The changing face of PAP's new candidates

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on a walkabout in Aljunied GRC with PAP candidates Victor Lye (far left) and Shamsul Kamar (to Mr Goh's left), who will both be running in the constituency. There are 24 new faces in the PAP's slate for this yea
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on a walkabout in Aljunied GRC with PAP candidates Victor Lye (far left) and Shamsul Kamar (to Mr Goh's left), who will both be running in the constituency. There are 24 new faces in the PAP's slate for this year's General Election.ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN
Given the maturity of this year's new PAP candidates, MP Tin Pei Ling is once again the party's youngest politician.
Given the maturity of this year's new PAP candidates, MP Tin Pei Ling is once again the party's youngest politician.ST FILE PHOTO

2015 slate is older, with more coming from private sector, as party gears up for challenges ahead

After a breakneck 14 days that took reporters from nursing homes to coffee shops and People's Action Party (PAP) branches around the island, the ruling party yesterday unveiled the last of its new candidates for the coming polls.

With the introduction of its last four new faces - for Aljunied GRC - a complete view of its 2015 slate has emerged. It is fielding 24 new faces among 89 candidates, its standard pace of one-quarter renewal.

But this batch differs from what it has done in the past in ways that speak to changing times and changing challenges for the ruling party.

For one thing, its candidates are noticeably older and more heavily weighted towards private-sector backgrounds, perhaps a response to charges that the 2011 batch was too public-sector heavy and that some candidates were too young.

The median age of the 24 new faces is 42.3 years old, making them the PAP's oldest group of newbies in more than 30 years.

This batch differs from what the PAP has done in the past in ways that speak to changing times and changing challenges for the ruling party. For one thing, its candidates are noticeably more mature in age and more heavily weighted towards private-sector backgrounds, perhaps a response to charges that the 2011 batch was too public-sector heavy and some candidates were too young.

In 2011, the median age of new candidates was but 38.5 years old.

Ironically, the maturity of this year's batch makes MP Tin Pei Ling - excoriated for her youth and inexperience when she was first fielded in 2011 at the age of 27 - once again the PAP's youngest candidate.

Among the 2015 new faces, the youngest is lawyer Rahayu Mahzam, 35, who is contesting Jurong GRC, and the oldest is insurance firm chief executive Victor Lye, 53, a candidate for Aljunied GRC.

Fifteen of the 24 new faces are from the private sector, with the PAP's usual catch of doctors, lawyers and corporate chiefs all accounted for.

In 2011, only eight newbies were from the private sector.

Curiously, the labour movement, long a source of political hopefuls for the PAP, has yielded only one new face - Mr Desmond Choo - compared to 2011's six.

But even Mr Choo, like two others in the group, is not actually a new politician but rather a repeat candidate who lost previous contests.

He lost twice in Hougang SMC in 2011 and 2012.

The others are Mr Ong Ye Kung, who lost in Aljunied GRC in 2011, and Dr Koh Poh Koon, who lost in the 2013 Punggol East by-election.

Mr Choo is being fielded in Tampines GRC this time, Mr Ong in Sembawang GRC and Dr Koh in Ang Mo Kio GRC.

When it comes to gender and minorities, women and Indian candidates are less present in this year's batch. The five new women candidates match the number of female MPs the PAP lost to retirement and electoral contests, but the total number of seats in Parliament has gone up by two, to 89.

Hence the appearance of not one but two all-male PAP slates, in Sembawang and Aljunied GRCs - a sight unseen since 2001.

There is also only one new Indian candidate, lawyer K. Muralidharan Pillai (being fielded in Aljunied GRC), while former TV personality Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) is of Indian and Chinese parentage. There were two new Indian candidates in 2011.

Given the PAP's emphasis on leadership renewal, the number of high-profile candidates of ministerial calibre is relevant.

The 2011 batch included the "Fantastic Five" of political hopefuls who PAP leaders said would make up the nucleus of the fourth-generation leadership.

This year, there appear to be only two - former top civil servant Chee Hong Tat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and former defence chief Ng Chee Meng (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC).

Mr Ong Ye Kung, who was among 2011's Fantastic Five but was in the PAP team that lost in Aljunied GRC, is giving it a second shot - making it a "Terrific Two plus One," perhaps.

But statistics can only tell you so much about these potential MPs and ministers.

The Straits Times asked every new face the same four questions: Why politics? Why you? What policies will you champion?

And, for a glimpse of the candidates' softer side: What is your favourite spot in Singapore?

The resulting trends:

The new politicians - perhaps reflecting a Singaporean trait - were awkward when it came to promoting themselves.

When asked "Why you?", most hemmed and hawed and reached for their private-sector experience or years in volunteer work.

Mr David, quite possibly the most recognisable new face ever fielded by the PAP, even worried that he might sound "arrogant" in answering the question.

On the topic of the policies they want to champion, the answers were a reflection of the demographic and social challenges the country faces as a mature economy.

Five candidates were worried about social mobility, seven expressed concern for the challenges that young families face, and four said that they would home in on issues regarding the elderly.

If their hobbies are any representation of Singaporeans at large, this seems to be a nation of joggers, readers and travellers.

Some candidates stretched the boundaries of what constitutes a hobby: several felt "walking" qualified, while former defence chief Mr Ng perhaps gave a glimpse into his packed schedule when he said that his "hobby" was "spending time with the family".

The "favourite spots" answers ended up being the most memorable, despite more than one candidate initially mistakenly talking about their favourite sports - Mr Lee Hong Chuang (Hougang SMC) is a former gymnast.

Many gave politically savvy answers, naming locations in the divisions that they will be contesting for the general election; other responses cycled through Singapore's touristic highlights.

Ms Rahayu (Jurong GRC) and Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) liked scenic spots along the Singapore River while Mr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) favoured the Gardens by the Bay.

Mr Amrin Amin (Sembawang GRC) and Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) loved Changi Airport for its dual sense of homecoming and adventure - "and it's air-conditioned", added Mr Amrin.

As for Mr Lye (Aljunied GRC) and Mr Ng (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), the answer was a simple "home".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'The changing face of PAP's new candidates'. Print Edition | Subscribe