Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Back on the electoral map

Four constituencies have been revived ahead of the general election. Insight looks at what's up in the new 'old' seats.
By Wong Siew Ying, The Sunday Times, 2 Aug 2015

Three single-member constituencies (SMCs) and one group representation constituency (GRC) have been reborn after the electoral boundaries report was released 10 days ago. They did not feature in the 2011 General Election but are all familiar names in Singapore politics. Among the constituencies that have been revived is Jalan Besar GRC.

Rich with history, Jalan Besar is regarded as a stronghold of the People's Action Party (PAP), which had defended the turf against opposition parties in numerous elections since it became a GRC in 1988. But it will be challenged by a team from the Workers' Party (WP) at the general election.

MacPherson will go it alone, having been hived off from Marine Parade GRC for the second time.

As an SMC, it has seen a fair share of election battles over the past decades and is expected to be contested again in the next general election, with the WP already staking its claim. The current MP overseeing MacPherson ward, PAP's Ms Tin Pei Ling, has been working the ground hard since she was elected in 2011. But has the rookie MP done enough to convince the voters, if indeed she is fielded there?

Over at Bukit Batok, which has been carved out from Jurong GRC, another first-term MP, PAP's Mr David Ong, will have to battle solo, if there are no personnel changes. Residents there are also expecting a fight, and it looks like they will have one, with the Singapore Democratic Party saying it will stand there.

Also making a comeback on the electoral map is Fengshan SMC, extracted from East Coast GRC.

It is widely speculated that the PAP could field a fresh candidate or redeploy a political heavyweight at Fengshan, but either way, the person will face a fight.

The battle for Fengshan SMC could shape up to be a close contest between the PAP and the WP. Amid the heat of election campaigning to come, voters will evaluate the credentials of all the candidates to see who could best serve their interest.

A key attribute is whether the candidate is "gutsy enough" to air their grievances in Parliament, says former PAP MP for Fengshan Arthur Beng, 66. Dr Beng contested and won Fengshan when it was an SMC during the 1984 and 1988 elections, and represented the area when it was brought into then-Bedok GRC in 1991.

He says that PAP "probably have it clear in their mind who to put there, who would be able to hold on to the constituency".


Bukit Batok SMC: Hot-seat days could return
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh and Goh Yan Han, The Sunday Times, 2 Aug 2015

Bukit Batok is back.

The scene of two close shaves for the People's Action Party (PAP) in 1988 and 1991 vanished off the electoral map as a single-member constituency in 1997.

Then it became part of Bukit Timah GRC, and for three elections was also in the PAP stronghold of Jurong GRC.

But under last month's boundary changes, Bukit Batok is born again as a singleton.

And some residents are relishing the possibility of political tussles like those of two decades ago.

Retired paper salesman Gerry Chua, 58, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 30 years, recalls: "I shook hands with so many politicians and activists in those days. They will be in the market, under your block, at the bus stop, everywhere! Cannot escape!"

He adds excitedly: "And it can go either way. You won't be surprised if you one day wake up and were under the opposition. The fight was so close."

The last time he saw a fight was in 1991.The PAP had its slimmest victory of that general election in Bukit Batok SMC, polling 51.8 per cent.

The incumbent MP, Dr Ong Chit Chung, beat the Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) Mr Kwan Yue Keng by just 858 votes.

But in 1997 it was redrawn as part of Bukit Timah GRC. Opposition parties gave it a miss then.

Then, it became part of Jurong GRC, where the SDP won just 20.3 per cent of the vote in 2001. The next election was a walkover, and 2011 saw the National Solidarity Party get 33.1 per cent.

But now that Bukit Batok is an SMC again, technician Ahmad Nordin, 30, says: "We can definitely expect more action. Now it's alone, it's easier to grab."

Deliveryman Tan W. K. echoes that, claiming that without the protection of "big names", Bukit Batok SMC - comprising 27,068 mostly middle-class voters - will be more vulnerable than it has ever been in the last 20 years.

