May 7 is an important date for Bukit Batok residents, as it will be the day they decide who is the best person to represent their interests amid the gloomy economic outlook, lawyer Murali Pillai said yesterday.
Mr Murali, 48, the People's Action Party (PAP) candidate in the by-election, said he will release his plans for the single-member constituency (SMC) "between now and Nomination Day'', which falls on April 27.
He told The Straits Times his visits to the homes of the residents in recent weeks have shown that one of their main worries is adequate help when the slowdown threatens their ricebowl. Many people in the SMC live in rental HDB flats and they are concerned about how the economy could affect their job prospects, he said.
One- to three-room HDB flats make up almost one-third of housing in the SMC, which has about 46,000 residents. About 95 per cent of them live in HDB flats.
Mr Murali's plans "are based on what we've learnt from Bukit Batok residents over the past few weeks when I was conducting house visits".
A lawyer and long-time People's Action Party (PAP) activist, Mr Murali Pillai is a familiar face in Bukit Batok.
The 48-year-old got his first taste of grassroots work in the ward when it was part of Bukit Timah GRC.
He was also the ward's branch secretary from 2007 to 2011.
He gave free legal advice to Bukit Batok residents and helmed committees like its Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle.
Mr Murali, married and a father of four, is no stranger to electoral politics. He was in the five-member Aljunied GRC "suicide squad" that is credited with narrowing significantly the gap with the Workers' Party in last year's General Election.
The PAP got 49.04 per cent of the vote to the WP's 50.96 per cent.
Mr Murali , who heads commercial litigation at Big Four law firm Rajah & Tann, was was an assistant superintendent of police before he entered the legal profession.
These will cover such issues as help for needy families in the SMC, support for elderly residents and sprucing up the mature estate by improving connectivity between precincts, for instance, he added.
Mr Murali had previously told reporters that he would focus on giving employment help: both through government-linked agencies like the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), and at the community level."We have government support like the Social Service Office and e2i, but beyond that, we can galvanise community support as well," he had said.
The gloomy economic climate therefore means this by-election is a crucial one, he added.
He reiterated the point yesterday and said: "Obviously it is something very important for Bukit Batok residents, because they have to decide who should represent them in Parliament, represent their concerns and also look into issues that concern them as well."
Mr Murali also said he would push for the Home Improvement Programme for residents as several HDB blocks, built in the 1980s, have yet to benefit from it.
"Being a mature estate with a number of seniors, (many) residents have asked how seniors can stay healthy," he said.
On his preparations for the by-election, Mr Murali said he would continue to meet and listen to residents.
"This is not a box-ticking exercise in terms of covering the blocks. From my perspective, we need to have conversations with the residents and ask them what their concerns and aspirations are," he said.