the by-election: Pang Kim Hin of the PAP, J.B. Jeyaretnam of the Worker's Party and Harbans Singh of the United People's Front (UPF). The leader of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Chiam See Tong, also considered standing in the by-election, but decided to withdraw at the last minute and leave Jeyaretnam to be the PAP's main opponent in the name of "opposition unity".
|PAP||Pang Kim Hin||6,359||47.1||-37.0|
|United People's Front||Harbans Singh||131||1.0||-14.9|
|WP gain from PAP||Swing||N/A|
Note: As Habans Singh of United People's Front failed to garner the minimum 12.5% (one-eighth) of the votes necessary to keep his deposit, his election deposit was forfeited.
Reasons for the PAP's defeat
A number of factors are thought to have contributed to ruling party's defeat in this by-election. One of them was the fact that Pang was a new face to the public in Singapore whereas Jeyaretnam was a veteran of several general elections and by-elections (though this was the first time he had stood in Anson). Another factor may have been that Pang did not make use of Anson's grassroots leaders during his campaign, upsetting some of them, and that he did not connect effectively with working-class people in the constituency. Another issue surrounding the campaign was that residents in the Blair Plain area of the constituency were unhappy that they were not being given priority for HDB flats when their homes were being demolished to make way for a new Port of Singapore Authority container complex, and some voters may have used the by-election as an opportunity to express discontent regarding this.
This is one of the most significant elections in Singapore's political history because it was the first opposition victory since the Barisan Sosialis had left Parliament in 1966. It was the third by-election to have been held in Anson.
The election marked the Workers' Party's return to Parliament after 18 years. The last time they won an election was back in 1961, when David Marshall also won a by-election in Anson as a candidate for the party (however he lost the seat in the 1963 general election).
Aftermath of the by-election
Jeyaretnam successfully retained the seat with a larger majority of 2,376 votes in the 1984 general election, when he defeated the PAP's Ng Pock Too. He captured 56.8% of the votes in the constituency in that election. Another opposition politician was also elected to Parliament at the 1984 general election - Chiam See Tong of the SDP, who was elected as the MP for Potong Pasir. Chiam would go on to represent the seat for a further six terms until 2011 and become Singapore's second longest-serving opposition MP.
However, Jeyaretnam was convicted for allegedly misreporting his party accounts and was forced to vacate the Anson seat in 1986. The constituency was abolished in 1988 and split between the Tanjong Pagar and Kreta Ayer constituency, with a significant of the portion also forming the Tiong Bahru Group Representation Constituency in 1988 election. Tiong Bahru was then absorbed into the Tanjong Pagar Group Representation constituency at the 1991 general election.
Harbans Singh became the first candidate in Singapore election history to have forfeited his election deposit twice, with the first occurring on the 1976 elections contesting under Tanjong Pagar with 11.0% of the valid votes. Until the 2013 by-election, Singapore Democratic Alliance candidate Desmond Lim would later repeat the feat after losing his deposit in a 2011 election held prior.
Although the PAP has remained the dominant party in Singapore politics due to a supermajority, it has never again held a complete monopoly of all the seats in Parliament since the 1981 Anson by-election.
Past result, 1980
|United People's Front||P.M. Thevar||2,187||15.9||N/A|
- Singapore Party Loses Vote, New York Times, 1 November 1981.
- I'll start work right away says Jeya Archived 2012-01-29 at the Wayback Machine, New Nation, 2 November 1981.
- Anson by-election Archived 2012-02-26 at the Wayback Machine, Singapore - The Encyclopedia (retrieved 6 February 2012).
- "SDA scores worst result in post-independence history". www.asiaone.com.
- PARLIAMENTARY GENERAL ELECTION 1980-ANSON Archived 2012-07-12 at the Wayback Machine (retrieved 12 July 2012).