Friday, 21 August 2015

GE2015, Gearing up for battle: A look at four constituencies that saw the PAP's closest win in 2011

As the General Election draws closer, Insight takes a look at four constituencies that saw the PAP's closest wins in 2011
By Walter Sim, The Sunday Times, 16 Aug 2015

They are opposition members who squeezed into Parliament as Non-Constituency MPs, by way of losing by the slimmest margins at the 2011 General Election.

This year, Mr Gerald Giam and Mr Yee Jenn Jong of the Workers' Party (WP) and Mrs Lina Chiam of the Singapore People's Party (SPP) are lining up again for another shot at endorsement via the ballot box.

This week, Insight looks at the hot spots they contested, which are set to sizzle again.

Mr Giam is returning to East Coast GRC, hoping to better his party's 45.2 per cent result. Then a five-MP constituency, it will become a four-MP one now, with Fengshan carved out as a single seat.

Major infrastructural works there have led MP Lee Yi Shyan to quip that the opposition might need a guided tour for their "once every five years" visit.

Or, will East Coast GRC voters be won over by the WP team, which itself has undergone a facelift? Mr Giam is the only remaining member of the 2011 WP team that was fielded there.

Meanwhile, Marine Parade GRC has absorbed the Joo Chiat single seat, where WP's Mr Yee, casting himself as local-boy-made-good, lost by a mere 388 votes. This, coupled with the fact that the GRC has lost MacPherson, which polled second-highest out of the five wards, means the boundary shifts could well hurt the PAP, which eked out just 56.6 per cent of the votes in 2011.

In Potong Pasir SMC, the PAP won by a wafer-thin 114 votes in 2011, ending a run of 27 years of opposition reign. It had been held by opposition veteran Chiam See Tong.

His wife, Lina, contested it when he went to join the battle for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC instead. Will Mrs Chiam manage to reverse the result this time round?

And in neighbouring Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, where the PAP won 56.9 per cent of the vote, a PAP team with three new faces will go up against a joint team from the SPP and Democratic Progressive Party.

Will the national mood, perceived to be less hostile than in 2011, be enough to propel the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) to larger margins of victory?

Or will the opposition make further inroads into Parliament on the back of the unprecedented breakthrough in 2011, when the WP won Aljunied GRC?

Come Polling Day, all eyes will be on these four hot spots, which look primed for a photo finish.

PAP, WP set for a tantalising rematch in East Coast GRC
PAP won by the narrowest margin for a GRC in 2011. Fengshan ward has been sliced off this time but the battle is not expected to be any easier
By Wong Siew Ying, The Sunday Times, 16 Aug 2015

The red faces are gone, replaced by smiles. Four years after the People's Action Party won narrowly in East Coast GRC, MP Lee Yi Shyan is sufficiently proud of upgrading in his Kampong Chai Chee ward to make a quip about the opposition.

In a TV interview, a relaxed Mr Lee, 53, who is Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development, said: "Someone was joking to me that because we have undergone so many changes in Bedok Town Centre, some of (the opposition candidates) who come here once every five years might get lost, so we might need to provide free tour guide services to show them around."

It was quite a change in tone from 2011, when the PAP team, led by then labour chief Lim Swee Say, garnered 54.8 per cent of the votes against a line-up from the Workers' Party (WP). The result was a whole nine percentage points down from 2006. It was the narrowest win for a GRC for the ruling party.

For the WP, it was something to crow about. And as one of the best-performing losers in that election, Mr Gerald Giam from its losing team snatched a seat in Parliament as a Non-Constituency MP (NCMP).

Set against that backdrop, and with the WP contesting it again, this would be shaping up as a tantalising rematch. But much has changed in the last four years, including the battleground itself - East Coast GRC will become a four-member GRC, instead of five previously.

Fengshan, currently a ward under MP Raymond Lim, 56, has been spun off as a single-member constituency (SMC)

And then there is the much-vaunted revitalisation of ageing Bedok Town in Mr Lee's ward. The 37-year-old town has been transformed, with the opening of a new hawker centre and air-conditioned bus interchange that is connected to Bedok Mall and a condominium project.

Indeed, since the lacklustre showing at GE 2011, East Coast GRC MPs tell Insight they have tried to better engage residents by holding more dialogue sessions, having more frequent house visits or changing the approach to constituency work.

