Constituency close up: Marine Parade GRC

PAP, WP gear up for stiff contest

Mr Firuz Khan (standing), a Workers' Party candidate for Marine Parade GRC, at a hawker centre in Marine Terrace on Sunday. Mr Edwin Tong, a People's Action Party candidate for Marine Parade GRC, has been making his rounds in Joo Chiat on a bicycle o
Mr Edwin Tong, a People's Action Party candidate for Marine Parade GRC, has been making his rounds in Joo Chiat on a bicycle over the past three weeks.PHOTO: FACEBOOK OF EDWIN TONG
Mr Firuz Khan (standing), a Workers' Party candidate for Marine Parade GRC, at a hawker centre in Marine Terrace on Sunday. Mr Edwin Tong, a People's Action Party candidate for Marine Parade GRC, has been making his rounds in Joo Chiat on a bicycle o
Mr Firuz Khan (standing), a Workers' Party candidate for Marine Parade GRC, at a hawker centre in Marine Terrace on Sunday. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Both parties working the ground hard in GRC that has hived off MacPherson and absorbed Joo Chiat

Eunos market stallholder Helen Lim beams as she presents Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong a big bouquet of purple orchids.

The 60-year-old, who has lived in Eunos for 18 years, raises her fist and tells him excitedly: "I hope you will be elected!" After he moves on, she tells The Straits Times: "He has done so much over 40 years, listening to our needs and helping us. How can we not repay him and vote for the PAP?"

Over in Siglap, private investor J.M. Tan is still mulling over his vote. He knows what the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has done over the years, but wants more opposition in Parliament. "Even if things become more unstable politically, having a diversity of voices who can represent us is a better outcome for Singapore in the long term," said the 52-year-old.

Both Madam Lim and Mr Tan are voting in Marine Parade GRC, where the five-member PAP team led by Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin includes Mr Goh, the former prime minister and an MP there since 1976. The PAP team is being challenged by the Workers' Party (WP).

Minister Tan told The Straits Times: "WP is the main opposition party of weight and has a strong brand name, but we have done as much as we can and made the adjustments that had to be made and are continuing to do so."

In the 2011 General Election, the PAP retained the GRC with 56.6 per cent of the vote against a National Solidarity Party team whose star was Ms Nicole Seah, then 24. The PAP's vote share was below the 60.1 per cent it scored nationally.

Mr Tan, 46, who entered politics in 2011 and is touted as a fourth-generation leader, says the MPs shook off the 2011 setback and got to work right away to win back voters, visiting residents and organising community events and dialogues on top of weekly Meet-the-People Sessions. "The work is not done in the GE period. It cannot be," he said.

The PAP's efforts did not go unnoticed. Sales manager Carol Soon, 36, a Kembangan resident of more than 20 years, said: "I've seen them a lot more in our estate in the last few years. They'd ask for our feedback and follow up. You could see they were trying to do more."

Boundary changes this year affected the five-member GRC. Its MacPherson ward was hived off as a single-member constituency, and the previous Joo Chiat SMC was absorbed into it.

Aside from Mr Tan and Mr Goh, the PAP team this year includes backbenchers Seah Kian Peng, Fatimah Lateef and Edwin Tong. Since Nomination Day, they have gone door to door to distribute fliers and meet residents, with each clocking more than 15km a day.

"The reception has been warm; people come out and express their appreciation for what we have done," Mr Tan said on Sunday, the halfway mark of the nine-day campaign period.

Mr Goh, 74, is fighting his 10th elections. On the campaign trail, it is clear he is highly popular with young and old alike. Many want to shake hands and snap a selfie with him. Some residents of his Marine Parade division are pleased that he is staying on.

Housewife Salbiah Haron, 67, who has lived there for 40 years, said: "I've supported Goh Chok Tong always and I'll continue because he has always done a good job. He has built a good community here."

Book publisher Tan Wu Cheng, 76, a resident for nearly 40 years, said: "He comes here very often for teh tarik sessions and other activities to mingle. I find him very warm in his interactions with us."

