Standing their ground: WP's 'next generation' keep knocking on East Coast's door

WP's Mr Leon Perera greeting residents at a hawker centre during Chinese New Year on Feb 6. The East Coast team says it started house visits much earlier this time than after GE2011.
WP's Mr Leon Perera greeting residents at a hawker centre during Chinese New Year on Feb 6. The East Coast team says it started house visits much earlier this time than after GE2011.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/LEON PERERA

They lost the election, but their teams are back on the ground. Insight catches up with the contenders in the two closest GRCbattles: the PAP team in Aljunied GRC and the WP team in East Coast GRC.

They may be out, but they are not down. The four-man Workers' Party team that fought for, but failed to capture East Coast GRC, are continuing to make their presence felt, half a year on from Polling Day.

Walking the ground each weekend will be at least one of the four candidates: former public servant Mohamed Fairoz Shariff, IT consultant Gerald Giam, and now-Non-Constituency MPs, National University of Singapore sociology professor Daniel Goh and consulting firm chief executive Leon Perera.

They touch base via house visits, swinging by markets and other common areas, or with coffee sessions with residents.

Photos of this ground work are promptly posted on the candidates' Facebook pages to amplify their reach and signal that the WP has not given up on the constituency. Responding to The Sunday Times' queries, the East Coast team says it started house visits much earlier this time than after GE2011, even before the current Parliament was convened.

After last year's polls, some condominiums in the GRC granted their requests to conduct dialogue sessions within their premises.

VIRTUAL SIGHTINGS

With social media I know they have been to my neighbourhood even if I don't see them in the flesh.

BEDOK SOUTH RESIDENT ALICE LEOW, of the WP team

Others said "no" as they did not allow political canvassing on their grounds, but the East Coast team notes that the same condos allowed PAP MPs to hold similar activities.

Bedok South resident Alice Leow, 60, says she has not met the WP's East Coast candidates in person since the election, but has seen photos of their walkabouts online.

"With social media I know they have been to my neighbourhood even if I don't see them in the flesh. It's good to know they are not just here when the elections are around the corner," the retiree says.

This might seem the basic grassroots efforts of any political party that wants to stay relevant. But the WP has been the most consistent among opposition parties in maintaining ties with the areas it contested. The Reform Party and People's Power Party have hardly made any public appearances. Their Facebook pages have updates on the opinions of their leaders, but no pictures of them shaking hands with residents.

Even within the WP, the East Coast team stands out as the most diligent among the four GRCs that the party contested but failed in.

A factor driving the four WP East Coast die-hards must be a sense of having been so close, yet so far. Heading into GE2015, some political observers believed the GRC would be the opposition party's next scalp after taking Aljunied GRC in 2011. After all, the WP had improved its vote share performance in East Coast GRC from 36.1 per cent of the vote in 2006 to 45.2 per cent in 2011.

But the PAP held East Coast with 60.7 per cent, amid a national wave of support for the party.

The WP's vote share slipped to 39.3 per cent. However, the WP's East Coast team points out that the vote swing in the GRC was one of the lowest in Singapore. It was the poorest showing by a winning PAP team in a GRC for GE2015.

Since the election, the WP as a whole has been trying to step up engagement, and is trying out new initiatives. Perhaps stung by views that it was too passive in Parliament, it has begun posting on its Facebook page the parliamentary questions that WP MPs will raise. Afterwards, it puts up the answers.

During last year's campaign, WP chief Low Thia Khiang named the East Coast and single-seat Fengshan candidates - the latter was shipping law firm partner Dennis Tan - as part of the next generation of WP leaders, urging voters to back them. After the GE results, Mr Low said the party's renewal plans had been hit by its relatively poor showing.

From that perspective, the ground efforts in East Coast are not just about keeping a constituency competitive. They concern the electability of those earmarked to be future leaders of Singapore's main opposition party.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 13, 2016, with the headline 'Standing their ground: WP's 'next generation' keep knocking on East Coast's door'. Print Edition | Subscribe