In Siglap, for example, where 70 per cent of the population live in private estates, its MP, Dr Maliki Osman, 50, has compiled a "community directory" over the last four years - a dossier on residents in every household in his ward.

The data is collected by grassroots volunteers with residents' permission during house visits, and it has been helpful in boosting community programmes.

Dr Maliki, who is Minister of State for the National Development and Defence ministries, says: "I used to run a once-a-month legal clinic to give legal advice to residents. Today, I can run it once a week because in the directory, I have found many lawyers. So I reached out to the lawyers and asked them if they can come forward and help."

Dr Maliki and Minister Lim, 61, are both serving their first term as MPs in East Coast GRC, having been deployed from other constituencies - Sembawang GRC and Holland-Bukit Timah GRC respectively - for GE 2011.

To deepen engagement with residents at Bedok, Minister Lim conducts chit-chat sessions to discuss topical issues, including healthcare policies. He has done 120 of them since July 2013; this works out to just over one a week.

As for national issues, the roll-out of healthcare schemes like MediShield Life, and the Pioneer Generation (PG) Package could woo older voters. Speaking in Mandarin, Mr Lee Chwee Chuan, 64, who left his job to care for his sick wife who is a beneficiary of the PG package, says: "The Government provides support for the elderly like the PG card; now older folks will support (Prime Minister) Lee Hsien Loong."

Over in Changi-Simei, the newly renovated Eastpoint Mall has reopened, and MP Jessica Tan, 49, is working to fix a common gripe among residents - the lack of a bank branch in the estate.

Having spoken to residents in Kampong Chai Chee, Mr Lee feels that sentiment on the ground has improved as many issues that voters were unhappy about in the last election, such as rising home prices, have been addressed by the Government in the last few years.

Small business owner Kendrick Khoo, 44, agrees: "The ruling Government has done a good job governing the country; I don't think we want to risk that."

Mrs S. Lim, 39, a housewife, echoes this, saying: "You need a certain calibre to run in elections, you need a good track record. While they (the opposition) have to be given a chance to build a track record, it's too big a gamble (for us) to take."

Mrs Julie Tang, 50, who is in sales management, says she will vote for the PAP because of the hard work and legacy of Singapore's founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March this year.


With Fengshan hived off, political watchers reckon this could potentially help the PAP's team in East Coast GRC improve on its vote share as it had been seen by some as the weakest ward in GE 2011.

It was the seat of Mr Lim who, at the time, held the controversial portfolio of transport, with its attendant issues of disgruntlement over train breakdowns. However, Dr Maliki, whose East Coast GRC ward is Siglap, dismisses talk that the election battle will be easier now that Fengshan has been decoupled. He tells Insight: "We never saw Fengshan as a weak link as other people seem to be saying - Fengshan is actually as strong as any one of us."

He adds: "We work as a team but, at the same time, each of us must know our ground strongly... Whether Fengshan was out or not, or whether it was Changi-Simei that was carved out or Kampong Chai Chee, I don't think the impact will be that significant."

Apart from losing Fengshan, the boundaries of East Coast GRC remain largely intact, and it will be the smallest of the four-member GRCs with 99,015 electors.

The PAP slate is expected to be helmed once again by Mr Lim, who took over as Manpower Minister in May this year. He revealed earlier this month that the Prime Minister had given the nod to his request to stand in East Coast GRC again.

Observers do not anticipate a big shake-up in the PAP's team for the new East Coast GRC, which currently includes Mr Lim, two other political office-holders in Mr Lee and Dr Maliki, and Ms Tan, chairman of the East Coast Town Council.


But the same cannot be said of their opponents from the WP team, which has since lost three members - Mr Eric Tan, Ms Glenda Han and Mr Mohamed Fazli Talip - who quit the party after the last election.

Another member of the WP's old five-member team for East Coast, Mr Png Eng Huat, contested and won the Hougang SMC by-election in 2012, where he remains an MP today.

That leaves Mr Giam, who is likely to partner three new candidates. They could be chosen from four possibilities: National University of Singapore associate professor and sociologist Danial Goh, 42; law firm partner Dennis Tan, 44; research and consultancy firm chief executive Leon Perera, 44; and librarian Mohamed Fairoz Shariff, 36.

