Suspense retained till the last minute

It was almost a cloak-and-dagger operation.

Unlike at other sessions to introduce People's Action Party (PAP) candidates, name tags for those at Aljunied GRC were hidden from sight at the table.

It was only as the hour drew nearer to 11.30am, when the press conference was scheduled to begin, that activists began laying them out.

And even then, the one for four-term MP Yeo Guat Kwang - who has been sent in from Ang Mo Kio GRC - was not set out till the very last minute.

The secrecy was fitting for a slate that has seen various nips and tucks in recent months, as the ruling party strategised to put together its team to wrestle back the constituency it lost to the Workers' Party in the last general election.

Yesterday, the PAP line-up was announced to be Mr Yeo and four new faces: Mr Victor Lye, Mr K. Muralidharan Pillai, Mr Chua Eng Leong and Mr Shamsul Kamar.

But even then, former party chairman Lim Boon Heng, who was tasked to build up the team after the 2011 slate exited the scene, remained coy on whether the line-up might change yet again at the 11th hour.

He did not rule out the possibility of standing in the election himself, when pressed by reporters on whether he might do so.

Mr Lim said: "In politics, things happen very quickly and between now and Sept 1, anything can happen... I don't rule out anything."

Sept 1 is Nomination Day, when candidates submit their nomination papers.

Only then does the team that a party fields become finalised for the general election.

Taken off the Aljunied GRC team were two new faces who had been appointed as the GRC's PAP branch chairmen and were expected to stand: Ms Chan Hui Yuh in Serangoon and Mr Kahar Hassan in Kaki Bukit.

This was a departure from the party's practice in most other constituencies, where candidates who had been walking the ground for years were fielded.

The fact that Ms Chan, 38, would not be fielded was confirmed only yesterday during the press conference.

Taking her place is Mr Yeo.

Said Mr Lim: "We heeded Hui Yuh's appeal not to stand this time. She has been working very hard in the last 17 months. But it is not easy for a young mother with two young children to continue at this pace.

"She told me it's very hard to explain to a child why mummy has to rush off all the time," he said, choking up.

After he had regained his composure, he said: "Even as we want to win in Aljunied, the PAP will not put family relations at risk. "It's not win at all costs. We value the family."

Meanwhile, Mr Shamsul Kamar replaced Mr Kahar as the PAP's Kaki Bukit branch chairman this month.

Mr Kahar joined Kaki Bukit 16 months ago.

Said Mr Lim: "The party decided that we needed a change in Kaki Bukit. Although Kahar is a very hard-working person, we should make a change if we find somebody that is a better fit."

This was made possible by the PAP's new strategy of deploying potential candidates on the ground earlier to assess how they relate with residents and grassroots leaders, he said.

"It allows us what management jargon calls a 360-degree assessment of the candidates," said Mr Lim.

"This time round, we have been more comprehensive in the assessment of our candidates and whether they fit in the constituency where we intend to field them."

Charissa Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'Suspense retained till the last minute'. Print Edition | Subscribe