In Potong Pasir, it's upgrading v kampung spirit

SPP chairman Lina Chiam had lost Potong Pasir to Mr Sitoh by a mere 114 votes in 2011.
SPP chairman Lina Chiam had lost Potong Pasir to Mr Sitoh by a mere 114 votes in 2011.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The distinctive slope-roofed HDB blocks and small provision shops that give the former opposition bastion of Potong Pasir its rustic charm are still there. But gone are the days when residents had to take a bus to Toa Payoh to shop at a FairPrice supermarket or visit a POSB branch.

These were brought in after PAP MP Sitoh Yih Pin won the last election, and figure prominently in the new annex to the town's community club that opened last year.

Mr Sitoh won Potong Pasir on his third try in 2011, when Singapore People's Party (SPP) chief Chiam See Tong left the ward he held since 1984 to contest neighbouring Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

Mr Sitoh wrested it from Mr Chiam's wife and SPP chairman Lina Chiam by a mere 114 votes. But he went to work, and now there are new lifts that stop at every floor, more pavilions, covered linkways and over 100 extra parking spaces.

For residents like property agent Margaret Rani, 58, the transformation extends into her four-room flat: ageing sewage pipes in her kitchen and bathroom are being replaced, as is the household's squat toilet for a sitting one.

A fortnight ago, Mr Sitoh also announced that eight blocks of flats in Potong Pasir Avenue 1 would now qualify for lift upgrading.

Nearly half of the 50 people Insight polled in Potong Pasir gave the thumbs-up to the changes.

"I used to take a bus to Kallang Bahru or Serangoon almost every other day for shopping at FairPrice, but now I go to Nex (mall) only every few weeks," says housewife Sivanati Thanisree, 38.

But many bemoan the erosion of Potong Pasir's kampung spirit. This, after all, is a town where some residents of ground-floor HDB flats have created small gardens, complete with trellises, benches and patio umbrellas - on public land.

One is Ms Susan Tang, 65, a church worker who lives in an executive maisonette unit at Block 124, Potong Pasir Avenue 1.

She says: "Under Mr Chiam, no one expected every problem to be solved. Now, people think no matter what problem they have, the PAP will take care of it."

A resident of 25 years who gave his name as Mr Ho notes that at the void deck of Block 107, Potong Pasir Avenue 1, which has for years been an informal gathering point for lo hei and year-end countdowns, police used to be "more reasonable" about noise. The 60-year-old retiree says: "Now, (they) threaten to disperse us."

There are also a handful of residents such as undergraduate Ben Goh, 22, who wants an MP who will press the Government on thorny issues of immigration, and competition in schools, and for jobs.

These are part of the "national issues" that Mr Chiam used to champion, says Mr Achary Raja, 45, owner of a limousine firm. He declares: "People want the PAP in power, but also the opposition in Parliament."

Indeed, while about a third of residents say they are likely to vote opposition, half opt for the incumbent. And analysts say it might be a safer seat for the PAP than the previously thin margin may suggest.

Another factor is the declaration by former National Solidarity Party secretary-general Tan Lam Siong that he will run as an independent. Three-cornered contests have historically benefited the ruling party.

  • Additional reporting by Choo Yun Ting and Goh Yan Han
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 16, 2015, with the headline 'In Potong Pasir, it's upgrading v kampung spirit'. Print Edition | Subscribe