The WP will put out a much-changed team for East Coast GRC, but its composition will depend on the party's ambition and objectives, apart from trying to retain the seven Parliament seats it currently holds.

Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan tells Insight: "Will the WP seek to win another GRC, or will they seek a modest goal of winning one or two more SMCs, especially Fengshan SMC? If it's the latter, then we are unlikely to see an 'A' team at East Coast GRC."

Still, given the close contest in the last round, the WP could field what is thought to be its second-best team for East Coast, after Aljunied GRC, which it wrested from the PAP in GE 2011.

Will the WP pull out the big guns by deploying one of the MPs from Aljunied GRC, such as its chairman Sylvia Lim, 50, to spearhead the East Coast team?

Or will she go to Fengshan SMC instead, as her first-ever Instagram post - a photo of her eating at Fengshan food centre - on Wednesday seemed to tease observers?

The WP will keep everyone guessing as party chief Low Thia Khiang told reporters on Wednesday that it would not state where its candidates will be fielded until Nomination Day.

Still, whether the candidates are old hands or newbies, the WP brand will carry some weight. SMU's Mr Tan says: "The WP has a reputational cachet that could see voters giving a new WP slate close consideration."

Meanwhile, the incumbent East Coast MPs are not losing sleep over who their potential opponents might be. Ms Tan, says: "Whatever the opposition does, of course we continue to stay aware of it. But for us, if our centre is not our residents and we are just worried about our opponents, then we have got the wrong focus."

How it plays out on polling day is anyone's guess, with some residents saying they are still undecided about which party to vote for, while others, like mechanic Muhammad Ali Kahn, 48, have set their minds on the opposition. He says: "I voted for WP last time to make (PAP) sweat a little, and look, they did. This time, I will do so again."

The PAP team is bracing itself for a keen contest. But there's no room for complacency. "If you take it for granted, that's when that is yours to lose," says Ms Tan.

Additional reporting: Rachel Chang, Jasmine Osada, Marcus Lim​

Will PAP shore up Marine Parade?
The ruling party's winning margin was one of the slimmest, and now it faces a Workers' Party upbeat about Joo Chiat's inclusion into the GRC
By Walter Sim and Janice Heng, The Sunday Times, 16 Aug 2015

It was the scene of a shock result in the last general election - Marine Parade GRC.

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP), fielding a team led by no less than then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, squeaked in against an opposition party that had never even won in an election, the National Solidarity Party (NSP).

Just one week later, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh stepped down from the Cabinet.

Four years - and some boundary shifts - later, can the PAP team in Marine Parade GRC better its 56.6 per cent vote share, the party's second-lowest winning percentage in a group representation constituency in 2011?

The team, now anchored by Minister for Social and Family Development (MSF) Tan Chuan-Jin, largely remains intact from the last polls. Mr Goh - who has been MP for the area for about 40 years - has also indicated he will run.

But could the redrawn boundaries tip the scales in the opposition's favour? MacPherson, which polled second-highest out of five Marine Parade wards last time, will now be a single seat.

Meanwhile, the contentious Joo Chiat single seat, where the Workers' Party (WP) lost by just 388 votes, has been absorbed into the GRC.

Mr Tan tells Insight that his team's focus remains the same - helping residents and building community ties. He says: "In many ways, there's no particular strategy. Are we doing anything different? No. The work goes on, regardless of who comes."

This time, his team faces a new contender: the WP. The NSP has agreed not to contest in the interests of "opposition unity".

WP chief Low Thia Khiang says the party will contest Marine Parade given its absorption of Joo Chiat, so as not to "disappoint voters in Joo Chiat who have supported us at the last election".

Its candidate was businessman Yee Jenn Jong, 50, who cast himself as a local-boy-made-good. He has been seen in recent weeks during walkabouts in the GRC.

Mr Yee's potential appeal has not gone unnoticed.

His rival in the 2011 polls, the PAP's Mr Charles Chong, tells Insight: "He grew up in that area. His parents had many friends, people who helped him with the election. Some residents told me it's hard to say no to him. He had home-ground advantage."

Indeed, Mr Goh, 74, said in a jibe on Facebook last month: "My mother used to bring me to visit her mother at Frankel Estate when I was a boy... You can say I knew Frankel Estate, a part of Joo Chiat, before the local boy was born."


