Pushing hard to win hearts and minds

Pedestrians crossing at the junction of Joo Chiat Road and East Coast Road.
Pedestrians crossing at the junction of Joo Chiat Road and East Coast Road.ST PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO

In Joo Chiat, a big grievance among older residents is their exclusion from most forms of government social assistance owing to their ownership of landed properties.

On this front, the "asset-rich, cash-poor" group of elderly have got a big boost with their inclusion in the Government's 2014 Pioneer Generation Package - $8 billion worth of medical and social assistance for older citizens.

Joo Chiat MP Charles Chong, who won the ward by a wafer-thin 382 votes in the 2011 General Election, makes it a point to inform residents that they had almost been left out of the package. Thanks to his lobbying against means-testing, they were included.

Over in Nee Soon GRC, where the Workers' Party won 41.6 per cent of the votes in 2011, a note is made of residents who voice critical views during activists and MPs' door-to-door visits. Pre-2011, those critical comments may have been brushed off.

Now, activists return to those residents to engage them in policy discussion.

Together with this political messaging, MPs and activists have also looked inward.

Aware that some residents saw PAP MPs as arrogant and aloof, pomp has been stripped out of grassroots events. No longer do grassroots leaders line up to welcome the MP to an event, for example, and MPs take pains not to act like "very important persons".

The strain has not gone unnoticed: One Yishun activist says that he has seen MPs picking up trash and arranging chairs at events. "They've gone a bit too far. It's not necessary for the MP to do that."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 05, 2015, with the headline 'Pushing hard to win hearts and minds'. Print Edition | Subscribe