Monday, 7 September 2015

General Election 2015 at midway point

More parties and more candidates this time but voters less worked up by frenzy of campaigning
The Sunday Times, 6 Sep 2015

It is half-time in the election campaign that will see 2.46 million voters head to the polls on Friday, Sept 11.

A quiet campaign thus far, it is significant nonetheless because it cements the return of politics to Singapore. There are more parties and more candidates this time than in May 2011 but the frenzy of activity has generated much less heat among voters, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong welcoming the change and saying "cooler is better".

The first three days saw a fierce exchange between the People's Action Party and the Workers' Party over the town council issue but both have now decided to move on, and refocus on their core messages.

For the PAP, this election is about securing the future of Singapore. For the WP, it is about increasing the number of opposition members in Parliament to check on the PAP government.

Take 5 with Arnold: GE 2015 Half-time Report
#GE2015: As campaigning for the Sept 11 polls heads into its second week, radio personality Arnold Gay, together with The Straits Times Editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang and Managing Editor Ignatius Low, give their half-time report.
Posted by The Straits Times on Sunday, September 6, 2015

Reflecting voters' view that there is a lack of engagement on policy, ST's editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang sums up the state of play as akin to a football match where spectators are unsure where the ball is. What's clear is that there has been no killer goal so far, he says.

The front line of the battle seems to be in the eastern part of Singapore, where close fights between the white and blue teams are expected in East Coast GRC, Fengshan SMC and Marine Parade GRC.

The other parts of Singapore also bear watching, as a reformed Singapore Democratic Party stirs interest in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, where it is contesting for the second time.

The strongest party in town, which has in all likelihood won the match, leaving only the scoreline to be decided, is banking on the popularity of its poster boy to bring in the vote.

He is none other than PM Lee himself, who is leading the PAP charge for the third time and campaigning hard even in opposition-held wards as he shows his grasp of the new politics of personal connection.

Cool heads rule as election campaign heats up
Some voters find it hard to decide which party to support, with no single issue to focus on
By Aaron Low, Deputy News Editor, The Sunday Times, 6 Sep 2015

Thousands of voters have turned up - armed with mats and drinks - to rallies islandwide to listen to candidates from a record 10 political parties fighting these polls.

The campaign has also heated up online. Over 650,000 people in Singapore have put up five million posts or comments on Facebook since Aug 31 about the election.

If anything, there is more discussion than ever on politics, with fierce debates between supporters of the PAP and those of the opposition online and off.

But as far as the parties are concerned, there seems to be a distinct lack of engagement on policies, says retiree Nelly Chong, 65.

She has attended rallies for four consecutive nights but remains undecided about whom to vote for.

The Nee Soon GRC resident went for rallies by the PAP and Workers' Party - the two parties contesting in her constituency, and one by the Singapore People's Party.

"I find that they are talking about different things. Sometimes the PAP will say something about the WP but the WP will say something else about the PAP," she tells Insight. "I don't know if I will go for any more rallies but I haven't decided who to vote for so we will see."

S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) political scientist Alan Chong says that the first half of the campaign has been marked by the lack of a single focus.

"It actually feels like they are talking past each other," he says of the political parties.

Might this lack of engagement be deliberate? What does it say about the campaign strategy of the parties - especially that of the two leading teams in white and blue?

How are voters to choose? And what surprises might lie in store as Polling Day approaches?


The PAP is defending 80 seats in Parliament, the Workers' Party seven, and there are two new seats created to cater to population growth, making for a total of 89 seats up for grabs at the coming polls.

How each party chooses to fight for these seats depends on what its end game is.

For the PAP, a key question going into this campaign must surely be how best to contain the patch of blue that had grown rapidly in the eastern part of Singapore, from just one seat in the opposition stronghold of Hougang to six after the loss of Aljunied GRC in the May 2011 General Election, to seven when Punggol East also fell in a by-election in 2013.

Nationally, the PAP's vote share fell 6.5 percentage points from 66.6 per cent in 2006 to 60.1 per cent in the 2011 General Election.

But in the wards contested by the WP, the PAP's vote share fell further. In East Coast GRC, for instance, it suffered a 9-percentage-point swing against it, setting that constituency up to be the front line of the battle between white and blue this time round.

One thing is certain: The PAP may have been caught by surprise by the tide of anger and frustration that swept its Aljunied GRC team out of Parliament in 2011, but it is not letting its guard down again.

That is why it has effectively been preparing for this election for the last four years, by engaging Singaporeans and crafting and timing policies with these hustings in mind.