Contributing to the close fight in 2011 was the charisma of NSP's youthful star-catch Nicole Seah, in contrast to the public hostility aimed at PAP new face Tin Pei Ling.

Mr Goh said in the aftermath of 2011: "My team and I have heard the voices of all voters clearly, and we will work with you on all the issues raised." One step he took was to get closer to the ground. After stepping down from the Cabinet, Mr Goh began visiting other wards and hosting his own Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS) regularly.

Several community schemes have also been launched, with infrastructure works such as the Housing Board's Home Improvement Programme for old flats.

In his Kembangan-Chai Chee ward, for example, Mr Tan has started a programme that tutors and mentors children from low- income families; another project helps rental flat residents avoid bedbug infestations through regular pest control, flat cleaning and refurnishing.

While some of the 100 residents polled by Insight note these efforts, many say municipal issues generally do not affect their votes.

Taking the eagle-eye view is Geylang Serai resident Prem Kumar Nair, a 56-year-old material planner, who says: "There are many issues crucial to the election. It's never-ending. Cost of living is high, of course, but you've got to work hard and spend frugally. Things won't change."


Think of Marine Parade, and images of Housing Board flats opposite East Coast Park that enjoy the sea breeze come to mind.

But the GRC stretches about 15km inland to Braddell Heights near Serangoon - a former single seat that was absorbed in 1997 after the PAP got 52.3 per cent of the vote in 1991.

Some residents feel little connection to the rest of the GRC.

It borders former opposition ward Potong Pasir and current WP-held Aljunied GRC, and Braddell Heights is seen by some as an opposition gateway.

"This area is likely to support WP," a resident who wants to be known only as Mr Lim tells Insight as he enjoys a drink with friends from WP stronghold, Aljunied GRC. Adds the 60-year-old semi-retiree: "They keep expanding their territory (out from Hougang)."

The ward also has a large share of private housing - such residents are generally more open to voting for the opposition.

While some credit PAP incumbent Seah Kian Peng with improvements such as new street lights and pavements, half of the dozen private housing residents polled in Braddell Heights said they were undecided, or considering the opposition. But none has seen any opposition parties walking the ground.

Adding to the mix is the Joo Chiat ward, which comprises virtually only private housing. Residents said a sore point in 2011 was the PAP being seen to have parachuted in veteran MP Charles Chong at the last minute to replace retiring incumbent Chan Soo Sen.

Mr Chong, who was then MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, was introduced as Mr Chan's replacement only 41 days before the 2011 polls.

Since his narrow win, he has worked hard to address both municipal and national gripes, although how this will pay off may be moot as he is expected to contest WP-held Punggol East SMC.

His likely replacement, Mr Edwin Tong, an MP in the dissolved Moulmein-Kallang GRC, has started walking the ground but he may still be an unfamiliar face.

Mr Chong notes: "A high percentage of the vote in Joo Chiat is the pioneer generation. Cost of living, healthcare costs, have a big impact. And if you look at government programmes, growth dividends, GST rebates and so on, those in private housing get nothing. This was a source of unhappiness."

Resident Mona Chen, a banker in her mid-30s, was impressed by how Mr Chong handled her complaint about construction noise near her home. She "gave the WP a chance" in 2011, but says she is likely to vote for the PAP this time, having gained confidence after Mr Chong's work.

Lawyer Rachel Tan, 25, who lives in Joo Chiat, says she is inclined to vote for PAP because "they have done a good job taking care of Marine Parade", citing renovations and improvements like hawker centre and park upgrading.

The WP has its stalwarts, too. Housewife Toh Sin Ai, 52, intends to vote for them again - she feels private home residents like herself have been neglected by the PAP.

But Mr Tan points out: "Now that Joo Chiat is part of Marine Parade GRC, what we will bring to bear is the weight of myself and (Mr Goh). We will certainly look at some of the concerns that they have and address them as best as we can."

For some, the party's familiarity matters most. Says former contractor Toh Soo Kong, 70, who has lived in Joo Chiat for more than 50 years: "I have seen MPs come and go, and most are not memorable. What is memorable is the PAP. Their stability will always lead us."


The one constant in Marine Parade GRC, through the elections since 1976, is Mr Goh's looming, patriarchal presence.

Associate Professor Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University, who lives in Marine Parade GRC, tells Insight that Mr Goh's indication that he will stay on is a "tremendous boost" for the team.

