Constituency close-ups: Fengshan and Sengkang West SMCs

Battle of the rookies in reborn ward

Ms Cheryl Chan is a familiar face in Fengshan, having been working on the ground as a volunteer since 2005. Mr Dennis Tan (left), with WP candidate for East Coast GRC Leon Perera, on the hustings. Mr Tan has pledged to be available to residents.
Mr Dennis Tan (left), with WP candidate for East Coast GRC Leon Perera, on the hustings. Mr Tan has pledged to be available to residents.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
Ms Cheryl Chan is a familiar face in Fengshan, having been working on the ground as a volunteer since 2005. Mr Dennis Tan (left), with WP candidate for East Coast GRC Leon Perera, on the hustings. Mr Tan has pledged to be available to residents.
Ms Cheryl Chan is a familiar face in Fengshan, having been working on the ground as a volunteer since 2005.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

It's a toss-up between proven track record of PAP and WP's call for more checks, balances

Two rookies are up against each other in the freshly carved out single seat of Fengshan, and by most accounts, the fight is close. The ward has shaped up to be one of the hottest seats in this general election.

When the Workers' Party (WP) visits the only market in the Fengshan single-member constituency, heartlanders and hawkers alike step away from their food and business to shake their hands. Some take wefies and some even offer to buy lawyer Dennis Tan, the first-time WP candidate, coffee and breakfast.

When the team from the People's Action Party (PAP) team comes calling at the Fengshan 85 Market and Food Centre, the excitement levels are lower but the sense of familiarity is greater.

The PAP is fielding long-time grassroots volunteer Cheryl Chan, 38, while the WP has put forward Mr Tan, 45. The outgoing PAP MP, former transport minister Raymond Lim, is retiring from politics after 14 years.

Both Ms Chan and Mr Tan are new faces to the electorate. They are duking it out in a constituency that has made a comeback on the electoral map after 24 years.

It is a toss-up between the PAP's proven track record and the WP's appeal for greater checks and balances in Parliament, residents indicate.

Some say that the PAP, which has an established grassroots movement in the ward, will be better equipped to help lower-income families and individuals such as Ms Lim Poo Leau, 68, who lives in a rental flat in Fengshan. She said Mr Lim helped her a lot: " My son has asthma and Mr Lim wrote a letter to get him redeployed as a driver when he was in the army."

Businessman Kin Lee, 40, feels the PAP's policies and sound governance have helped the country avert many crises.

"This is a government that has helped Singapore navigate every single recession," said Mr Lee.

But a desire for a more diverse political system is also a concern that looms large.

"It's not that the PAP is not good, they've done a good job, but maybe we need new ideas, and the WP this time has so many talented candidates - they are lawyers, professors," said resident Richard Foo, a 69-year-old kitchen hand.

The reborn Fengshan SMC has a total population of 36,000, of whom 23,427 are voters. And 70 per cent live in public housing.

It was carved out of East Coast GRC where, in the 2011 General Election, a five-member PAP team won East Coast in a tight contest against the WP team, securing 54.8 per cent of the votes.

This was the closest win in a GRC for the PAP, and Fengshan was said to have been where the WP scored the highest.

This year, the battle lines will once again be drawn over national issues, including cost of living and immigration, in a constituency that has benefited from various estate upgrading initiatives.

Several residents told The Straits Times they felt Mr Lim had not reached out to his constituents enough, or as one of them put it: "You hardly see him."

Housewife Audrey P., 60, who has been living in Fengshan since 1978, said: "We want someone dynamic, someone who can walk the talk and fight for the people in Parliament."

Another resident, Mr T. S. Ng, 56, is also less than impressed with the outreach efforts. "If you don't go to community programmes, or seek help at MPS (Meet-the-People Session), then you won't get to see them," Mr Ng, who is self-employed, said in Mandarin.

Seizing on this sentiment, the WP candidate, Mr Tan, is campaigning on a personal message of being present and has been conducting house visits since two years ago.

"I do realise that one of the most important things I must do if elected (is that) I have to walk the ground here every day to continue to be close to the residents, to understand their needs, to be visible, and to be available," said the shipping lawyer last week at a walkabout.

On the other hand, his rival, Ms Chan, has been a volunteer in Fengshan since 2005.

In an interview with The Straits Times after her candidacy was announced last month, Ms Chan said that she and her team of grassroots activists have been "working on the ground for many years".

"Not everyone gets a chance or can effect change in people's lives and some of it might seem minor to us, but it is actually a turning point for some in their lives," she said.

While many residents are unfazed by the division of Fengshan from East Coast GRC, it left electrician Lim Swee Boon, 54, slightly disappointed.

"The first feeling is PAP is giving up on Fengshan," said Mr Lim, who has been living in Fengshan for 20 years. But he added that he has not decided whom to vote for.

In this battle of the rookies, the votes of those who have not made up their minds will prove to be decisive. Ms Chan and Mr Tan will have to convince them quickly.

•Additional reporting by Tham Yuen-C

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2015, with the headline 'Battle of the rookies in reborn ward '. Print Edition | Subscribe