Chief of those big names is Jurong GRC's anchor minister, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. The GRC team also includes Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob and Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee.

Alongside them are first-term MPs Ang Wei Neng and David Ong.

Mr Tan, 48, whose division is Bukit Batok under Mr Ong, says: "When I say I am from Jurong GRC, people say 'Oh, so you are under Tharman!' But I tell them, no my MP is David Ong. They ask 'Who's that?'"

Just two days after the boundary changes were announced on July 24, SDP secretary-general Chee Soon Juan declared that his party is looking at fielding "a very good candidate" in the new Bukit Batok SMC.

The SDP had done well in Bukit Batok when it was an SMC, said Dr Chee. "In a way, we are coming home."

He added that the SDP had been contesting wards in north-western Singapore, and "geographically, it makes a lot of sense - in terms of resources, in terms of campaigning, for us to be here".


A look at those heady hot-seat days shows just how close things were. In the 1988 polls, SDP's Mr Kwan won 44 per cent of the vote in Bukit Batok. In the close-run 1991 poll, he won 48 per cent.

That same year, the SDP's Mr Ling How Doong captured neighbouring Bukit Gombak SMC, winning 51 per cent of the vote against the PAP. But the SDP's victory was short-lived. In 1997, the PAP reclaimed Bukit Gombak.

This heated past, however, does not guarantee a revival of the

anti- PAP vote, says Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan.

"Bukit Batok is not in the same mould as Hougang or Anson, which to varying degrees are or were identified with the opposition," explains the political observer .

For clerk Mary Long, 38: "If the opposition starts by targeting an SMC here, campaigns well, and wins it, maybe we can see their voices grow in the west."

But maintenance officer Koh Teck Seng, 51, referring to SDP's Dr Chee, scoffs: "The opposition must know when to say things and what to say, cannot just anyhow say things."

Dr Chee plans to make his political comeback this time round, though he would not say where.

He could not run in 2006 or 2011, having been declared bankrupt after failing to pay $500,000 in damages for defaming then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong during the 2001 elections. He was cleared of bankruptcy in 2012.

As for the PAP, speculation is rife about who it will field.

Some residents wonder if rookie MP Mr Ong will be able to keep a grip once Bukit Batok is out of the GRC's fold.

While some of Mr Ong's residents fail to identify him as their MP, those who have seen him in action would like to see him stay.

A great number of the flats are about 30 years old, and Mr Ong has been pushing for the Home Improvement Programme in his ward, notes Ms Long.

Mr Ong tells Insight: "That's something I have been fighting for. I want to make sure our residents' living conditions will be looked after."

When asked if he thinks he would be at a disadvantage as a rookie, Mr Ong points out that visibility matters. He and his grassroots leaders, he adds, have been working the ground.

Talk among party activists also throws up Madam Halimah's name as another possible candidate for the new SMC. She has more than a decade of political experience and oversees Bukit Batok East in Jurong GRC, where former civil servant Rahayu Mahzam has been tipped as a new face.

Associate Professor Tan feels that fielding Madam Halimah, who as a Malay woman is a "political double minority", will send a "powerful statement by the PAP and for multiracialism".

Whoever it is has big shoes to fill.

When Bukit Batok was last an SMC, it was under the meticulous hand of Dr Ong, who seven years after his death is still remembered as the "father of Bukit Batok" by older residents.

Bukit Batok is mostly made up of public housing, with just over 4 per cent of residents living in condominiums. Two new Build-To-Order projects with about 2,600 households will be ready in two years.

Residents' priorities are largely middle-class ones like ease of transport. Connectivity has improved with more frequent bus services in the neighbourhood, they say.

There is also a bustling market

area and about 12 coffee shops around the estate, which residents say serve them well enough. So bread-and-butter issues might not determine how the vote falls.

"Most residents here aren't so happy or so unhappy with Bukit Batok that this is what will swing the vote," says engineer Jimmy Yap, 40. "But it's not just whether we are happy or not.