Its shift to the left in social policies began before 2011, as Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has been taking pains to remind voters, but the pace at which the PAP moved to address key sources of unhappiness picked up significantly after the 2011 General Election.

Since then, the Government has slowed the growth of the foreign workforce, cooled the housing market, launched more than 100,000 new public homes and put more buses on the roads. It also moved to address concerns over healthcare costs, first by introducing the $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package and then rolling out universal healthcare insurance.

The success of these measures is apparent in how much cooler the temperature is this time round.

Asked about it at a press conference yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "I would be hesitant to put a temperature on it but I think cooler is better."

That also explains the lack of a single issue for voters to coalesce around - not a bad thing for the PAP, since what united voters last time round was anger at public transport and housing woes due in part to large inflows of foreigners.

So how are the combatants facing off in this campaign?

The PAP went on the offensive first by shining the spotlight on the lapses in financial management at the WP's Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.

Did that contribute to the WP's decision for all seven of its incumbent MPs to stay put to defend their seats? That defensive strategy may well reflect Mr Low Thia Khiang's own cautious approach and his preference for holding onto the gains of 2011 rather than taking a risk by sending one of his team members to fight in another GRC.

Similarly, the PAP has fielded a team of new faces and one veteran backbencher to challenge the WP's "A" team in Aljunied GRC, choosing not to risk any office holders in a bid to sway voters to its side.

These moves by both PAP and WP are "highly defensive, seeking to contain rather than attack", says National University of Singapore Associate Professor Reuben Wong.

They have led political observers to term this a "status quo" election, with no big gains expected on either side.

As for the town council issue, which had been in play for nearly two years before the hustings, the two sides attacked each other's positions during the first three days of the campaign.

PAP leaders said the issue was not just poor financial management but the integrity of the WP leaders.

WP said the episode showed the PAP to be a bully because it used government machinery for political purposes.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim even upped the ante by declaring that if WP leaders had done something wrong, they were prepared to face criminal charges.

By day four of the nine-day campaign, the fire had cooled.

The WP declared it had said enough on the matter. Its goal after all is not to persuade voters on the basis of its town council management prowess, but to convince them of the need to bring in more opposition voices to form a credible check on the PAP government.

Yesterday, the PAP also signalled it wished to move on.

PM Lee said "enough has been spoken" on the town council issue and he would leave it to voters to decide. He then refocused the PAP's campaign on what he sees is at stake at these polls, namely the future of Singapore.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan believes that is because the probing attack by the PAP has served its purpose of putting the WP on the defensive.

In particular, it may well have sown the seeds of doubt among voters in other constituencies contemplating a WP team that would run their town council, he says.


If the first half of the campaign seems to have ended in a stalemate, what is likely in the second half?

PM Lee's key message in this second half seems to be a call to voters to think carefully about their vote since their future is at stake as it is the PAP Government that does the long-term planning for the country.

"This is the nation we are aiming for. A future where tomorrow is always better than today, that the young can live lives better than their parents. We are saying, we can do this together with you," he said at a press conference at the PAP headquarters yesterday.

SMU's Associate Professor Tan says this is not unexpected since the PAP's track record is by far the best and long-term planning is what the party excels at.

"The PAP needs to plug away at its strengths and avoid being perceived to be engaged in negative campaigning," he says.

With all seats contested, the PAP has been at pains to remind voters not to live dangerously by voting for the opposition if what they want is a PAP government.

But there are still issues of national concern that have not yet been addressed, says RSIS' Associate Professor Chong.

One is the growing discontent among the professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) as they face increasing competition from skilled foreigners, he says.

Prof Wong agrees, noting that when someone in his 40s loses his job, it is very difficult for him to find a replacement. "This group can grow and if not addressed this election could become the big problem in the next GE," he says.

There could also be further surprises in the electoral battle itself.

Thus far, there has been most interest in the PAP and WP fights in the east, particularly in East Coast, Marine Parade and Aljunied GRCs.

Aljunied will likely stay blue and the question there is whether WP could further entrench itself with a a stronger vote share.

Marine Parade and East Coast could come close but it is difficult to see WP winning the seats from the PAP, given the strength of the PAP teams there, unless there is a national swing against the PAP.

The newly created Fengshan SMC ward is a different story.

Carved out of East Coast GRC, it is the one seat most analysts agree is most within the WP's reach.

Both PAP and WP have fielded rookies to contest the seat.

