Bukit Batok contest takes shape with 2 contenders named

PAP veteran activist Murali Pillai (above) and SDP chief Chee Soon Juan (below) will contest the Bukit Batok by-election.
PAP veteran activist Murali Pillai (above) and SDP chief Chee Soon Juan will contest the Bukit Batok by-election.
PAP veteran activist Murali Pillai (above) and SDP chief Chee Soon Juan (below) will contest the Bukit Batok by-election.
PAP veteran activist Murali Pillai and SDP chief Chee Soon Juan (above) will contest the Bukit Batok by-election.

Bukit Batok's nearly 27,000 voters now have a measure of two contenders who will vie in an upcoming by-election there, after the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) yesterday named lawyer and veteran party activist Murali Pillai as its candidate.

A by-election date has not been set, but Mr Murali's introduction came a day after Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan said he would contest.

PAP second assistant secretary-general Tharman Shanmugaratnam told reporters that the party had decided on Mr Murali in the course of last week, before knowing who the opposition candidate would be.

"There's no reason to delay the announcement of a candidate that we feel very comfortable with," said Mr Tharman, who is Deputy Prime Minister, at a press conference at the PAP's Bukit Batok branch.

Mr Murali, 48, who was fielded as part of the PAP's Aljunied GRC team at last September's general election, recalled that he attended his first Meet-the-People Session in 2000 at the very same branch, and said that "much of my thoughts on community service and politics are shaped by my experience here".

He has been a grassroots volunteer and leader for 16 years at the single-seat ward, and was appointed the PAP's Paya Lebar branch chairman four years ago.

The Bukit Batok single-seat constituency became vacant after MP David Ong stepped down just over a week ago after admitting to a personal indiscretion.

Mr Tharman said yesterday that residents liked Mr Ong as an MP, but understood that he had to resign. The party had to let him go as it is important to uphold high standards in politics. He also said he did not know when the by-election would be held. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said he would call it in due time.

While campaigning has not started, the area has been abuzz with activity, with PAP MPs from neighbouring Jurong GRC visiting residents at coffee shops and their homes and the SDP, too, making its rounds in the area.

After his introduction, Mr Murali attended the weekly Meet-the-People Session and started on house visits.

Dr Chee, 53, was at a walkabout on Sunday and was introduced as the SDP candidate by party member Sadasivam Veriyah, who contested the seat last September.

On pitting Mr Murali against a seasoned politician, Mr Tharman said: "I think we've chosen the right person with regard to character, the way people know him, the way people have worked together with him in the past."

Dr Chee did not respond to queries about Mr Murali's candidacy by press time.

Mr Tharman said the PAP would frame the election in a way that "makes sense for voters", adding that the first priority for any MP is to serve residents well.

Among opposition parties, only the National Solidarity Party has not said if it will contest. Its secretary-general Lim Tean said it is still "studying the situation carefully".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2016, with the headline 'Bukit Batok contest takes shape with 2 contenders named'. Print Edition | Subscribe