"We also want to have a chance to see the opposition come in, if they are good enough. So if PAP has someone I don't mind losing, I will vote for the other party - just to test them out."

Additional reporting by Choo Yun Ting


Fengshan SMC: Buzz over candidates for constituency
By Wong Siew Ying, The Sunday Times, 2 Aug 2015

Over in Fengshan, just who the People's Action Party (PAP) might field has become a hot topic. The MP in the Fengshan ward of the East Coast GRC that the new SMC was carved out from is former transport minister Raymond Lim.

Speculation is rife that he will retire from politics. The buzz is that the choice of his replacement lies between newbie Cheryl Chan, 38, who has been a grassroots volunteer for 10 years, and a political heavyweight from another ward.

The talk among several grassroots activists is that the latter is Mr Lee Yi Shyan, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and for National Development.

Mr Lee, an MP in East Coast GRC, oversees the Kampong Chai Chee ward and has bags of experience, having entered politics in 2006. He is on his second term in the GRC.

But given that Fengshan is a new electoral constituency, law professor Eugene Tan from Singapore Management University believes the PAP will go for "a contrarian approach" and field a new candidate with extensive grassroots experience. Ms Chan fits the definition.

And she tells Insight that if asked, she would step forward.

"I would view it as an honour to be given this opportunity to help improve and better the lives of my fellow Singaporeans," she says.

As to the intentions of Mr Lim, PAP Fengshan branch vice-chairman Chia Song Leng says: "Through the years, (Mr Lim) has built up a strong team. So if he decides to retire, we have within our team of activists, good people who can succeed him."

The Workers' Party (WP) has thrown its hat into the ring here.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which had earlier expressed interest in the seat, yesterday said it would not stand in this constituency, given that a WP contender would have a strong chance of winning it.

Indeed, the decoupling of Fengshan from East Coast GRC was perceived by some as a move to safeguard the GRC.

In the 2011 General Election, a five-member PAP team won it in a tight contest against the WP team, securing 54.8 per cent of votes - the closest win in a group representation constituency for the PAP.

Fengshan resident Richard Lim, 61, wonders if the ward had polled poorly back then: "Maybe it was the weak link. So it's been taken out to sacrifice one SMC - lose one (seat) instead of five (seats)."

Among opposition parties, the WP does appear to be the stronger contender, having contested East Coast GRC in 2011 and walked the ground in recent years. It won support in the north-east, with the capture of Aljunied GRC and Hougang and Punggol East SMCs.

Geographically, Fengshan SMC sits well with that expansion strategy, as it lies next to Aljunied's Kaki Bukit ward, roughly west of its border. Other wards in East Coast GRC - Changi-Simei, Siglap, Bedok and Kampong Chai Chee - are in the north, east and south of Fengshan.

The WP had already been walking the ground in the old East Coast GRC.

"We have met many Fengshan SMC residents over the last few years, to better understand the issues that they are concerned about," the WP tells Insight.

Political scientist Derek da Cunha says that should the PAP field a first-time candidate, "then voters might perceive that the PAP reckons that the WP's challenge in Fengshan would be too formidable".

Veteran politician Seow Khee Leng, 75, of the DPP had initially expressed interest in contesting Fengshan.

In an interview with Insight at his home - a stone's throw away from Fengshan SMC - Mr Seow, who contested five general elections from 1972 to 1988, said he wanted to "give something back to the community" that he has grown so familiar with, after living around the area for 30 years.

Mr Seow was part of a WP team that lost in Bedok GRC in 1988. In 1984, he contested Kampong Chai Chee SMC on a Singapore United Front ticket.

But with the DPP's decision not to contest Fengshan, Mr Seow will now lead the party's Tanjong Pagar team.

DPP secretary-general Benjamin Pwee says: "I don't believe in three-cornered fights.

"I believe that ultimately it will be a two-cornered fight between the best opposition candidate and the PAP, regardless of any number of candidates."


The potential candidates, though, may not find many municipal issues to champion.