At the last general election, residents in Fengshan gave strong support to the WP team and the balance could further tilt towards the blue team this time.

But there could also be a few surprises in the central and western parts of Singapore - in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, Mountbatten SMC and Sengkang West SMC.

Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, who is leading the opposition team in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, is making his electoral return after 15 years in the wilderness. His first rally speeches were well-received.

Prof Wong notes that the SDP team being fielded at Holland-Bukit Timah is a strong one.

It also includes Professor Paul Tambyah, a senior consultant for infectious diseases at National University Hospital (NUH).

But he does not think that the SDP has enough going for it to win the ward, noting that the party garnered just under 40 per cent of the vote in 2011.

"It would mean an 11- to 12-percentage-point swing. If SDP can move it up a notch to 45 per cent, that would be already a big achievement," he says.

In Mountbatten, PAP incumbent Lim Biow Chuan faces off against Singapore People's Party's Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss for the second time. He won 58.55 per cent of the vote in 2011 in a handy victory but is not taking things for granted.

Residents in Mountbatten say that Mr Lim has been working hard in the area. Retired businessman Kho Kok Chew, 73, who lives at Block 6, Jalan Batu, off Mountbatten Road, says that Mr Lim is a common sight in his estate.

"He is always walking around the HDB blocks," says Mr Kho. "I did not see the opposition parties walking around here consistently."

Similarly, Sengkang West could be a dark horse for the WP, featuring another rematch. This time it is between PAP's Lam Pin Min and WP's Koh Choon Yong.

Dr Lam beat Mr Koh in the last election, winning 58.1 per cent of the vote, and many residents say both candidates have been pounding the ground in the area.

When asked about whether the fight will be a close one, Dr Lam says: "There's always this concern about the (amount of) support compared with the last elections, but I think ultimately our aim is to win regardless of the margin."

Even if these wards do come close, or even fall, no one really doubts that the PAP will form the government when the votes have been counted.

Indeed, that is what opposition parties, including the WP, are counting on.

NUS sociologist Tan Ern Ser says "the WP is making a big push for its key message that there needs to be a strong opposition presence to check on the PAP".

"The approach may have gained some traction since it does not involve a regime change," he adds.

But questions remain: Beyond this election, what next?

For the PAP, will the people accept the argument that Singapore can only progress if there is only one strong party in power, as was the case in the last 50 years?

Or will people start to accept the opposition's alternative narrative, that Singapore needs more checks and balances as the PAP's dominance has alienated the people it is supposed to work for.

Will the tide in favour of alternative voices build momentum for more opposition seats? Or has the PAP managed to stem the flow?

We will know for sure on Sept 11.

GE half-time report: No killer goal, back to basics
It's now more important to avoid missteps and to reconnect with voters

By Han Fook Kwang, Editor-at-largeThe Sunday Times, 6 Sep 2015

It is half-time in the GE and there has been no killer goal so far.

But it's been a strange match and commentators have had a field day describing what's happening on the pitch.

The team in white has pinned the blue team to one section of the field and all its key players, including its strikers and midfielders, are crowded there.

The blue team would rather get out of that tight spot and play in other parts of the field but they keep having to chase after the ball where the white players are.

Some of them look tired and are beginning to swear in Teochew.

The supporters on both sides are an enthusiastic and knowledgeable lot but they too have trouble sometimes following the game.

It reminds me of an English league football match I watched many years ago when a fog suddenly descended and the crowd started chanting: "Where's the f**king ball!"

Fair half-time match report?

Of course, the GE is not a football game and there is much at stake.

After the first five days of campaigning, it is clear the ruling party does not want to let the Workers' Party (WP) off the hook on the long-running town council issue.

Ultimately, the People's Action Party's (PAP) unrelenting attacks aren't just about exposing the financial lapses that have been uncovered by the Auditor-General's report.

That would be too minor a prize.

It is going for the jugular and framing the issue as one not just about competence, but also integrity and character.

This was how the PM put it last week: "We expect high standards of our political leaders... By the time you have to be put in jail, it's too late.

"To say 'I haven't gone to jail, therefore I have done a good job' - if that's your standard of doing a good job, that's very sad."

Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam put it even more sharply, saying it was about honesty, integrity and transparency.

The WP's counter: The PAP is playing up the issue for a wider political purpose. WP speakers claim the PAP wants to damage the opposition fatally so as to prevent further gains, and it is doing so in its characteristic big bully way, using the full weight of the state machinery to achieve its political aims.

WP chief Low Thia Khiang made this rallying call: "Use your vote to tell the PAP you reject such underhanded ways."

