Bittersweet win at Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC for Madam Halimah

Madam Halimah mentions the death of her mother in her speech at Jurong West Stadium after the result is announced.
Madam Halimah mentions the death of her mother in her speech at Jurong West Stadium after the result is announced.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

For Madam Halimah Yacob, last night's victory in the new Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency (GRC) filled her with mixed emotions. Just hours earlier, she had buried the woman she wanted most by her side.

Her 90-year-old mother, Madam Maimun Abdullah, died yesterday morning after having been in the hospital for the past week.

"I'm of course feeling happy but very very sad as well," she told The Straits Times early this morning after co-leading her four-member team to a 68.7 per cent share of the votes ahead of the Singapore Democratic Party. "My mother occupies a large part of my life, since my father died when I was eight years old and she brought me up. And she was my main motivator and supporter. I was hoping she could at least make it until today, but she didn't make it."

Asked about the past nine days of campaigning, she said "its been extremely tough".

"I leave home in the morning at 7am, and I finish at 11-something and then have to go to the hospital. Yesterday was very good - I managed to spend the whole day with her, and perhaps that was why she decided it was time for her to go."

Her team's co-leader Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong paid tribute to her dedication during a trying week, and the trust the voters of Marsiling-Yew Tee had placed in them.

The GRC, the only completely new electoral division in this election, was created in response to an influx of new Housing Board flats in the north of Singapore.

It took in about 61,000 voters from Sembawang GRC's Marsiling and Woodgrove wards, and another 46,000 voters from Chua Chu Kang GRC's Yew Tee ward.

The other two members of PAP's team were familiar to residents. Mr Alex Yam was MP for Yew Tee ward in Chua Chu Kang GRC, while Mr Ong Teng Koon was MP for Woodgrove in Sembawang GRC.

"Both Madam Halimah and myself came in about just a month before the election. We have not had a long runway to build relationships with the residents," said Mr Wong. He and Madam Halimah moved from West Coast GRC and Jurong GRC respectively. "So given the circumstances of contesting in a new GRC and the two of us coming in new, I would say we are very happy and very humbled by the mandate the residents have given us. We will work hard to serve residents and realise and fulfil the plans that we've laid out in our manifesto."

Law Minister K. Shanmugam, whose team claimed 66.8 per cent of the vote in five-member Nee Soon GRC against a Workers' Party challenge, said it was difficult to attribute PAP's big win to any single factor. But he believes the popularity of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Government seen as doing its best helped.

The PAP also cruised into a relatively comfortable victory at Jalan Besar GRC, winning 67.7 per cent of the votes against the WP. The result was an improvement from 2011, where the PAP team won 58.6 per cent of the votes in the GRC's predecessor Moulmein-Kallang GRC, also against a WP team.

A jubilant Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, the ward's anchor minister, told The Straits Times that the win was due to both the PAP working hard on the ground to improve the lives of residents and an overall improvement in public sentiment towards the party. "In 2011, you felt the tension - doors open, it was not pleasant. Now people are warmer," said the Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.

Cleaner Ong Chin Kwee, who turned up at the Bedok Stadium to support the Jalan Besar team, said he was not surprised by the result. "The PAP has taken better care of lower-income and older voters like me in the last few years," said the 65-year-old .

The GRC has a larger lower-income base, with significant rental housing and a higher-than-average proportion of voters in one- to three-room flats.

Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Heng Chee How, part of the winning Jalan Besar team, said that work to serve residents will begin immediately. He told The Straits Times: "I am holding my Meet-the-People session on Monday."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2015, with the headline 'Bittersweet win at Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC for Madam Halimah'. Print Edition | Subscribe