Singapore GE2020: Battlegrounds in the west

Progress Singapore Party candidate Gigene Wong (left) holds up the party’s fliers near Bukit Gombak MRT station, while Red Dot United chairman Michelle Lee speaks to residents at a coffee shop in Clementi on July 1, 2020.
Progress Singapore Party candidate Gigene Wong (left) holds up the party’s fliers near Bukit Gombak MRT station, while Red Dot United chairman Michelle Lee speaks to residents at a coffee shop in Clementi on July 1, 2020.ST PHOTOS: SHINTARO TAY, JASON QUAH

The war of words in the western battleground single seat of Bukit Batok has begun, even though the campaign is still in its early days.

Mr Murali Pillai, the People's Action Party (PAP) candidate for Bukit Batok, has had to address criticisms online, as well as those by his opponent and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan, who has zeroed in on municipal issues in the constituency.

Yesterday, an emotional Mr Murali addressed an online post about his son. On Tuesday, he said it was a "scurrilous attack" on his family. The post had surfaced the same day, "minutes after election was declared in Bukit Batok SMC", he had said.

Speaking to reporters during a walkabout in Bukit Batok Street 21 yesterday, Mr Murali, 52, said he wants to run a "dignified campaign" and "move on", and focus on his campaign by sharing his manifesto with residents.

He said: "Maybe people of my generation have some thick skin. We can take the heat. But I do hope you would evolve politics in a responsible way."

The fight for Bukit Batok, which has 29,950 voters, is seen as a rematch between Mr Murali and Dr Chee. Mr Murali, a lawyer, won a by-election for the seat in 2016 with 61 per cent of the votes.

Last week, Dr Chee on Facebook criticised unsafe and delayed improvement works in Bukit Batok, and a lift that appeared to have been operating with an expired lift permit, among other things.

Mr Murali said yesterday he was satisfied that the lapses in the improvement works were not systemic. He said: "As far as the shortcomings are concerned, certainly action would be taken in relation to the appropriate officer so that we will make sure that the appropriate level of services is continually delivered."

In a separate response to Dr Chee, the Jurong-Clementi Town Council said in a statement yesterday that it was dealing with the matter.

Some of the delays, the town council said, were due to "the inability to deploy workers as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic" and staff overlooking the updating of renovation signboards and the lift permit.

Dr Chee, 57, has also questioned Mr Murali's ability to attend to issues, given he has a full-time job. During a walkabout on Sunday, Dr Chee said: "I keep saying an MP needs to go full-time so that you can pay attention to the issues in Bukit Batok."

Mr Murali disagreed. Yesterday, he said that without the diversity of experience, "Parliament would have politicians with the same blind spot. But more importantly, I can draw from my experience to push for legislative changes".


Dr Chee has stepped up his ground game, meeting residents and distributing fliers. During a walkabout in the area on Sunday, Dr Chee listened to residents' complaints and when a man on a bus shouted his support for him, ran to give him a flier.

One well-wisher was seen dropping a thick stack of $50 notes into the SDP donation tin, saying Dr Chee "must get into Parliament this time".


The PAP's Mr Liang Eng Hwa and SDP chairman Paul Tambyah were off to an early start yesterday in Bangkit Road.

It was not even 9am, but already both men were giving out copies of their manifesto and meeting residents at coffee shops. When the two candidates crossed paths, they bumped elbows in a sign of goodwill and an unspoken agreement to have a fair contest.

In the afternoon, Mr Liang, 56, went door to door in Fajar Road, introducing himself to residents and getting feedback about the state of the amenities there.

Residents requested things like having a sports complex in Bukit Panjang and getting rid of cockroaches near the Housing Board block's rubbish chute.

Mr Liang said: "My job is to serve. I am prepared to start jogging over the next few days so that I can cover as many places (in the constituency) as possible."


Bukit Panjang is the largest of 14 single-member constituencies, with 35,497 voters.

Professor Tambyah, speaking to reporters yesterday, said he has always been friendly with Mr Liang despite not knowing him personally. He also addressed questions about his late switch from Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, saying it was a "strategic decision" his party made.

He said: "You know Mr Liang also moved across from Holland-Bukit Timah. So, in a way, you could say I followed him."

He was also asked about his views on Dr Chee's position that an MP should do the job full-time. Prof Tambyah, a professor of medicine at the National University of Singapore, said he is "pretty sure I can negotiate something with the dean and the university".

He added: "I am actually due for sabbatical, so there is a lot of room for negotiation... I would much rather play a mentorship role, a leadership role."


Dr Amy Khor is Senior Minister of State for Health and the Environment and Water Resources, and has been the MP for this single seat since 2011.

Dr Khor's campaign focused on the projects she will be rolling out for the constituency in the next five years, including a polyclinic, hawker centre and dementia-friendly garden.

Her opponent, Progress Singapore Party member Gigene Wong, is hoping to win voters over by campaigning on policy issues such as "socio-economic inequality and job stability".

During a walkabout near Bukit Gombak MRT station yesterday, she said: "I have no doubt that (Dr Khor) is good in many areas, and I think she has done a good job here also. But what she has not done, I can do. What she has done, I may not be good (at), but I am willing to try and learn," she added.

• Additional reporting by Clement Yong, Lim Min Zhang and Charmaine Ng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2020, with the headline 'Battlegrounds in the west'. Subscribe