Which argument is winning on the ground? At half-time, it's looking very much like a draw.

That's not surprising because this is a classic case of both sides viewing the same set of evidence but coming to completely different conclusions.

This is a well-known phenomenon that has been extensively studied, especially in the US where people are even more polarised between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

They may be shown exactly the same data but they will draw opposite conclusions.

In fact, the research also shows that if you ask people to believe something that violates their own beliefs, they will devote their efforts to finding reasons to doubt your argument - and they will almost always succeed.

Personal beliefs or biases based on political affiliations almost always trump rational arguments.

For PAP supporters, the debate reinforces their perception of the WP as untrustworthy and evasive.

For WP, it confirms the PAP's high and mighty attitude, bullying its opponents to stamp out even the slightest opposition.


There might be some conversions, but I doubt the numbers are significant.

Character is a two-edged sword for any party to make an issue of because it also brings to play your own character.

Unless it's so clear-cut to everyone and you don't have to belabour the point.

But if you have to spend the entire half of the game trying to do so, you're really trying too hard.

In the case of WP leaders such as Mr Low and Ms Sylvia Lim, they have been around so long, people have already formed in their minds long ago what their characters are like.

So, what's the second half likely to be? At this stage, I think most people have made up their minds, barring some late unexpected developments.

It is unlikely any party can come up with a brilliant move that will change the course of the GE.

Now, it may be more important not to score an own goal by making a mistake or a misstep - a careless remark, for example, that causes widespread anger - than to try to score a killer goal.

Expect the parties to revert to their traditional messages and pet issues - possession football, if you like.

Indeed this was evident at the PAP press conference yesterday.

Which means that the other silent contest that has been going on long before the GE was called assumes greater importance.

This is the battle to gain every single vote by candidates working the ground and making those house visits and public appearances.

I've followed some of them from the ruling party and the opposition and it's a tiring and demanding slog.

They try to cover as much as possible, meeting as many residents as they physically can.

But because time is of the essence, the contact is usually hurried and minimal.

If at this stage, you are making these personal encounters for the first time, you are way offside.

For those who have been working the ground regularly, meaning in between election years, it's about making that reconnection on the home stretch.

For some of the more hotly contested places, such as East Coast GRC and single-seat wards like Fengshan and Potong Pasir, the results can turn on how well you do this.

Because of the small size of wards here - Potong Pasir has only about 17,389 voters and East Coast, 99,000 - it doesn't take that much to cause, say, a 5-percentage-point swing. That's only about 350 voters in Potong Pasir and 5,000 in East Coast.

They are not huge numbers but a 5-percentage-point swing will change the result in both places.

It's the sort of game where one goal decides the outcome.

And it can happen at the last minute during injury time.

Third time's the charm for PM Lee?
Lee Hsien Loong has become the poster boy for the PAP. Li Xueying looks at this strategy and whether it will pay off.
Li Xueying, Hong Kong CorrespondentThe Sunday Times, 6 Sep 2015

The man who in an alternate universe might have been a top research mathematician may well be pondering some numbers now.

In 2006, in his first general election as prime minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong's People's Action Party (PAP) scored 66.6 per cent.

The vote share dropped to 60.1 per cent at his second general election five years later.

What about this general election, his third leading the men and women in white into electoral battle? Third time's the charm, say those who predict that an emotional year - replete with tears for Mr Lee Kuan Yew and cheers for Singapore's Golden Jubilee - will favour the ruling party.

Others, including those managing expectations for the PAP, say that the status quo, or a lower vote/seat share, is more likely.

If the ruling party does do well, a large part of its success can be attributed to the personal appeal of its general. At this midpoint of the campaign, one strategy deployed by the PAP is clear - to bank on PM Lee's popularity and likeability.

Eleven years after taking the helm as the party's secretary-general and the country's prime minister, the 63-year-old seems to have come into his own as the star and poster boy for the men and women in white.

Solo campaign pictures of a genial, smiling PM Lee have appeared across Singapore like never before, prompting one opposition politician to grumble that the posters would prompt voters to vote in a certain way.

Last Thursday, when Mr Lee went to greet commuters at Ang Mo Kio MRT station during the morning rush hour, his presence created such a stir that SMRT staff had to ask Public Transport Security Command officers to help manage the crowd. At one point, as many as 20 people were waiting in line to shake his hand and snap a picture with him. Several asked for his autograph.

