Hot seats: GRCs to watch - East Coast

Former colleagues face off in political arena

(Front row) PAP's Ms Cheryl Chan and Mr Maliki Osman, (second row, from left) Ms Jessica Tan, Mr Raymond Lim, Mr Lim Swee Say and Mr Lee Yi Shyan, and their supporters arriving at Fengshan Primary School.
(Front row) PAP's Ms Cheryl Chan and Mr Maliki Osman, (second row, from left) Ms Jessica Tan, Mr Raymond Lim, Mr Lim Swee Say and Mr Lee Yi Shyan, and their supporters arriving at Fengshan Primary School.ST PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW

It was a mini-reunion of sorts for three former colleagues whose paths crossed again yesterday after many years - this time at the nomination centre at Fengshan Primary School.

Once co-workers at the Economic Development Board in the 1990s, the People's Action Party's Mr Lim Swee Say and Mr Lee Yi Shyan, and the Workers' Party's Mr Leon Perera are now political rivals fighting for the votes of residents in East Coast GRC.

Mr Perera, 44, now CEO of a research and consultancy agency, confirmed with The Straits Times that he knew Mr Lim and Mr Lee from his time at the statutory board as assistant head of its Enterprise Development Division.

"Mr Lee was in the US but we met during a team building exercise. Meanwhile, I worked with Mr Lim on several projects," he said.

Mr Lee was then a senior executive based in Washington DC, and Chicago, while Mr Lim was managing director at the EDB.

Their meeting in the nomination hall yesterday was described by Mr Perera as "warm, cordial and respectful", but politics will be the order of the day now that campaigning is in full swing.

East Coast GRC is expected to be one of the hottest battlegrounds this election, with the WP fielding its best team outside its "A" team in Aljunied GRC.

While eyes were on possible last-minute candidate swops at the nomination centre, both sides eventually announced their slates with little surprises.

Apart from Mr Perera, the WP's slate for East Coast GRC includes: sociologist Daniel Goh, 42; former librarian Mohamed Fairoz Shariff, 36; and IT solutions architect Gerald Giam, 37, who was a Non-Constituency MP during the last parliamentary term.

They are challenging the PAP team led by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, 61; Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan, 53; Minister of State Maliki Osman, 50; and two-term backbencher Jessica Tan, 49.

The PAP quartet contested as part of a larger East Coast GRC team in the 2011 General Election. In that contest, it was the PAP's worst-performing GRC apart from Aljunied GRC, securing 54.8 per cent of the vote share - a 9 percentage point drop from 2006.

Mr Lim said yesterday that the results prompted reflection among the PAP MPs, who stepped up on efforts to engage residents more deeply in the past four years.

He would not be drawn into assessing his opponents. "I won't rate. As I said, we have done our best to prepare for this GE, and are looking for a good contest," he said.

Addressing supporters after the nomination results were out, Mr Lim said the future of Singapore is in voters' hands and "we want Singapore SG100 to be better than SG50", referring to the country's 50th year of independence this year.

Mr Giam, who is contesting East Coast GRC for the second time, expects the PAP to make an issue of the accounts of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.

"That's something that they want to be able to whip up, but our focus is really on the issues that Singaporeans really care about - the bread-and-butter issues, public transport, healthcare."

One national issue that will resonate with WP supporter, retiree D. Chia, 58, is rapid population growth in Singapore. "The 6.9 million population, I find that disturbing. That's the single thing that made me decide we have to have an opposition," he said.

Among the PAP supporters was Mr Teo Chong Tee, 74, former PAP MP for Changi from 1976 to 1996. He said people should "be more understanding" about issues like cost of living and immigration as it is not just Singapore facing these issues, but other countries too.

"People are educated enough not to be swayed by sweet talk. Voters must ask them: what can you do for me, how would you do it," said Mr Teo.

East Coast GRC is the smallest group representation constituency this election, with 99,015 voters. In the coming days, the candidates will be out in force to woo the hearts and minds of residents.

"The aim of going into politics is not about defeating your opponent," said Mr Lim. "Going into politics is to put focus on residents and their needs, to earn their trust, to improve their lives."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2015, with the headline 'Former colleagues face off in political arena'. Print Edition | Subscribe