Hot seats: SMCs to watch - Punggol East

Courteous exchange belies fierce contest for opposition ward

Mr Charles Chong speaking to the media at Fengshan Primary School. He will be contesting against Workers' Party MP Lee Li Lian, who has represented Punggol East for two years.
Mr Charles Chong speaking to the media at Fengshan Primary School. He will be contesting against Workers' Party MP Lee Li Lian, who has represented Punggol East for two years.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

The two candidates vying for the Punggol East single-seat ward were the very picture of courtesy yesterday.

After he had submitted his forms at the nomination centre in Fengshan Primary School, political veteran Charles Chong from the People's Action Party (PAP) shook hands with his opponent, Workers' Party's Ms Lee Li Lian, and asked after her baby.

Speaking to The Straits Times, he said Ms Lee was a "very nice lady", from having met her at parliamentary conferences, and added in jest: "How can I fight against motherhood?"

In reality, Mr Chong will put up a hard fight to wrest Punggol East from Ms Lee, who has represented the ward she won in a by-election for two years.

She had garnered 16,038 votes, more than half of the 29,415 votes that were cast by residents in the constituency in a four-way fight, held after the elected MP, Mr Michael Palmer, resigned from the PAP.

PAP's candidate in the by-election, Dr Koh Poh Koon, had won 43.7 per cent of votes.

While Ms Lee could not be reached for comment yesterday, a post on her Facebook page shortly after nominations closed read: "I think no one other than my family can understand what I've been going through."

It was accompanied by a picture of her husband and their daughter, Karys, which said: "You go, girl. Don't worry about us." Karys was exactly 14 months old yesterday.

"I'm responsible for bringing Karys into this world. I should have the responsibility to play a part in helping to shape the country's future where she will be growing up in," she added in her post.

Someone who might have something to say about that is Mr Chong, who is himself no stranger to Punggol East as he was an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC from 2001 to 2011.

In a speech after the close of nominations, which referred to his electorate, he said: "We must convince them that they now have an alternative. In 10 days' time, we must win Punggol East back."

That was greeted by a rousing cheer from about 200 supporters for the PAP teams at Fengshan Primary School.

Mr Chong was most recently MP for the now-defunct Joo Chiat SMC, after winning it by just 388 votes.

Yesterday, he and his team got down to work as soon as the nominations closed, going on block visits and mingling with residents at shopping mall Rivervale Plaza.

He also had an event lined up for the night, and said he would continue to visit residents in the days to come. But he will have his work cut out for him.

Mr Chong said he had received a steady stream of e-mail messages from residents asking for details on the programmes he intends to roll out.

Come Sept 11, he will square off against Ms Lee to see who winsmore than half of the 34,410 voters registered in the ward.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2015, with the headline 'Courteous exchange belies fierce contest for opposition ward'. Print Edition | Subscribe