Mr Lee has also been deftly working the virtual ground, with regular updates - quips and anecdotes, photographs that he took, policy announcements - on his Facebook page that boasts more than 846,000 followers. He also tweets and posts on Instagram.

With him spearheading the social media charge, the PAP has come a long way from 2006 when younger MPs, those belonging to the generation of post-65ers, tried to connect with Internet-savvy Singaporeans through a blog which they updated - by posting their Parliament speeches.

Among his Cabinet ministers, Mr Lee - the oldest in his team - has grasped and embraced the new politics of personal connection best.


The transformation is also note-worthy for a man whose predecessor had to publicly urge to soften his image.

During his last National Day Rally speech as prime minister in 2003, Mr Goh Chok Tong critiqued his then Deputy Prime Minister's "no-nonsense, uncompromising and tough" public persona.

"I've told Loong that he's got to let his softer side show," said Mr Goh then. Since then, Mr Lee has clearly worked hard to bond with Singaporeans, especially in the past four years. During the 2011 General Election, he apologised for his Government's mistakes and, after the polls, promised that his party would evolve to accommodate more views and participation.

The Government launched Our Singapore Conversation, a platform for Singaporeans of different backgrounds to come together to discuss their vision for the country in the years ahead.

Whether such efforts have satisfied citizens' aspirations to have a say in important decisions is debatable. The forging of a new social compact remains a work in progress.

But PM Lee's personal popularity is such that many Singaporeans - even those critical of the PAP - seem to make a distinction between the party's policies and politics, and the man himself.

Last Tuesday, at a press conference to kick off the PAP's campaign, Mr Lee spoke of the importance of personal bonds in reaching out to young voters.

He said: "Basically, they are looking for a human connection - not abstract policies - a person they can feel they can connect with, they can understand and who understands what they want."

This approach, though, could come at a cost.

Should the PAP perform badly this general election, perhaps losing more seats, would that be seen as a personal repudiation of the prime minister?

Reading the results might not be that simple. Voters look at many issues in deciding how they vote. The fact that the PAP has put PM Lee front and centre of its campaign does not mean voters would weigh up how to vote in a similar fashion.

In 2011, then Foreign Minister George Yeo - despite his personal reputation and standing - fell casualty to Aljunied residents' greater desire to have the more opposition in Parliament. This time round, immigration, cost of living, checks and balances and integrity are emerging as matters that voters are weighing. The desire for more alternative voices and diversity in Parliament also remains strong.

But personality politics has also re-emerged in the post-Lee Kuan Yew era, as something that the PAP needs to consider.

In the 1980s and 1990s, many PAP ministers were more technocrat than politician, at home with policymaking rather than on-the-ground politics.

Now, PAP candidates can no longer rely only on the party's track record of running the country honestly and efficiently to convince voters to support it.

Take its shepherding of the economy. It is accepted political wisdom that the PAP does well when dark clouds loom, such as during the 2001 General Election.

On Friday, Singaporeans are going to the polls with uncertainty in the air, given the stock market turmoil of recent weeks and a slowdown in the Chinese economy.

Yet, as an advantage for the ruling party, it seems to be waning.

People still care about the economy. But there are increasingly diverse views as to the direction it should move.

In the past, it was more straightforward. Key indicators were gross domestic product (GDP) growth, employment rate and wage increase.

The picture is fuzzier now. Is everyone feeling better off? Are some being left behind? Should GDP growth even be the right measure of people's well-being?

With no certain answers, what may make a difference is the person before the voter, and how they connect.

So Mr Lim Swee Say, anchor minister in East Coast GRC, where a close battle between the PAP and the Workers' Party (WP) is shaping up, has spoken of how his team changed its engagement tactics on the ground, quoting American President Theodore Roosevelt: "People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care."

And Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, especially popular among Singapore's chattering classes, invoked his personal brand as he sought to explain why the PAP was pressing home the issue of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council's entangled finances, a line of attack that sits uncomfortably with some.

"I think you know me. You know my personality, you know my views. You know that I've never been against the idea of an opposition in Singapore. People know," he said. "So when I speak about an issue, it is because I'm really worried. It is not because I'm trying to put an opposition down or the WP down."

In a speech announcing the PAP manifesto, PM Lee also scattered his stardust as he named various ministers who helmed imporant portfolios.

Will all this be enough to swing things in favour of the PM and his team? We'll know by next Saturday.

