Local issues the focus in straight fight for Bukit Batok

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan greets PAP's Mr Murali Pillai at the nomination centre at Keming Primary School. Both candidates kicked off the race yesterday with promises to make the constituency shine but a disagreement arose on how they would do so.
SDP chief Chee Soon Juan greets PAP's Mr Murali Pillai at the nomination centre at Keming Primary School. Both candidates kicked off the race yesterday with promises to make the constituency shine but a disagreement arose on how they would do so.PHOTO: ELECTIONS DEPARTMENT OF SINGAPORE

On Day One of nine-day campaign, Murali and Chee vow to make constituency better if elected

The two men who will go head-to-head in the Bukit Batok by-election on May 7 kicked off the race yesterday with promises to make the constituency shine.

The People's Action Party's (PAP) Mr Murali Pillai called on voters to work with him to "make Bukit Batok a beautiful place for all of us", while Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan said he would make the constituency "the envy of Singapore".

But a disagreement arose on how they would do so, with Dr Chee taking aim at his opponent's upgrading plans. At a press conference he held at the Keming Primary School nomination centre, the SDP chief said the plans were a "knee-jerk reaction" to the by-election.

 
 

Mr Murali told reporters outside the school that he would focus on explaining his plans to residents.

A total of five people had applied for the political donation certificate required by candidates this time round, but it came as no surprise when Mr Murali, 48, and Dr Chee, 53, were the only candidates announced at the end of nomination proceedings yesterday.

Both men have been pounding the ground in the single-member constituency since PAP MP David Ong resigned on March 12 over an alleged affair.

Yesterday, two others who received the certificates also turned up at the school. But former SDP member Kwan Yue Keng, 68, and Uber driver Shirwin Eu, 32, did not file their papers, eliminating the prospect of a multi-cornered fight.

At last year's general election, a three-way contest for Bukit Batok ended with Mr Ong winning 73 per cent of the votes, SDP candidate Sadasivam Veriyah 26.4 per cent, and independent candidate Samir Salim Neji, 0.6 per cent.

 
 
 

But political observers are not expecting such margins for the PAP come polling day, with by-elections typically being more favourable for the opposition.

Mr Murali himself has said on several occasions that he is preparing for a tough fight.

PAP heavyweights, including Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu and former Cabinet minister Lim Boon Heng were at the school to give their support. Mr Lim said: "We have to work hard for it. We cannot take the vote for granted."

Both sides have identified local issues, such as the constituency's elderly and needy residents, as top of their agenda.

They have also pledged to improve the physical environment.

Dr Chee said he will be a full-time MP and assemble a transition team to take over the town council.

Mr Murali unveiled $1.9 million worth of infrastructure plans for a precinct in the ageing town, and a manifesto that includes a healthcare cooperative and help for children from poor families.

The SDP said it was "unethical" for Mr Murali to say that he would not be able to promise the improvements if he was not elected.

But Mr Murali pointed out that he would be able to push through the plans only if he became MP and Bukit Batok remains part of a larger town council.

Although the by-election is likely to be fought on local issues, national issues are also in the background.

Mr Murali has highlighted the gloomy economic outlook, while Dr Chee has said he will be an alternative voice in Parliament.

After leaving the nomination centre, both candidates headed to nearby flats to continue their house visits.

Meanwhile, party supporters and contractors put up election posters and banners on lamp posts across the constituency.

There will be no rallies today, but campaigning continues.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2016, with the headline 'Local issues the focus in straight fight for Bukit Batok'. Print Edition | Subscribe