"As a voter, I've observed that ESM Goh has led the PAP's team in winning back voters. His candidacy will provide significant heft, experience, and tactical nous for the PAP's campaign," says Prof Tan, a former Nominated MP.

Political scientist Derek da Cunha predicts a "fairly close fight", saying: "Some segment of voters do not have anything against Mr Goh or his colleagues; it's just that they like WP more. When added to the protest vote against the PAP, (it) would be sufficient for the WP to get to the finish line."

Some residents Insight spoke to, like director of IT Samuel Chia, 42, who lives in Braddell Heights, believes the WP's slate must include a heavyweight for it to stand a chance in toppling the incumbents, adding his vote will depend on the final candidate slates. Of 100 residents Insight spoke to, a fifth are still undecided.

Surprisingly, while Mr Goh has some personal fans among those polled by Insight, most say his presence is not a deciding factor.

Section manager Goh Jin Kiat, 43, who lives in a Housing Board flat in Haig Road, notes: "Mr Goh doesn't run this estate and I've never seen him. He is not the main point of us making the decision."

Meanwhile, MSF Minister Tan's interactions with netizens on social media have elevated his presence. Marketing manager Andrew Zhan, 29, who lives in Mr Tan's Kembangan-Chai Chee ward but has never met his MP, says: "He personally has used social media to reach out and share his views. As such, I can feel his presence and that bolsters my confidence in his ability to be a good minister and MP."

Mr Tan makes at least one post on Facebook a day on average, and is the third-most "liked" Cabinet minister on the platform .

He is also approachable in person, say residents like security screening officer Tamil Selvam. The 59-year-old says Mr Tan's ministerial portfolio is irrelevant to his vote, and what matters more is that he is "very capable and very down-to-earth".

Asked if there is a fear that the PAP might lose Marine Parade GRC, Mr Tan says: "It's not a fear. But is it possible? Why not?

"It's really for residents to decide, from the effort we've put in.

"Leadership is about trust, and although you may not agree with some of our policies, do you trust us, to be prepared to vote and support us to look after you and your family?"

Additional reporting by Chuan Limin, Rachel Chang and Jasmine Osada

Battle for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC
PAP's effort to improve the lot of the kopitiam crowd set to bear fruit despite the 'Chiam factor', finds Charissa Yong
The Sunday Times, 16 Aug 2015

It was not the usual setting for an important People's Action Party (PAP) announcement.

These usually take place in the party's functional headquarters smack in the middle of Bedok HDB estate. Instead, last Wednesday's introduction of candidates to contest Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC took place next door, in a hot and noisy open- air coffee shop, as rain dripped off the awnings outside.

Candidates and officials crammed around plastic red tables, their microphones perched where bowls of food would normally sit.

The media sat huddled around them, excited but also perturbed - would their recorders pick up what was said, amid the background clink of plates, slurping of Milo, and murmur of morning-hour patrons?

As reporters leant forward, new faces Mr Chee Hong Tat, 41; Mr Chong Kee Hiong, 49; and Mr Saktiandi Supaat, 41, were introduced. The anchor minister, Dr Ng Eng Hen, the Minister for Defence, and Mrs Josephine Teo, 47, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Finance, are the only current members staying on, as the others in the five-member team are retiring.

Outside, curious passers-by stopped in mid-step, gazing open- mouthed at the unusual sight.

Earlier, residents had enjoyed the sight of the GRC's anchor minister, Dr Ng, 56, being greeted by shopkeepers who recognised him. Some early birds had even seen one miffed resident give the reporters, activists and officials a piece of his mind as the group moved towards the coffee shop at Block 177, Toa Payoh Central. The PAP should announce the new line-up of candidates to residents before telling the media, he said.

The informal kopitiam setting turned out to be the first of what is shaping up to be a new format for the PAP to announce its line-ups. On Friday, it announced its Sembawang slate in a nursing home.

For the team at Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, the neighbourhood setting was important, sending a signal that a key election plank is what has been done to improve the lives of heartlanders.

This is after the PAP's unspectacular 56.9 per cent win there in the 2011 General Election, below its national average of 60 per cent.

It was up against the Singapore People's Party (SPP), led by veteran Chiam See Tong. The secretary-general had left his next-door stronghold of Potong Pasir for the contest. Still, the result was not the nailbiting finish some expected.

