GE 2015: Singapore People's Party 'not giving up on Potong Pasir'

Mrs Lina Chiam and party members waving to residents in Potong Pasir from the SPP lorry, which also went around Sennett Estate before ending at Toa Payoh Lorong 8.
Mrs Lina Chiam and party members waving to residents in Potong Pasir from the SPP lorry, which also went around Sennett Estate before ending at Toa Payoh Lorong 8.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Lina Chiam says she will not quit politics and plans to groom new talent for the party

SINGAPORE - The Singapore People's Party (SPP) will never give up Potong Pasir, party chairman Lina Chiam told residents on Sunday (Sept 13) during a post-election thank-you tour of the single-seat ward.

"Potong Pasir is too close to our hearts," she said repeatedly, microphone in hand, as her entourage went around Sennett Estate and the heartland of Potong Pasir before ending at Toa Payoh Lorong 8. "We will fight the battle another day, another time."

She stood in the back of a lorry that was decked with SPP flags, and was with party members, including SPP candidate for Mountbatten Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, for the drive through the constituency that she unsuccessfully contested for a second time. People waved and many looked out from their flats at the two lorries, which stopped occasionally for handshakes with residents and for some to take photos with Mrs Chiam, 66.

Her husband, veteran opposition leader Chiam See Tong, 80, was not part of the parade, but his maroon-coloured vintage Volkswagen Beetle - used in the days of his own campaign - was in the convoy.

Two days after the polls in which Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, 51, her opponent from the People's Action Party, won decisively with 66.4 per cent of the vote - the largest swing in a single-seat ward for the PAP - Mrs Chiam was still coming to terms with her loss.

FIGHTING SPIRIT

Potong Pasir is too close to our hearts... We will fight the battle another day, another time.

MRS LINA CHIAM, vowing not to give up politics despite Saturday's loss

This year's contest was a far cry from 2011, when Mr Sitoh won Potong Pasir on his third try by just 114 votes, a margin which led to Mrs Chiam entering Parliament as a Non-Constituency MP.

"One thing I find very baffling is that when I was shaking hands (with residents), I thought I could win," she said, adding that both she and Mr Sitoh expected a close contest. "Singaporeans are very nice. When I went around, they said 'Sure, I'll vote for you'. But you can't really tell."

The result on Friday (Sept 11) meant that, for the first time in 31 years, the Chiams will not be in Parliament. Mr Chiam served as MP for Potong Pasir for 27 years till 2011.

Mrs Chiam attributed the scale of her defeat largely to the PAP's resources and what Mr Sitoh was able to provide residents after he won in 2011. She cited the $5 million for the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) and subsidised community-organised overseas trips for residents.

Mr Sitoh also initiated other estate improvement projects and brought in an NTUC FairPrice supermarket and a POSB outlet.

"The swing towards the PAP, the biggest carrot, was upgrading," she said. "I have a feeling residents were afraid that if they voted for me, upgrading of the lifts might stop - some of them may believe that."

The SPP was one of the parties that fared worst nationally, not just in Potong Pasir: it was the party with the largest drop in vote share, getting 27.1 per cent of votes in the seats it contested, compared to 41.4 per cent in 2011.

Mrs Chiam acknowledged that the late confirmation of the SPP slate for Bishan Toa-Payoh GRC, just three days before Nomination Day on Sept 2, might have contributed to the party's poor performance there. The SPP and Democratic Progressive Party agreed to jointly contest Bishan-Toa Payoh, but negotiations took nearly a month to conclude.

The joint team garnered 26.4 per cent of the votes at the election, compared to 43.1 per cent in 2011. This made Bishan Toa-Payoh the GRC with the biggest swing result for the PAP.

The SPP's losses came despite the popular Mr Chiam figuring large during the campaign. He was at all SPP candidate introductions, rallies and several walkabouts.

Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan noted that the SPP's biggest problem is that it has been "a very Chiam-centric party".

That the couple were dominant may have reduced its appeal: "Maybe 30 years ago, when he was first elected, there was appeal in the name Chiam See Tong. But 30 years on, it's no longer the case."

The lack of renewal within its ranks also makes the party less attractive in each election, he added.

But Mrs Chiam rejected talk that the Chiam era was at an end: "As long as Mr Chiam is alive and around, he will be a force for the SPP. He may not be able to contest, but I believe Singapore looks at Mr Chiam as an iconic figure after Lee Kuan Yew."

She refused to rule out contesting Potong Pasir again and indicated that she would now find and groom new blood to take the party forward. Potentials include SPP assistant secretary-general Loke Hoe Yeong.

"If the party needs me to lead or to be their mentor, I will still be in politics. I will not quit politics just because I lost this time," she said.

Given the SPP's electoral setbacks - it also lost in Hong Kah North - she was under no illusion that it would be a hard climb back.

Still, she reminded, Mr Chiam lost three times before winning in Potong Pasir in 1984: "It is an uphill battle but we will take the challenges as they come. We got this from Mr Chiam: The spirit to never give up, to persevere."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2015, with the headline 'SPP 'not giving up on Potong Pasir''. Print Edition | Subscribe