Bukit Batok by-election: PAP's Murali Pillai and SDP's Chee Soon Juan confirmed in straight fight

Election posters seen in Bukit Batok. PAP's Mr Murali Pillai, 48, and SDP's Dr Chee Soon Juan, 53, have been announced as candidates for the Bukit Batok by-election.
Election posters seen in Bukit Batok. PAP's Mr Murali Pillai, 48, and SDP's Dr Chee Soon Juan, 53, have been announced as candidates for the Bukit Batok by-election. ST PHOTO: CHONG ZILIANG
PAP's Murali Pillai greeting a resident as he embarks on his campaign trail.
PAP's Murali Pillai greeting a resident as he embarks on his campaign trail.ST PHOTO: RACHEL AU-YONG
SDP's Chee Soon Juan addressing the media during a press conference after he was announced as one of the candidates for the Bukit Batok by-election.
SDP's Chee Soon Juan addressing the media during a press conference after he was announced as one of the candidates for the Bukit Batok by-election.ST PHOTO: CHONG ZILIANG
PAP's Murali Pillai meeting volunteers and thanking them for coming down, before heading to the Nomination Centre.
PAP's Murali Pillai meeting volunteers and thanking them for coming down, before heading to the Nomination Centre.ST PHOTO: RACHEL AU-YONG
SDP's Chee Soon Juan (centre) and his supporters making their way to the Nomination Centre.
SDP's Chee Soon Juan (centre) and his supporters making their way to the Nomination Centre.ST PHOTO: CHONG ZILIANG
Private-hire car driver Shirwin Eu arriving at Keming Primary School.
Private-hire car driver Shirwin Eu arriving at Keming Primary School. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

SINGAPORE - The widely expected straight fight for Bukit Batok between the People's Action Party (PAP) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) was confirmed on Wednesday (April 27).

When nominations closed at noon, only two sets of forms had been put up at the Nomination Centre in Keming Primary School: One set belonged to the PAP's Mr Murali Pillai, 48, and the other to the SDP's Dr Chee Soon Juan, 53.

Supporters broke out in cheers and the sound of whistles and air horns filled the air as the election's Returning Officer Ng Wai Choong announced both men as candidates after 12.30pm.

Party flags were unfurled and umbrellas opened as candidates walked out to make short speeches.

Speaking in English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil amid chants of "Ah Mu" and "PAP", Mr Murali said to residents of Bukit Batok: "Together, let's make Bukit Batok a beautiful place for all of us. Vote for PAP. Vote for a better home. Vote for a brighter future."

He is known as "Ah Mu" to residents in the constituency.

 

Dr Chee, speaking in Mandarin and English, pledged to be a full-time MP if elected and said: "I want to make Bukit Batok the envy of Singapore."

 

SDP supporters chanted the party's by-election slogan: "Now is the time."

Though it was drizzling, the school field was awash in a sea of white and red as PAP and SDP supporters dressed in party colours cheered on their candidates.

 

Nomination papers for Mr Murali and Dr Chee were posted up on notice boards outside the school hall at 11.30am. The candidates had one hour, from 11am to noon, to file their nomination form and political donation certificate.

On Wednesday morning, Mr Murali and Dr Chee met their supporters in the constituency to walk together to Keming Primary School.

Both men have been walking the ground in Bukit Batok for more than a month.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee, both MPs in neighbouring Jurong GRC, were among those who had turned up to support Mr Murali.

Others included Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, former Cabinet minister Lim Boon Heng and PAP Hougang candidate Lee Hong Chuang.

Speaking to reporters in the morning, Mr Murali, a lawyer, said he was prepared for the contest.

Asked if he felt the pressure of being in the spotlight, he said: "I don't feel there's any pressure. The way I see it, the focus is on my policies and plans."

Dr Chee, who had with him his Holland-Bukit Timah GRC running mate at last year's General Election, medical professor Paul Tambyah, said his party was training volunteers when news broke that a by-election was upcoming.

The SDP chief added: "We continually upgrade ourselves, we continue to make ourselves better, despite the very dismal results shown to us at the last General Election."

At last year's general election, Dr Chee had led the SDP’s team in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC,  garnering 34.4 per cent vote share and losing to the PAP. 

The Bukit Batok seat was left vacant when PAP MP David Ong, 54, resigned on March 12 after admitting to a "personal indiscretion". He is alleged to have had an extra-marital affair with a party activist.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said on the same day that he would call a by-election in due course. Last Wednesday, President Tony Tan Keng Yam issued the writ of election, which set May 7 as Polling Day.

Besides Mr Murali and Dr Chee, two other men had turned up at the school to submit their papers, but eventually left without doing so.

One of them was former SDP member Kwan Yue Keng, 68, who showed up with what he said was "a spare set of forms" so he can step in to contest "in case Dr Chee is disqualified for whatever reason".

Mr Kwan had run for elections in Bukit Batok in 1988 and 1991, garnering 44 per cent and 48 per cent of the vote respectively against the PAP's Dr Ong Chit Chung. He is now with the People's Power Party (PPP).

He said he was there to "prevent a walkover", but would "withdraw" his papers if Dr Chee was confirmed as a candidate.

On Wednesday morning, PPP chief Goh Meng Seng said in a Facebook post that his party had applied for a political donation certificate for a candidate, which he did not name, as "there were people complaining about SDP breaching the Elections rules".

But he said the PPP decided not to join the fray.

The other person who turned up at the school, private-hire car driver Shirwin Eu, 32, did not have a proposer, seconder and at least four assentors to support his nomination.

These individuals, who must be registered voters in the SMC, have to be present when the nomination paper is filed. He could not get people at the school to fill these roles and left.

After nomination proceedings ended, the Elections Department said in response to media queries that election officials had explained to Mr Eu and Mr Kwan the requirements and procedure under the law for nomination as an election candidate.

"Both individuals left after hearing the explanation without filing any nomination papers," said the ELD.

Among the requirements are for candidates to duly fill up nomination papers and to file them between 11am and 12pm on Nomination Day. Candidates also have to pay the election deposit before 12pm on the same day.

The ELD said: "Nomination proceedings are to ensure that only candidates who meet the legal eligibility and procedural requirements under the law stand for election."

Former opposition candidate Abdul Rahim Osman, 59, who had applied for a political donation certificate, told The Straits Times on Tuesday night that he would not be contesting.

In all, five political donation certificates, a document needed by candidates, were issued by the ELD.