This time, the SPP is back, but has joined forces with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) with plans to field a joint team. The DPP is now led by former civil servant Benjamin Pwee, who contested GE 2011 under the SPP banner but then left because of differences over leadership style and direction. He says the alliance will use the SPP name as it has stronger brand recognition in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.


The electoral battle is likely to be an uphill one for the weakened SPP and the relatively unknown DPP, given the level of satisfaction residents have with their estate, going by the 100 of them Insight spoke to.

The group representation constituency has a broad range of voters across income levels, living in both public and private property.

After the PAP's minor fright there in 2011 - the first time the GRC had been contested since being formed in 1997 - it set about reconnecting with the ground and sprucing up the neighbourhoods.

Estate improvement programmes include installing about 140 fitness corners for the elderly, starting on a plan to change almost all common corridor bulbs to brighter energy-saving ones by next year, and redecorating and repainting Housing Board estates.

Private tutor Cindy Yee, 58, who lives in a four-room flat, says: "Toa Payoh is an old estate, but the rejuvenation has been very successful. The Government has built many new flats here in the last 10 years, and now in the mornings and evenings I see many more young professionals, compared to the past."

The GRC also picks up 7,000 new voters in the Balestier area of the phased-out Moulmein-Kallang GRC, whose ward has been redrawn into Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC. In their first home visits to residents there last week, Dr Ng and his fellow MPs repeatedly told residents: "We will take care of you."

But some GRC residents don't feel cared for. Hinting at slight unhappiness in private estates, Marymount resident Sitaraman Mani, 58, a banker, says: "Put simply, the PAP doesn't care about the landed houses, they care for the HDB estates, because that's where their vote bank is. Our drainage system has not been upgraded for 26 years. And we pay the highest conservancy fees, waste removal fees, property tax and income tax."

But with few municipal issues, residents are likely to focus on national ones. And the PAP has made policy shifts on areas people were unhappy about, moving to tighten the inflow of foreign labour, ramping up the supply of public flats for young couples and improving public transport.

The PAP has also plugged away at being less "out of touch" on bread-and-butter issues, a charge levelled at it during the last election. Designer Kim Ng, 40, who sat at the same coffee shop as the PAP last Wednesday and observed the press conference, said: "It looks like they're getting closer to residents."

Some remain sceptical, but others like Bishan North resident R.K. Raju, 55, have been won over.

"During the last election I put in a protest vote because everything was so expensive, COE (certificate of entitlement) is high, housing prices are high," says the pest control business owner, who foresees cost of living issues to continue to be a hot topic for the coming poll.

"But I know the Government is doing its best, so I'll vote for the PAP this time."


Most prominent of the PAP team retiring is former deputy prime minister and home affairs minister Wong Kan Seng, who has served the Bishan East ward since 1997.

His successor is Mr Chong, chief executive of OUE Hospitality Trust, who began learning the political ropes from Mr Wong two years ago. He has been a regular fixture at Meet-the-People Sessions, grassroots events and house visits.

In Toa Payoh East, three-term MP Zainudin Nordin will be replaced by Mr Saktiandi, the Maybank foreign exchange research head, who was described by Dr Ng as a potential PAP candidate last April.

Both Mr Chong and Mr Saktiandi began volunteering in the GRC over two years ago as part of the PAP strategy of giving residents a chance to get to know them early.

Mr Chong chaired the committee organising Bishan East's pioneer generation tribute dinner for over 4,000 residents, and the committee overseeing the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme being carried out in Bishan East.

As for Mr Saktiandi, he has been a volunteer explaining new national healthcare programmes to seniors, and helped Mr Zainudin in his Meet-the-People Sessions as well.

Last to emerge was former senior public servant, Mr Chee, 41, who began shadowing lawyer Hri Kumar Nair at grassroots events in Thomson-Toa Payoh last month.

As for the opposition camp, their star candidate is surely 80-year-old Mr Chiam.

Residents like housewife Pamela Lee have residual affection for the man who was Singapore's longest- serving opposition MP until 2011.

"I really like Mr Chiam. I think he is a true gentleman because of the way he engages in politics," says Ms Lee, 38.

But whether the "Chiam factor" translates into votes for the SPP may depend on the quality of his teammates. Four potential candidates for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC have been announced by the DPP so far.

