PAP's Murali Pillai

Bukit Batok by-election: I never really left Bukit Batok, says PAP's Murali Pillai

Since the announcement of his candidacy on March 21 for the Bukit Batok by-election, Mr Murali of the People's Action Party has been re-acquainting himself with residents.
Since the announcement of his candidacy on March 21 for the Bukit Batok by-election, Mr Murali of the People's Action Party has been re-acquainting himself with residents.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Even as they wait for the Bukit Batok by-election date to be announced, two hopefuls have been out meeting and greeting residents almost daily. The Straits Times caught up with the PAP's Murali Pillai and SDP's Chee Soon Juan to ask what they have been up to in the past weeks

Two weeks ago, lawyer Murali Pillai's team posted a 30-second video on Facebook to introduce him to residents in Bukit Batok.

The video is entirely in Mandarin, and in it, the People's Action Party (PAP) candidate for the upcoming Bukit Batok by-election asks residents to call him "Ah Mu".

Although the 48-year-old is familiar with the area, since he began volunteering there 16 years ago, he said every bit helps him to reach out to the 27,000 voters in the constituency.

But he dismisses the suggestion that the video is prompted by the fact that he is the first Indian PAP candidate since 1988 to vie in a single-seat ward that has a higher proportion of Chinese residents than the national average.

"Friends and colleagues have been calling me Mu for aeons," he told The Straits Times in an interview at a coffee shop last week.

"The issue of reaching out to Singaporeans who do not speak English is not a new one for me."

 

He has dealt with similar demographics in the Paya Lebar ward of Aljunied GRC, where he contested in September last year as part of a five-man PAP team that narrowly lost to the Workers' Party.

 

"To be effective community leaders, we need to understand residents well. That's why I've resolved to learn a little bit of Mandarin. I am glad to say I have no shortage of teachers," said Mr Murali, who attended Hwa Chong Junior College.

For PAP leaders looking for a candidate who is familiar with the ground and can reach out to voters, Mr Murali was a natural fit.

Before moving to Aljunied GRC in 2012, he was secretary of the Bukit Batok PAP branch for five years from 2007. He also tended to residents when their MP, Dr Ong Chit Chung, died in 2008.

They are again without an MP after Mr David Ong resigned from the post and the party on March 12 over an alleged extramarital affair.

Mr Murali also responded to criticism from some quarters that he is being moved from one hot seat to another.

"I've never really left Bukit Batok," he said.

Mr Murali, who is married to a teacher with whom he has four children, first got involved in grassroots work helping to advise residents on legal matters in Bukit Batok in 2000 and joined the PAP a year later.

"Relationships once forged do not end just because you go to another place. As and when I'm asked to help, I'll help," he said.

Since the announcement of his candidacy on March 21, he has been "re-acquainting" himself with residents, covering at least one to two blocks every night, and making the rounds of markets on weekends.

Residents have been warm to him during these visits. He finds it especially encouraging when some tell him that they remember him from when he served there previously.

He did not want to be drawn into saying how he intended to distinguish himself in Parliament. His opponent, Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, has said that Mr Murali, if elected, will be no different from the 82 other PAP MPs in Parliament.

Mr Murali's response? Getting to know residents and dealing with their concerns are bigger priorities.

These, in turn, will shape the issues he will raise in Parliament if elected. So far, two stand out: employment opportunities for the retrenched, and helping the elderly age with dignity and as few worries as possible.

"These are not issues I came up with on my own. These are issues that matter to Bukit Batok residents," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2016, with the headline 'PAP's Murali Pillai 'I never really left Bt Batok''. Print Edition | Subscribe