Hot seats: SMCs to watch - Fengshan

GE 2015: Fresh faces fight it out in newly carved out SMC

Workers' Party candidate Dennis Tan (top) undergoing a security check as he arrived at Fengshan Primary yesterday to file nomination papers. He will go up against the People's Action Party's Cheryl Chan (above) in Fengshan SMC.
Workers' Party candidate Dennis Tan undergoing a security check as he arrived at Fengshan Primary yesterday to file nomination papers. He will go up against the People's Action Party's Cheryl Chan in Fengshan SMC.ST PHOTOS: NEO XIAOBIN
Workers' Party candidate Dennis Tan (top) undergoing a security check as he arrived at Fengshan Primary yesterday to file nomination papers. He will go up against the People's Action Party's Cheryl Chan (above) in Fengshan SMC.
The People's Action Party's Cheryl Chan, who is contesting Fengshan SMC.ST PHOTOS: NEO XIAOBIN

Much will hinge on who can connect better with residents in next 8 days, say observers

SINGAPORE - It will be a battle of newbies at Fengshan, with first-time candidates fighting it out in a newly carved out constituency in the 2015 General Election.

The People's Action Party (PAP) is fielding long-time grassroots volunteer Cheryl Chan, 38, and the Workers' Party is fielding one of its star candidates Dennis Tan, 45.

That two fresh faces are contesting in a single-seat ward making a comeback on the electoral map after 25 years, makes this a battle hard to call, with observers saying that much will hinge on who can connect better with residents over the next eight days.

Yesterday, both rookies met for the first time at the nomination centre in Fengshan Primary. "We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries," Mr Tan said.

His submission of papers yesterday confirmed his candidacy in this hot ward. As part of East Coast GRC in GE2011, Fengshan is believed to have been its weakest link for the PAP.

In an interview with The Straits Times yesterday, Mr Tan revealed that he was in fact with WP chairman Sylvia Lim, when she ate the now famous plate of orh luak (oyster omelette) that gave rise to fevered speculation she may be standing in Fengshan.

And while the PAP and the rest of Singapore was guessing, Mr Tan had already known his party's plans to field him there, having been told shortly after the electoral boundaries report was out. Keeping it from residents was "very difficult", he said apologetically.

The PAP had also kept its cards close to its chest, introducing Ms Chan only late last week.

Yesterday, both candidates did not want to rate their chances. Ms Chan declined to be interviewed yesterday but told The Straits Times on Sunday: "I don't make any guesses about this, because I respect people's choices. Every vote matters, (but) more importantly if a resident comes to us, we need to address it and support them."

Mr Tan said he was excited about his first time contesting an election, and as a candidate for the party he has supported since childhood: "I feel very humbled by my party's trust. "

He started walking the ground two years ago, has covered all the ward's flats, and recently started on his second round, he said. He has also visited the private estates where 30 per cent of Fengshan residents live. Through conversations with both sets of residents, he found that those in private estates have more municipal concerns, such as parking problems. Compared to them, those from the HDB estates needed more financial help.

"That's why it's not practical to have a set of common plans to serve their needs," he said.

So if elected, said Mr Tan, he would make an effort to understand the needs of residents in different parts of Fengshan, and "serve them accordingly".

This means his work as a partner in a law firm will take a back seat, said the shipping lawyer. But he does not intend to quit practising, to keep his legal skills sharp for the lawmaking role MPs have to play.

He said residents often tell him they hope he will provide the checks and balances needed in Parliament. "An elderly lady once told me that even between husband and wife, it can't just be one person calling the shots all the time."

As a WP candidate, Mr Tan said he has a greater responsibility to bring up issues in Parliament concerning not just Fengshan residents, but also all Singaporeans. "As an opposition member, I think I will be freer and better able to speak up on these issues," he said.

Ms Chan, who launched her manifesto yesterday, said in a Facebook post that it "highlights the work that we have done in building the best home for our residents over many years".

The head of secondary industries at a multinational gas and engineering company, she has been volunteering in Fengshan since 10 years ago, and had also worked closely with retiring Mr Raymond Lim.

On whether he would be disadvantaged by her eight-year lead, Mr Tan said: "At this stage, there is no point worrying. I just have to go about my campaign. And may the best candidate win."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2015, with the headline 'Fresh faces fight it out in newly carved out SMC'. Print Edition | Subscribe