They are: Mr Pwee, businessman and DPP chairman, Mohamad Hamim Aliyas, 50, businessman, Chia Ser Lin, 46, who runs a food and beverage chain in China, and start-up company vice-president Nadine Yap, 46.

Freelance tourist coordinator Annie Pang, 58, says: "Chiam is still very popular. But how I vote depends on who is the opposition. I voted Chiam the last time, but I think he is too old now."

For its second fight, the GRC is unlikely to see an electoral swing, given the political climate now.

Indeed, the gap between PAP and opposition might even widen.

Additional reporting by Lim Yan Liang and Nigel Choo

In Potong Pasir, it's upgrading v kampung spirit
By Lim Yan Liang, The Sunday Times, 16 Aug 2015

The distinctive slope-roofed HDB blocks and small provision shops that give the former opposition bastion of Potong Pasir its rustic charm are still there. But gone are the days when residents had to take a bus to Toa Payoh to shop at a FairPrice supermarket or visit a POSB branch.

These were brought in after PAP MP Sitoh Yih Pin won the last election, and figure prominently in the new annex to the town's community club that opened last year.

Mr Sitoh won Potong Pasir on his third try in 2011, when Singapore People's Party (SPP) chief Chiam See Tong left the ward he held since 1984 to contest neighbouring Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

Mr Sitoh wrested it from Mr Chiam's wife and SPP chairman Lina Chiam by a mere 114 votes. But he went to work, and now there are new lifts that stop at every floor, more pavilions, covered linkways and over 100 extra parking spaces.

For residents like property agent Margaret Rani, 58, the transformation extends into her four-room flat: ageing sewage pipes in her kitchen and bathroom are being replaced, as is the household's squat toilet for a sitting one.

A fortnight ago, Mr Sitoh also announced that eight blocks of flats in Potong Pasir Avenue 1 would now qualify for lift upgrading.

Nearly half of the 50 people Insight polled in Potong Pasir gave the thumbs-up to the changes.

"I used to take a bus to Kallang Bahru or Serangoon almost every other day for shopping at FairPrice, but now I go to Nex (mall) only every few weeks," says housewife Sivanati Thanisree, 38.

But many bemoan the erosion of Potong Pasir's kampung spirit. This, after all, is a town where some residents of ground-floor HDB flats have created small gardens, complete with trellises, benches and patio umbrellas - on public land.

One is Ms Susan Tang, 65, a church worker who lives in an executive maisonette unit at Block 124, Potong Pasir Avenue 1.

She says: "Under Mr Chiam, no one expected every problem to be solved. Now, people think no matter what problem they have, the PAP will take care of it."

A resident of 25 years who gave his name as Mr Ho notes that at the void deck of Block 107, Potong Pasir Avenue 1, which has for years been an informal gathering point for lo hei and year-end countdowns, police used to be "more reasonable" about noise. The 60-year-old retiree says: "Now, (they) threaten to disperse us."

There are also a handful of residents such as undergraduate Ben Goh, 22, who wants an MP who will press the Government on thorny issues of immigration, and competition in schools, and for jobs.

These are part of the "national issues" that Mr Chiam used to champion, says Mr Achary Raja, 45, owner of a limousine firm. He declares: "People want the PAP in power, but also the opposition in Parliament."

Indeed, while about a third of residents say they are likely to vote opposition, half opt for the incumbent. And analysts say it might be a safer seat for the PAP than the previously thin margin may suggest.

Another factor is the declaration by former National Solidarity Party secretary-general Tan Lam Siong that he will run as an independent. Three-cornered contests have historically benefited the ruling party.

Additional reporting by Choo Yun Ting and Goh Yan Han

What's at stake this jubilee GE
Results of next election could set country's course for next 50 years
By Lydia Lim, Associate Opinion Editor, The Sunday Times, 16 Aug 2015

It has been one week since the rousing National Day Parade at the Padang - the climax of this year's Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Singapore is into the first week of her next 50 years and, as is typical of this small nation in a hurry, people have moved on with their lives.

For political parties big and small, that means moving on to their next big project - the coming general election (GE), which looks set to take place as early as next month.

What do these polls have to do with Singapore's next 50 years? What is at stake not just for the parties contesting , but for everyone who calls this place home?

