Fengshan SMC: Buzz over candidates for constituency

with some saying the area is "good and very safe". Fengshan residents, by and large, are satisfied with the amenities in the ward,
Fengshan residents, by and large, are satisfied with the amenities in the ward, with some saying the area is "good and very safe".ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Over in Fengshan, just who the People's Action Party (PAP) might field has become a hot topic. The MP in the Fengshan ward of the East Coast GRC that the new SMC was carved out from is former transport minister Raymond Lim.

Speculation is rife that he will retire from politics. The buzz is that the choice of his replacement lies between newbie Cheryl Chan, 38, who has been a grassroots volunteer for 10 years, and a political heavyweight from another ward.

The talk among several grassroots activists is that the latter is Mr Lee Yi Shyan, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and for National Development.

Mr Lee, an MP in East Coast GRC, oversees the Kampong Chai Chee ward and has bags of experience, having entered politics in 2006. He is on his second term in the GRC.

But given that Fengshan is a new electoral constituency, law professor Eugene Tan from Singapore Management University believes the PAP will go for "a contrarian approach" and field a new candidate with extensive grassroots experience. Ms Chan fits the definition.

And she tells Insight that if asked, she would step forward.


There are restaurants and fast-food outlets. In terms of living environment, I have travelled a lot and many countries are virtually 'no standard' compared with us.

MR HO KO WAH, Fengshan resident

"I would view it as an honour to be given this opportunity to help improve and better the lives of my fellow Singaporeans," she says.

As to the intentions of Mr Lim, PAP Fengshan branch vice-chairman Chia Song Leng says: "Through the years, (Mr Lim) has built up a strong team. So if he decides to retire, we have within our team of activists, good people who can succeed him."

The Workers' Party (WP) has thrown its hat into the ring here.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which had earlier expressed interest in the seat, yesterday said it would not stand in this constituency, given that a WP contender would have a strong chance of winning it.

Indeed, the decoupling of Fengshan from East Coast GRC was perceived by some as a move to safeguard the GRC.

In the 2011 General Election, a five-member PAP team won it in a tight contest against the WP team, securing 54.8 per cent of votes - the closest win in a group representation constituency for the PAP.

Fengshan resident Richard Lim, 61, wonders if the ward had polled poorly back then: "Maybe it was the weak link. So it's been taken out to sacrifice one SMC - lose one (seat) instead of five (seats)."

Among opposition parties, the WP does appear to be the stronger contender, having contested East Coast GRC in 2011 and walked the ground in recent years. It won support in the north-east, with the capture of Aljunied GRC and Hougang and Punggol East SMCs.

Geographically, Fengshan SMC sits well with that expansion strategy, as it lies next to Aljunied's Kaki Bukit ward, roughly west of its border. Other wards in East Coast GRC - Changi-Simei, Siglap, Bedok and Kampong Chai Chee - are in the north, east and south of Fengshan.

The WP had already been walking the ground in the old East Coast GRC.

"We have met many Fengshan SMC residents over the last few years, to better understand the issues that they are concerned about," the WP tells Insight.

Political scientist Derek da Cunha says that should the PAP field a first-time candidate, "then voters might perceive that the PAP reckons that the WP's challenge in Fengshan would be too formidable".

Veteran politician Seow Khee Leng, 75, of the DPP had initially expressed interest in contesting Fengshan.

In an interview with Insight at his home - a stone's throw away from Fengshan SMC - Mr Seow, who contested five general elections from 1972 to 1988, said he wanted to "give something back to the community" that he has grown so familiar with, after living around the area for 30 years.

Mr Seow was part of a WP team that lost in Bedok GRC in 1988. In 1984, he contested Kampong Chai Chee SMC on a Singapore United Front ticket.

But with the DPP's decision not to contest Fengshan, Mr Seow will now lead the party's Tanjong Pagar team.

DPP secretary-general Benjamin Pwee says: "I don't believe in three-cornered fights.

"I believe that ultimately it will be a two-cornered fight between the best opposition candidate and the PAP, regardless of any number of candidates."


The potential candidates, though, may not find many municipal issues to champion.

Residents, by and large, are satisfied with the amenities in the ward, with some describing the area as "good and very safe".

Mr Ho Ko Wah, 62, a resident there and a PAP supporter, says: "There are restaurants and fast- food outlets. In terms of living environment, I have travelled a lot and many countries are virtually 'no standard' compared with us."

The Lift Upgrading Programme is completed for all eligible HDB blocks, while the Home Improvement Programme is under way.

The DPP's Mr Seow says he intends to raise issues related to cost of living and withdrawal of Central Provident Fund money, as part of his campaign.

Such issues resonate with voters such as Mr M. A. Nor, 34, who lives in a three-room flat with his two children and pregnant wife.

"Everything is getting more expensive and the salary is the same. I used to be a crane operator, then the foreign workers came. They can work longer hours and my salary fell," says Mr Nor, who started driving a taxi last October to boost his pay.

About 70 per cent of Fengshan's population live in HDB flats. The rest live in private properties.

One condominium dweller, lawyer C. Lim, 32, is leaning towards the PAP: "Since the last GE, the Government has been making a real effort to reach out to the people. One should recognise that."

Another condo resident, Ms Y. F. Lai, 34, who works in the education service sector, hopes voting for the opposition will drive change. She says: "I hope to see a healthier stance towards civil liberties in Singapore. As we mature as a nation, we cannot just be focusing on satisfying bread-and-butter issues."

As for what Polling Day might hold for Fengshan, political observers say it is a safer seat for the PAP than the previous election results may suggest.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser says: "It could be that because it is next to Aljunied, the WP town council saga could drive voters back to the PAP. So rather than a weak link, it is relatively strong standing next to Aljunied."

• Additional reporting by Rachel Chang, Marcus Lim, Jasmine Osada

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 02, 2015, with the headline 'Buzz over candidates for constituency'. Print Edition | Subscribe