Veteran MP Charles Chong attended a National Day dinner in Punggol East yesterday, all but confirming that he will be the People's Action Party's (PAP) candidate in the opposition ward.
Mr Chong arrived to a warm welcome from PAP branch activists and grassroots leaders in the single-member constituency (SMC), which the Workers' Party's Lee Li Lian won in a 2013 by-election.
He is a familiar face to most of them as areas of the ward were under his purview when he was an MP in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC from 2001 to 2011.
Mr Chong, 62, sat to the right of Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean - the event's guest of honour - and made a speech at the dinner, but would not confirm or deny to reporters his move from Joo Chiat SMC to Punggol East.
He described his return to the ward as a "homecoming".
"It feels like Chinese New Year when you visit old relatives," he said.
Mr Teo said in his speech that he invited Mr Chong to the dinner as "someone who is very familiar to all of you and who has served you and served Singapore for many years".
Punggol East activists cheered Mr Chong's return and likely candidacy. "A lot of activists are very excited and have come forward to render their help for the elections," said assistant branch secretary Tang Wing Fai.
"All of them are really happy that he's coming back home and taking care of us."
The fielding of Mr Chong in the WP-held ward is a sign that the ruling party is mounting an aggressive bid to wrest the single seat back from the WP's Ms Lee, who won the ward in 2013 with 54.5 per cent of the vote. That by-election was called when PAP MP Michael Palmer, then Speaker of Parliament, resigned over an affair with a grassroots staff member.
In his speech, Mr Teo said the Government has "consistently maintained a high standard of integrity".
"Honesty and transparency is a key aspect of Singapore and we should expect no less from anyone who wishes to be in government," he said in what seemed to be a reference to lapses in compliance and governance found at the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.
"If there's wrongdoing, one must be upfront, admit one's mistakes and take the appropriate actions to set things right," he said.
"This is how we ensure that our system remains clean and we continue to have good, competent leaders to serve Singapore."
Mr Chong struck a buoyant note on the likely uphill battle ahead. Asked for his view on comments that he is on a suicide mission against the WP, he quipped: "Suicide for whom?"
Incumbent MP Ms Lee, 37, was at a WP Hari Raya dinner and would only say: "Whoever they send, I'm just going to do my best."