Elections can be fractious affairs and there are some, such as musician Jeremy Monteiro, who dread their impact on national unity. That is why, in a Facebook post dated Aug 4, he called for a temporary halt to campaigning during the National Day week, as otherwise it would be "like the whole family has gotten together for a big reunion and certain members of the family are trying to jockey for favour and power instead of putting aside all feuds and disagreements just so this can truly be a lovely family celebration".

But not everyone shares his dread of the hustings. Many young voters, for example, especially those casting ballots for the first time, are excited about exercising their right as citizens to select their representatives in Parliament.

Whichever side of the fence you are on, the fact is that elections are but means to an end, and that end must be a better Singapore, a brighter future for all who call this place home. Whether you speak to People's Action Party (PAP) or opposition politicians, they will tell you that is why they are in politics.

What will it take to build a better Singapore? I woke on Aug 10 to reflective posts on Facebook about how the first 50 years will be a hard act to follow.

Yes, in many ways, they will be and yet there is so much more that Singapore and Singaporeans can do, and be.

Reflecting on Singapore's past should give her citizens confidence in their future, precisely because so few countries in the world have pulled off what they, their parents and grandparents did. And, if Singaporeans did it once before, they can surely do it yet again.

In December 1965, just four months after a painful Separation from Malaysia, Mr Lee Kuan Yew spoke to Pasir Panjang residents and the title of his speech was "You can't keep a good people down". It is one of 33 speeches in a new Straits Times Press book, Vintage Lee, that will be out in bookstores at the end of this month.

"You know," Mr Lee said in that luncheon speech, "there's a great deal of strength and stamina in this place. It is the human beings - the skill, the versatility, the expertise, the drive, the relentless pursuit of success and performances - that have made this island what it is. And all those qualities are there unchanged. But now, with independence comes independence of action, opportunities to create the conditions for the eventual success of what we want: survival in South-east Asia, a very turbulent part of the world, as a separate and distinct people, not absorbed or swallowed up."

Today, as she marks 50 years of nationhood, Singapore not only has independence, but she also has wealth, a well-educated population and a good reputation abroad. What remains unchanged is a need for good, strong leaders to take the country forward.

But what makes for good political leadership today, in a post-GE 2011 political climate dubbed "the new normal"?

That is the question voters will provide the answer to when they cast their ballots this year.

Will they choose renewed PAP dominance that sweeps in on a tide of patriotism generated by the jubilee celebrations and lasting gratitude for Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March?

Or will they reinforce the opposition ranks in the belief that more balance in Parliament is good for the country?

The PAP is certainly hoping for the first but also well prepared for the second.

That is clear from two ministers' responses this week as they introduced a new line-up of candidates for their constituencies.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said this election is about the team of Cabinet ministers that will lead Singapore well beyond the next five to 10 years.

While the PAP has always seen it as its responsibility to build this team, it is also "our collective desire", he said, referring to Singaporeans' wish for a strong leadership team for the future.

"This is one of the things that has kept Singapore stable and strong - a team which has got stability... integrity, the ability to look ahead into the future and to execute for the present," Mr Teo added.

When asked about succession planning, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who is also the PAP's organising secretary, said this GE is about bringing in "the next half" of the fourth-generation leadership, after the 2011 polls saw the entry of four new ministers into Cabinet. But that is provided voters find the PAP's candidates up to the mark, he added.

"If the country feels that the candidates we put up can measure up to those responsibilities and capabilities required of ministers, then we would have the succession plan. Ultimately, succession depends not only on the Prime Minister and the incumbent Cabinet ministers. Succession depends on Singaporeans' choice," he said.

That marks a distinct change of tone from the past, when top PAP leaders would tell voters to back their candidates because they were of ministerial calibre. At the same time, the PAP leadership is taking no chances with its high-potential candidates, choosing not to field them in wards contested by its strongest opponent - the Workers' Party (WP).

Former top civil servant Chee Hong Tat is in the slate for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, whose team is helmed by Dr Ng; while Mr Ong Ye Kung, a member of the PAP team in Aljunied GRC that lost to the WP in 2011, is now in the Sembawang GRC team led by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

That recognises the new political reality which Mr Ong summed up thus: People no longer want total dominance by one party in Parliament and "therefore ministers can lose their seats".

May GE 2015 - the first general election of Singapore's next 50 years - be a well-fought one.

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