'SON OF JOO CHIAT'

The WP team acknowledges it is a tough contest. Team leader Yee Jenn Jong said: "Sometimes you're up against giants. I signed up for this knowing who the likely opponents are." The 50-year-old's team has lawyer Terence Tan, chocolate factory owner Firuz Khan, corporate lawyer He Ting Ru and wealth manager Dylan Ng.

In 2011, Mr Yee lost to the PAP's Mr Charles Chong by just 388 votes in Joo Chiat SMC, now absorbed into Marine Parade GRC. As soon as he learnt it was no longer an SMC, he decided to move too, and asked his party bosses for "a very passionate team, one with commitment". Of the five WP candidates, Mr Yee, Mr Tan and Mr Firuz live in the GRC and are familiar with it.

Known as "son of Joo Chiat", Mr Yee got to be on first-name terms with several residents in Opera Estate and Siglap, and many would invite him to street parties and other functions. The Joo Chiat ward has more than 22,000 voters who all live in houses and condominiums. Some feel that as private estate dwellers, they have been neglected by grassroots leaders and left out of government social help schemes.

Lawyer Shamin Dhilawala, 50, a resident of 20 years, said: "There is a tendency to leave estates like ours alone... but Jenn Jong made a difference. He understands and listens to us and has tried to help us."

Mr Tan Kee Guan, 53, a regional controller in a finance company who has lived in the Siglap area for 15 years, said it will be harder to decide his vote now that Joo Chiat is in Marine Parade GRC.

Describing his dilemma, he said: "I am not voting for only one person but a team that includes a minister... The question is whether we have people who can make laws or whether we want to give a chance to those who tell us they are willing to speak up."

NEW BUT NOT INEXPERIENCED

The PAP's Mr Edwin Tong, a lawyer and one-term MP who moved to the GRC this year and will look after Joo Chiat, has pledged to do more for private estate dwellers.

The 46-year-old started making his rounds - on his bicycle - after the PAP assigned him there three weeks ago. He has had to start from scratch, introducing himself and working with a new team of party activists and volunteers.

The message he works hardest to get across is that while he is new in the GRC, he is not inexperienced. He was chairman of Moulmein- Kallang Town Council before that GRC was erased in the boundaries review. "It is a challenge but I'm trying my best," he said.

The WP team is on the move as well. Mr Yee started walking the ground in the Marine Parade and Kembangan-Chai Chee divisions more than a year ago as he could not be sure Joo Chiat SMC would survive on the electoral map. "Part of the SMC was in East Coast GRC in 2006, then became Joo Chiat SMC in 2011, and it's Marine Parade now. Three elections, three constituencies," he said with a sigh.

With Polling Day approaching, every opportunity to interact with voters is precious, he said. After the WP rally in Nee Soon GRC last Friday, he went for supper with his wife at Dunman Food Centre and ended up shaking hands with people there.

He said he has become familiar with local issues such as the need for more parking spaces in Joo Chiat and more exercise facilities for the elderly in Chai Chee.

After residents complained about stagnant water in a large drain near Siglap Centre, he took pictures and sent them to the PUB, which fixed the problem within a few days. "If I become an MP, it becomes easier to push for things like that. But even as an active citizen, I've been doing so," he said.

Businessman Tan Chuen Kiat, 43, who has lived in Marine Parade division since 2006, said the PAP has taken good care of the estate and made improvements such as a much-needed multistorey carpark. Singapore as a whole had also progressed well, he said.

But he felt the ruling party was "missing a personal connection" with the people, something he experienced with the WP when Mr Yee knocked on the door of his HDB unit a few weeks ago.

He also sees merit in the argument that having more opposition MPs in Parliament after 2011 had spurred the PAP Government to do better.

"I'm very, very torn," he said. "It's too bad my vote can't be split into two, one for each party."

• Additional reporting by Audrey Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2015, with the headline 'PAP, WP gear up for stiff contest Constituency close up: Marine Parade GRC'. Print Edition | Subscribe