Candidates for Bukit Batok constituency begin campaigning for by-election

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan greeting a resident during house visits around Bukit Batok, on March 22, 2016.
SDP chief Chee Soon Juan greeting a resident during house visits around Bukit Batok, on March 22, 2016.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH
Mr Murali Pillai doing house visits at Block 148 Bukit Batok West Ave 6.
Mr Murali Pillai doing house visits at Block 148 Bukit Batok West Ave 6.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

SINGAPORE - The two candidates for Bukit Batok have begun pounding the streets in the single-member constituency to woo its 27,000 voters.

Both Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, 53, and People's Action Party branch chairman Murali Pillai, 48, continued their house visits on Tuesday (March 22) night.

Though the date for the by-election has not been announced, both teams say they are trying to cover as much ground as they can in the days and weeks ahead.

The single seat's 45,000 residents were left without an MP barely six months after last September's general election, when their MP David Ong resigned from his seat as well as the PAP over an alleged affair with a grassroots volunteer.

SDP introduced Dr Chee as its candidate on Sunday and the PAP announced Mr Murali, a lawyer, as its pick on Monday.

On Tuesday evening, Dr Chee congratulated Mr Murali on being selected when he met reporters ahead of house visits.

"He is a very able person to represent the PAP in this by-election," he said. "I look forward to having a good contest with him."

Dr Chee said he would speak up on issues like jobs and the poor.

He also said his edge over Mr Murali, a grassroots volunteer in Bukit Batok for over 16 years, is that his would be an alternative voice in a PAP-dominated Parliament.

"I just don't see how Mr Murali is going to be different from his other 81 colleagues," he said.

He cited last year's Hepatitis C outbreak at Singapore General Hospital and the deaths of full-time national serviceman Dominique Sarron Lee and student Benjamin Lim, and said: "There's been a dearth of accountability and I think that's where we come in and can make a difference that Mr Murali cannot."

Dr Chee led the SDP team to contest Holland-Bukit Timah GRC at the 2015 general election and it won 33.4 per cent of the votes.

The SDP candidate in Bukit Batok Mr Sadasivam Veriyah won 26.4 per cent of votes, while the PAP's Mr David Ong got 73 per cent .

Mr Murali was in the PAP team contesting Aljunied GRC in GE2015 that won 49 per cent of the votes.

He told The Straits Times before house visits on Tuesday that he had a busy schedule to reacquaint himself with residents. Mr Murali, who was PAP's Bukit Batok branch secretary before he moved to Paya Lebar ward in 2012, said his focus was to "meet with residents and have some face-time with them".

"The reception has thankfully been warm, and the more senior people remember me," he said. "It's always nice to catch up with them."

He would not be drawn into commenting on his rival, but Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said in a Facebook post: "Murali is humble and not egoistic; sincere and not opportunistic; a committed doer and not a smooth talker; an honest man and not a born-again politician. I will back him anytime."

Dr Chee said he found it insulting that Mr Goh would use characterisations, and would prefer to focus on the issues.

Retired engineer Lee Yifang, 72, said he backs the PAP as it has always met his needs, but hoped it would score below its 73 per cent at GE2015, as PAP MPs had to "learn their lesson and not fool around."

Another resident who only wanted to be known as Wu said: "The PAP has been good with its policies, but it is important to have an alternative voice in Parliament so that real residents' voices are reflected."

Residents like salesman Wilson Sng, 46, are undecided: "In the end, residents are concerned with the day to day. When these candidates come along, I'll ask what each of their plans are to reduce the noise coming from the MRT station. Maybe that is what will decide my vote."

rachelay@sph.com.sg