Residents, by and large, are satisfied with the amenities in the ward, with some describing the area as "good and very safe".

Mr Ho Ko Wah, 62, a resident there and a PAP supporter, says: "There are restaurants and fast- food outlets. In terms of living environment, I have travelled a lot and many countries are virtually 'no standard' compared with us."

The Lift Upgrading Programme is completed for all eligible HDB blocks, while the Home Improvement Programme is under way.

The DPP's Mr Seow says he intends to raise issues related to cost of living and withdrawal of Central Provident Fund money, as part of his campaign.

Such issues resonate with voters such as Mr M. A. Nor, 34, who lives in a three-room flat with his two children and pregnant wife.

"Everything is getting more expensive and the salary is the same. I used to be a crane operator, then the foreign workers came. They can work longer hours and my salary fell," says Mr Nor, who started driving a taxi last October to boost his pay.

About 70 per cent of Fengshan's population live in HDB flats. The rest live in private properties.

One condominium dweller, lawyer C. Lim, 32, is leaning towards the PAP: "Since the last GE, the Government has been making a real effort to reach out to the people. One should recognise that."

Another condo resident, Ms Y. F. Lai, 34, who works in the education service sector, hopes voting for the opposition will drive change. She says: "I hope to see a healthier stance towards civil liberties in Singapore. As we mature as a nation, we cannot just be focusing on satisfying bread-and-butter issues."

As for what Polling Day might hold for Fengshan, political observers say it is a safer seat for the PAP than the previous election results may suggest.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser says: "It could be that because it is next to Aljunied, the WP town council saga could drive voters back to the PAP. So rather than a weak link, it is relatively strong standing next to Aljunied."

Additional reporting by Rachel Chang, Marcus Lim, Jasmine Osada


MacPherson SMC: Ward has history of PAP support
By Janice Heng and Choo Yun Ting, The Sunday Times, 2 Aug 2015

Severed from a group representation constituency where the People's Action Party eked out its second-closest win in 2011.

Helmed by a first-term MP, the heavily pregnant Ms Tin Pei Ling.

MacPherson - on the electoral map as a single seat again after being part of Marine Parade GRC in 2011 - appears to be ripe for the opposition's plucking.

But a look at its history and demographics suggests the single-member constituency might be a safer seat than it seems.

Current MacPherson division MP Ms Tin may be a first-termer, but PAP activists are confident about her going it alone, assuming she will be fielded there again.

Says branch secretary Rosemary Lim, referring to MacPherson's long history of being an SMC: "We are optimistic that we will be able to perform well, because we have been on our own for a long time."

Admittedly, MacPherson was part of the GRC where the PAP saw its second-lowest winning vote share in 2011, with 56.7 per cent against the National Solidarity Party. But that figure disguises MacPherson's own performance. The ward reportedly had the second-highest PAP vote share within the GRC.

It also has a history of PAP support. In each of the six elections in which MacPherson was contested as a single seat, the PAP won no less than 65 per cent of the vote.

Its worst performance was in 1997, when MacPherson was carved out as a single seat in response to Singapore Democratic Party leader Chee Soon Juan's challenge to the PAP's Matthias Yao.

Mr Yao won with 65.1 per cent of the vote, and bettered that performance in the next two elections.

In 2001 and 2006, Mr Yao took 83.7 per cent of the vote against Democratic Progressive Party's Tan Soo Phuan and 68.5 per cent against Singapore Democratic Alliance's Sin Kek Tong respectively.

Ward demographics may have worked in its favour. It has a higher than average proportion of public rental residents and senior citizens, two groups traditionally seen as PAP supporters.

Madam Lee Soon Ying, 76, is one long-time PAP voter. The retiree finds Ms Tin "very good, very helpful". She says: "I didn't like the opposition (in 2011) because it felt like they did not really care about us."

Updated figures are not available, but in 2010, only 9.3 per cent of MacPherson residents lived in private housing. And 61.8 per cent lived in three-room or smaller HDB flats, much higher than the islandwide proportion of about a quarter.

