PAP thank you parades

Veteran's work ethic, likeability won over Punggol East

Mr Charles Chong on the campaign trail in Rivervale Crescent. He had represented some of the residents in the area while he was an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC from 2001 to 2011.
Mr Charles Chong on the campaign trail in Rivervale Crescent. He had represented some of the residents in the area while he was an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC from 2001 to 2011. ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

There was no parade the morning after for Mr Charles Chong, not even with his historic victory against the odds for Punggol East SMC on Friday night.

Said Mr Chong: "The best way to thank voters is to do a good job and help them with their problems.

"I'd rather thank them in person during house visits than from a noisy vehicle."

This forthright manner is typical of the 62-year-old veteran politician, and is probably one of the reasons he was tasked last month by the People's Action Party (PAP) with wresting the Punggol East seat back from Ms Lee Li Lian of the Workers' Party (WP).

Mr Chong is no novice to the game but few thought he could do it, such was the perceived support for the opposition.

Proving naysayers wrong, he won the seat with 51.76 per cent of 32,758 votes.

Mr Chong put it down to being in the ruling party and able to get things done. He is also no stranger to the area, having represented some of the residents while he was an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC from 2001 to 2011.

On whether he had expected to win, he would only say he never took anything for granted.

PAP activists said it was his personality and work ethic, and the use of clean tactics that secured him the single-seat ward.

Mr Chong acknowledged there were too many blocks for him to visit in such a short time, but where he did go, he made a difference.

Retiree V. Narayanasamy, 81, who went with him on walkabouts, said: "He paid a lot of attention to what residents wanted and he got down to work immediately."

One resident pointed out an uncovered manhole which he had been trying unsuccessfully to get fixed for six months.

"Mr Chong said he would look into it, and the next day when we went back, work was already in progress to have it covered," Mr Narayanasamy recalled.

Party activist Khartini Khalid, a 39-year-old lecturer, said Mr Chong was always ready to listen to residents.

"Residents had all sorts of issues to raise, like cleanliness, handrails being ripped off and rubbish collection areas being left open for weeks even after calls to the town council," she said.

During his campaign trail, Mr Chong and his team saw defects such as lights hanging from ceilings on several floors in Block 182, Rivervale Crescent, said Ms Khartini.

He kept his eye on these issues, though that sometimes meant criticising the town council.

One resident, Mr Tay Jia Xin, felt this helped Mr Chong. "It was probably the right strategy to focus on town council issues, because they are the closest to residents' hearts."

Mr Chong's refusal to engage in personal attacks on Ms Lee was another factor that swung votes his way, said Punggol East Citizens' Consultative Committee chairman Raymond Lye, who has known Mr Chong since the 1990s.

Ms Lee won Punggol East in a four-way by-election fight in 2013.

Mr Lye said grassroots leaders continued to keep in touch with residents after losing the ward, which kept the relationship between the Government and the residents strong.

What clinched it for Mr Chong, according to insiders, was his good-natured personality, his patience and likeability. In the end, he may just have been the man the ruling party needed.

Calling the victory a "most satisfying" one for the PAP, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at his press conference yesterday morning: "I've sent Charles Chong there. He did an outstanding job, as he has done more than once in his career."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 13, 2015, with the headline 'Veteran's work ethic, likeability won over Punggol East'. Print Edition | Subscribe