Hard slog for PAP team to overcome hostility in Aljunied
Response is warmer now than in 2011, but candidates are aware it may not translate to votes
By Siau Ming En, TODAY, 7 Sep 2015

Crowds surging around politicians. Requests for selfies, and friendly waves. Nothing unusual during election season — unless the politicians are from the People’s Action Party (PAP) and the ground they are walking is in Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC).

In the four years since the GRC fell to the Opposition, the latent hostility against the ruling party has cooled somewhat, say members of the team tasked with retaking the ward from the Workers’ Party (WP).

Gone are the Hokkien profanities and steely glares of the past. These days, there are some smiles, even cursory exchanges, and when PAP heavyweights come to town, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong did over the weekend, some residents are unafraid to show affection for the party’s leaders.

None of that, of course, suggests that Aljunied is there for the PAP’s taking, says the party’s five-man team. They are well aware that smiles and “hellos” do not translate into votes. But it is a big change from the outright hostility of 2011 and 2012, and for that they are grateful.

After all, since the GRC’s fall to the WP in 2011, there has been a palpable sense among residents that history has been made and that Aljunied as the new WP stronghold has to be defended.

At a PAP rally on Friday, Mr K Muralidharan Pillai — who has been serving in the Paya Lebar ward since 2012 — said his team has been rejected, intimated and scolded by residents.

He recalled how a rental flat resident refused rice brought to his home and said he would “only accept Workers’ Party rice”. That was not all. Verbal abuse also followed, Mr Muralidharan, a partner at Rajah & Tann, one of Singapore’s biggest law firms, said. Eventually, more sinister forms of intimidation, such as the placing of joss sticks and offerings — usually used for funerals — outside the PAP branch office, ensued.

What kind of people would have done this? What kind of politics have we coming to us? What kind of politicians have such hooligans as supporters? Whither Singapore...
Posted by Victor Lye Thiam Fatt 赖添发 on Sunday, September 6, 2015

Residents were sometimes confrontational and aggressive, unnerving grassroots leaders from the ruling party.

Chief executive of an insurance firm Victor Lye recalled how he had to do his walkabouts around coffee shops and homes alone because his volunteers were afraid to meet residents.

“It was very hard to get my volunteers to come out, my volunteers were scared. They thought there was a huge takeover and people were so hostile, there was so much anger — I didn’t blame them,” the 52-year-old father of two told TODAY.

Mr Lye added that certain coffee shops in the Hougang area, in particular, were more hostile than the rest — a quality he attributed to the “Hougang siege mentality” — as the Single Member Constituency has been a WP stronghold since 1991.

A week after news broke that executive director Chua Eng Leong had joined the PAP’s Eunos branch in May 2013, a man in his 50s shouted Hokkien profanities at him across the road. In the next few months, he would often come across residents who would fold their arms and give him the side-eye when he tried to approach them.

Undeterred, the team introduced several social programmes and interaction with residents has since improved, added Mr Muralidharan.

“I told myself that these people need help. And I was willing to send a signal to them that I’m prepared to help them. Some of them want to intimidate me and I want to tell them I won’t be intimidated. So I rolled up my sleeves and I tried my best to gain the trust of these people,” he said during Friday’s rally.

The team has been working to gain the trust of the people to turn the hostile sentiments around through the introduction of various schemes such as subsidised tuition and food distribution to the needy, Mr Muralidharan told TODAY during the walkabout over the weekend.

But he added: “We are still the underdogs here, we still have to fight very hard to regain the trust of the majority of the Aljunied residents, so we’re still in the fight mode.” Veteran politician Yeo Guat Kwang and former teacher Shamsul Kamar round up the PAP Aljunied team.

“To a certain extent, the ground got a lot warmer, but warm ground does not necessarily translate into votes,” said Mr Chua.

Over the weekend, PM Lee and ESM Goh visited Aljunied in a further bid to warm up voters in the constituency. The mood was jovial with PM Lee breaking out into a birthday song for a 94-year-old resident he met at a food centre. He also ran into a family he bumped into while holidaying in Hokkaido recently and signed a photo for them.

Despite the efforts by the PAP, some residents TODAY spoke to remain undecided on their choice, a ground sentiment Mr Goh had observed after his visit yesterday.

Ms Angie Ng, 53, who is self-employed, said while she felt that the WP took a longer time to complete the lift upgrading works near her home, she was also unfamiliar with the line-up of PAP candidates.

She added that she did not think the ground sentiment has changed much and residents have treated them in the same way as before. Likewise, recruitment consultant Jason Goh, 52, said in Mandarin he remains on the fence about who to vote for because “both the PAP and WP seem to be making credible arguments”.

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