Granted, MacPherson's boundaries have changed since 2006 to include private housing around Jalan Anggerek and Jalan Belangkas.

Private housing residents are seen as more open to the idea of voting for the opposition. Landed property resident Ryan Cheong, 24, declines to reveal any party preference but says he will vote for whoever seems able to "listen to residents and make the necessary changes".

However, the new boundaries also take in HDB blocks around Balam Road, north of Circuit Road.

In any case, these were already the internal boundaries in 2011.

One complication for opposition hopefuls is that both the Workers' Party and NSP have stated their intention to contest MacPherson, though WP chief Low Thia Khiang said the WP would "avoid three-cornered fights as far as possible".

If the WP ventures into MacPherson, where it has not stood since 1972, it will find some supporters, like retiree Tham Yoke Guang, 76. "If the WP come here, I will welcome them. They're my favourite," says Mr Tham, who went to Punggol East during its 2013 by-election to attend the WP rallies.

The WP's cachet as the most successful opposition party could help in a three-cornered fight, as it may interest opposition-friendly voters who may not vote for the NSP.

Says university student Poh Jun Jie, 22: "I don't think it's good if we have so many PAP members in Parliament, so I'm likely to vote for the opposition, but it depends on the party. WP has more resources, even though they have some issues in (AHPETC). If they come here, I might vote for them."

Ms Tin says the branch is "prepared for different scenarios".

Then there is Ms Tin's upcoming temporary absence - she is due to give birth this week. But the PAP's Ms Lim says: "We have all worked out our plans for when she's away."

Ms Tin confirms it will be "business as usual" while she is away, and expects to be back in action after the traditional month-long confinement period for new mothers.

Her team is in place and communication channels have been set up, she says. "I am grateful to have a great team... I am confident I will be able to cope with the demands of GE and as a mother of a newborn."


Unlike the opposition candidates who have yet to be announced, Ms Tin is a familiar face. This election will be the culmination of her last four years on the ground, after a bruising 2011 campaign where netizens questioned her maturity as the PAP's youngest candidate, at 27.

There is little sign that anyone else might be fielded, with Marine Parade GRC's anchor minister Tan Chuan-Jin expressing support for Ms Tin's solo contest. "Although it's an (SMC), we will continue to work closely with Pei Ling. She's been working hard here," he said.

MacPherson Citizens' Consultative Committee chairman Goh Khon Chong notes Ms Tin's dedication - she is still attending Meet-the-People sessions at her advanced stage of pregnancy.

As MP, she has introduced initiatives such as a fund to help elderly citizens with healthcare costs, a milk powder scheme for low-income families and learning activities for children with limited access to enrichment courses.

Residents say she is particularly popular with the older set. Says economics undergraduate Cheryl Law, 23: "She's quite active in visiting the old folks around here. My grandma thinks she's quite nice."

Nor does it seem that opposition parties will have an easy local hook for their campaign.

Municipal issues seem unlikely to feature, with even opposition supporters unable to name any.

Instead, residents note improvements: "We've been having quite a lot of upgrading projects here recently," says a 48-year-old semi-retired businessman who wants to be known only as Mr Han.

Retiree Koh Thong Guan, 60, appreciates new eldercare centres where he can drop by, while technician Salim Hussein, 48, points out a new playground and covered walkways, adding: "The atmosphere and ambience have improved."

The fight in MacPherson will be partly a referendum on how far Ms Tin has come since 2011. Says political watcher Eugene Tan: "It's a fantastic opportunity for her, and if she wins, it will be hard for the critics to continue with their attacks."


Jalan Besar GRC: Historic area an electoral hot spot
New boundaries require PAP to reshuffle MPs in the area, which WP is keen to contest
By Toh Yong Chuan and Rachel Au-Yong, The Sunday Times, 2 Aug 2015

The boundaries report has thrown up an unusual problem for 102,454 voters who will find themselves in the revived Jalan Besar GRC at the next election.

