The contest for Bukit Batok

Posters of the two candidates have gone up at various spots in the mature estate in western Singapore. So far, the issue of estate upgrading has figured prominently in this campaign.
Posters of the two candidates have gone up at various spots in the mature estate in western Singapore. So far, the issue of estate upgrading has figured prominently in this campaign.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The Sunday Times examines key issues that may sway the by-election vote on Saturday

Today is Day Five of the nine-day campaign period for the Bukit Batok by-election on May 7.

Battle lines have been drawn in the mature estate in western Singapore, where some 25,727 eligible voters will cast their ballots this Saturday for the second time in only eight months.

The by-election was triggered by the sudden resignation on March 12 of former People's Action Party (PAP) MP David Ong over a "personal indiscretion".

This is Singapore's third by-election in four years. The last two, in 2012 and 2013, ended with a win for the opposition Workers' Party.

The PAP goes into the by-election on the back of a nationwide swing at GE2015, the general election last September, where it garnered 69.9 per cent of the vote - 9.8 percentage points more than it secured in GE2011.

It is fielding lawyer Murali Pillai, 48, emphasising his extensive grassroots experience in Bukit Batok of more than 16 years.

Mr Murali's opponent is Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan, a veteran who contested his first election in 1992 - a by-election in Marine Parade.

At GE2015, Mr Ong won 73 per cent of the vote in a three-way contest against the SDP's Mr Sadasivam Veriyah, who managed 26.4 per cent, and independent candidate Samir Salim Neji , who got just 150 votes and lost his polls deposit.

The task that Dr Chee now faces is to engineera swing of at least 23.7 percentage points.

Will Mr Murali, the first Indian PAP candidate to vie in a single- seat ward in recent elections, prevail? Or will it be Dr Chee, who says he has moved away from the adversarial politics of the past?

How big could the purported "by-election effect" be? How much will election pledges like estate upgrading - which has taken centrestage in this campaign - hold sway over voters? The Sunday Times looks at these issues.


PAP: Murali's advantage is he's back on familiar ground


PAP supporters attending a rally at Bukit Gombak Stadium last Friday. Mr Murali has served in Bukit Batok for 16 years and is a familiar face in the area. This connection to the grassroots could give him a lift.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The People's Action Party (PAP) has stressed the long-term grassroots experience of its candidate, lawyer Murali Pillai, in Bukit Batok.

In cards he has distributed to residents, he writes: "It is my privilege to be with you in Bukit Batok, where I've served for 16 years."

National University of Singapore (NUS) political scientist Hussin Mutalib says this works in the PAP's favour because it would dispel any criticism that Mr Murali has been "parachuted" into the contest.

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SDP: Chee faces test of his political makeover


SDP supporters attending a campaign rally at a field in Bukit Batok Industrial Park A last Friday. Party candidate Chee Soon Juan is making his fifth attempt to enter Parliament.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan, 53, has made four unsuccessful bids to enter Parliament since going into politics in 1992.

Eight months ago in GE2015, his four-man team in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC polled 33.4 per cent, a result he described as "dismal".

It was slightly higher than the 30.1 per cent of eligible Singaporeans who voted against the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) nationwide.

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What residents want: Home improvements, estate renewal


Details of the renewal programme were put up during Mr Murali's walkabout last weekend.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The aunties in Bukit Batok are worried. They believe the new toilets and sheltered walkways they are hoping to get are at risk of being delayed, even derailed, by the by-election.

Says Madam Tan Siew Bee, 65, in Mandarin: "The aunties have been talking about it in the market."

Her block was picked for the Home Improvement Programme, or HIP, last year, though work has not started. Under the programme, the Housing Board will carry out work to fix ageing flats. Improvements to homes include repairing spalling concrete and installing a new and safer clothes-drying rack.

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Will 'by-election effect' kick in?

The PAP's Mr Murali Pillai (left) and SDP's Dr Chee Soon Juan (right), accompanied by their party members, submitting their nomination forms last Wednesday at Keming Primary School.
The PAP's Mr Murali Pillai (left) and SDP's Dr Chee Soon Juan (right), accompanied by their party members, submitting their nomination forms last Wednesday at Keming Primary School. PHOTO: ELECTIONS DEPARTMENT OF SINGAPORE

Hougang, Punggol East, and now, Bukit Batok - Singaporeans will witness a third by-election in just under four years. All three arose after resignations by the incumbent MPs over alleged extramarital affairs.

The first two polls were won by the opposition, helped by what politicians and analysts term the "by-election effect". This refers to voters choosing the opposition party, knowing that the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) will not be toppled from power overnight.

But how big this effect is depends on the size of the middle ground of swing voters, who are not loyal to any party and may change their vote from election to election.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 01, 2016, with the headline 'The contest for Bukit Batok'. Print Edition | Subscribe