That is because the new four-member group representation constituency will encompass the wards of five MPs. These are Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim's Kolam Ayer ward, Mayor Denise Phua's Kampong Glam and Mr Edwin Tong's Jalan Besar - all in the current Moulmein-Kallang GRC; as well as Senior Minister of State (Prime Minister's Office) Heng Chee How's single-seat Whampoa ward, and Dr Lily Neo's Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng ward, which is now part of Tanjong Pagar GRC.

Moulmein-Kallang GRC's remaining ward is that of Moulmein, whose MP is Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew. Most of the ward has been drawn into neighbouring Tanjong Pagar GRC, and parts have been absorbed into the Holland-Bukit Timah and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRCs. Mr Lui has not said where he will contest next, or if he will even be on any other GRC slate.

The GRC's make-up could be further complicated if a new face is introduced into the mix.

But MPs may be reluctant to move as they relish the area's patriotic significance. One of the oldest names on Singapore's electoral map, the new Jalan Besar GRC contains some physical cornerstones underpinning Singapore's achievement of First World status today.

Found within its boundaries are the seat of legislative power (Parliament House), the nerve centre of commerce and finance (the Central Business District), and where the laws of the land are enforced (the High, State and Family courts).

It is rich with history. Singapore's oldest places of worship, the Padang and the mouth of Singapore River are all within the constituency. But it is also a place of extremes - Geylang brothels and backlane drug peddlers can be found in the GRC, as are the glitzy Marina Bay Sands integrated resort and iconic Gardens by the Bay. The GRC also houses some of Singapore's poorest in its high concentration of Housing Board rental flats.

First created in the 1959 Legislative Assembly election, Jalan Besar became a three-member GRC, comprising the wards of Jalan Besar, Kolam Ayer and Geylang West, in the 1988 General Election.

It expanded gradually, and by the 2001 General Election, it was a five-member constituency that also included areas in Whampoa, Kallang and Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng.

It disappeared in the 2011 General Election when Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng was hived off to Tanjong Pagar GRC and Whampoa became a single ward. What remained became the four-member Moulmein-Kallang GRC. But it returned to the electoral map two weeks ago, more or less reverting to its 2011 boundaries.

Mr Vincent Chua, secretary of the People's Action Party (PAP) Kolam Ayer branch, notes in something of an understatement: "Many parties have contested here over the years." The 65-year-old PAP veteran has helped out in every election in the GRC since 1988.

The Workers' Party (WP) - whose Syed Alwi Road headquarters is in the ward - said it will contest the GRC at the next polls.

But Jalan Besar GRC has not always been a traditional WP stomping ground. It is regarded as a PAP stronghold, and the party has fended off challenges from the WP, Singapore Democratic Party and Singapore Democratic Alliance since 1988 - and had a walkover in 1991.

The PAP has consistently won more than 60 per cent of the vote there. But it saw its toughest battle in 2011 when what was regarded as a weak WP team, comprising businessman Mohammed Rahizan Yaacob, social worker Frieda Chan, polytechnic lecturer L. Somasundaram and senior research officer Toh Hong Boon, managed to secure 41.4 per cent of the vote in its iteration as Moulmein-Kallang GRC.

The PAP's vote was reduced to just 58.6 per cent - down sharply from 69.3 per cent in 2006 when it was also known as Jalan Besar GRC, and its lowest there since the GRC was formed in 1988.


A poll of 50 residents in different parts of the GRC last week found that there was no single national issue topping their lists of worries.

While residents were affected by the large-scale MRT breakdown last month, the impact appeared to have been lessened by the constituency's centralised location.

Sales promoter Lee See Ai, 56, who lives in St George's Road, took three hours to get home from Jurong instead of the normal 45 minutes. "I took a direct bus home. It wasn't very inconvenient compared to others."

But when major public transport problems occur, party and grassroots activists in Moulmein-Kallang GRC worry about their potential impact - on Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, whom they describe as a good and decent man; and on how this could affect the vote come election time. That his ward has been carved up brought sighs of relief from some as it could diminish transport-related anger in the GRC as a whole.

In terms of local issues, there is also no lack of amenities or public transport options.

According to retiree Tan Kok Wah, 69: "Transport links are good and everything is convenient. There are not many issues here."

Still, some worry about the maintenance of ageing estates.

Technical officer Goh Ker Siong, 50, says: "I feel that the estate is very old. I hope it can be redeveloped soon but, until now, there has been no news of it."

Retiree Annie Chua, 65, who lives in Boon Keng Road, says: "The lift sometimes does break down, but it is not very frequent, so it is pretty tolerable."

Town council chairman Edwin Tong, a first-term MP, says there has been no let-up in estate upgrading: "All the promised estate works and upgrading since the last GE have been completed."

If there are any hot spots in the GRC, these are Little India and Geylang. The 2013 Little India riot took place at the side of Serangoon Road that will now come under Tanjong Pagar GRC. Every Sunday, large numbers of workers from India and Bangladesh continue to congregate there. And, over in Geylang, residents of the HDB flats at Lorong 3, for instance, are irked by foreign workers who live in dormitories in the area, as well as by the noise and smell from local eateries.

Mr Tong, who oversees the area, says foreign worker dormitories can pose problems. "There are a number in that tight area, coupled with some light industrial works. This area is adjacent to the two HDB blocks (where there are) illegal parking, overcrowding, littering and noise." He has lobbied the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which regulates land use, and other government bodies to "take a more holistic approach" to solving the problems.

Dr Yaacob, meanwhile, says one problem for MPs is that of creating a sense of identity for a large GRC intersected by major roads and highways. He and his colleagues hold multiple Meet-the-People sessions and events across the various wards to ensure that every resident has a chance to meet his adviser, the minister says.

Another challenge is that some areas have large concentrations of Singapore's poorest residents. Dr Neo has 22 blocks of rental flats under her charge, while Ms Phua has a cluster of nine blocks in the North Bridge Road area.


However, rather than posing a problem for the PAP, party insiders say that such areas are PAP strongholds. The areas under Dr Neo and Ms Phua polled about 70 per cent of votes in the 2006 and 2011 elections respectively, higher than the national average of 66.6 per cent and 60.1 per cent, according to party sources.

"The lowest-income households in the country have always received more transfers in Budgets and government policies to ensure they are not left behind," Ms Phua informs Insight.

Both she and Dr Neo pioneered new services for their residents.

Ms Phua created a senior services hub housing an activity centre, a rehabilitation centre and a group home within a block of rental flats.

Besides setting up four senior activity centres since starting as an MP in 1997, Dr Neo last year launched an after-school programme for low-income families in Jalan Kukoh called Catch Plus. .

With three full-time employees on the roster, Dr Neo and her grassroots leaders raise their own funds for the programme, which costs between $20,000 and $30,000 a month. Dr Neo explains: "The profile of my rental block residents has changed over the years. It's not just elderly people. Half of them are younger families. We wanted to make sure that the children get a leg up, too."

But she downplays the idea that rental blocks are PAP strongholds: "Because people who live in rental blocks are less privileged, sometimes they get angry. At times, we can't give them what they ask for because their requirements are beyond us. But you still have to try to make their lives better, in whatever small way you can."

Still, given the popularity of Ms Phua and Dr Neo, party insiders say both are likely to remain in the GRC. So, too, is Dr Yaacob, who is also the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.

Over in Whampoa, Mr Heng has been the area's MP since 2001, when it was part of Jalan Besar GRC, and in 2011, when it was a single ward. He garnered a respectable 66.1 per cent of votes in 2011, higher than the PAP's national vote share.

Dr Yaacob, who is the anchor minister in the existing GRC, would not be drawn into commenting on the final line-up of MPs. But several party sources say Mr Tong is to be moved to Marine Parade GRC. The official announcement is expected as early as today.

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