GE 2015: Four first-term ministers lead the charge in key GRC battles

SINGAPORE - They entered politics just over four years ago, but they are already leading the charge at four GRCs.

Four of the 16 GRCs that the People's Action Party (PAP) is contesting are helmed by first-term incumbents elected in the 2011 General Election (GE).

They are Education Minister Heng Swee Keat at Tampines, Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin at Marine Parade, Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong at Marsiling-Yew Tee and labour chief Chan Chun Sing at Tanjong Pagar.

"Certainly I feel the full weight of responsibility," Mr Heng told The Straits Times. "The decision of Tampines residents affects not only their lives in Tampines, but also who forms the government."

The four were members of the "Fantastic Five" who were touted to be the core of the fourth-generation leadership when they introduced as candidates at the 2011 GE.

All were high flying civil servants and generals in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) before they entered policies.

The fifth member Ong Ye Kung was in the PAP team that lost in Aljunied GRC. This time round, he is being fielded in the Sembawang GRC team headed by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

Of the four, Mr Chan is facing his first electoral contest against what is a more experienced opposition party team.

Tanjong Pagar GRC, a PAP stronghold which saw a walkover in 2011, had never been contested since its formation in 1991 under the leadership of Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

In Mr Chan's team are Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah, surgeon Chia Shi-Lu and two rookies: former public servant Joan Pereira and retired police assistant commissioner Melvin Yong.

The team's baptism of fire comes from the fledgling Singaporeans First (SingFirst) party, led by presidential candidate Tan Jee Say who also contested GE2011 as a Singapore Democratic Party candidate in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.

The SingFirst team also includes retired army colonel Ang Yong Guan, media consultant Fahmi Rais, sales executive Melvin Chiu Weng Hoe and risk manager Chirag Desai.

"The preparations for this election started more than four years ago," said the former Chief of Army. "We take it after every election that Tanjong Pagar will be contested the next round. And the work at Tanjong Pagar starts after every election."

"We don't see it as a new contest," he added.

In an interview with The Straits Times last month, Mr Chan said his team is ready for the baptism of fire.

"The fact that you think that we have never done it before, actually it spurs us to make sure that our preparations are even more thorough," he said. "Whether you have done it before or not done it before, you can never be complacent."

Of the four GRCs helmed by first-time anchor ministers, Marine Parade GRC is likely to see the fiercest contest from the Workers' Party (WP).

Former brigadier-general Tan Chuan-Jin leads a five-member PAP team which comprises ESM Goh Chok Tong, NTUC FairPrice chief Seah Kian Peng, doctor Fatimah Lateef and lawyer Edwin Tong. Mr Tong is the newest member of the team, joining it only last month from the former Moulmein-Kallang GRC.

The PAP team faces competition from WP's former Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong, lawyer Terence Tan, chocolate factory owner Firuz Khan, corporate lawyer He Ting Ru, and wealth manager Dylan Ng.

On the role of the members in the team, Mr Tan said: "We very much operate as a team and that hasn't changed."

"As anchor (minister), I play more of the coordinating role and making the final decision on issues. It's been a good working arrangement thus far," he added.

Over at the newly-created Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, its anchor minister Lawrence Wong said that there is "naturally more" for him to do leading a GRC.

"I have to take care of my own division, and at the same time, plan for our overall campaign, rally our activists and volunteers, and coordinate the different tasks across the GRC," said the former senior civil servant and statutory board chief.

He shares the leadership role with former House Speaker Madam Halimah Yacob. "She has many more years of experience in politics, and I have much to learn from her," he said. Both were transferred from the West Coast and Jurong GRCs after the electoral boundaries were redrawn.

Rounding up the team are two other first time MPs Alex Yam and Ong Teng Koon, making the team a relatively experienced one, with three of its four members fighting only their second electoral battle.

But an upbeat Mr Wong said: "Both (Mr Yam and Mr Ong) have worked hard over the last four years, and so they are familiar with the residents' concerns and the ground issues. The four of us have complementary strengths and we work well together."

The PAP team faces an SDP slate which comprises psychologist John Tan, former political detainee Wong Souk Yee, former director of an Islamic college Damanhuri Abas and Bryan Lim, who heads the party's ground operations unit.

At Tampines GRC, while Mr Heng said that leading the GRC is a heavy responsibility, he also stressed that he has the backing of not just the other members of the five-member GRC team but also volunteers. The four other members of his team are Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Masagos Zulkifli, full-time MP Baey Yam Keng, unionist Desmond Choo and new face Cheng Li Hui.

"We also have a very committed team of activists who have been laying the groundwork for many years now," Mr Heng said.

He identified the GRC's ageing population as an issue. "Our challenge is that some parts of Tampines have an ageing population, while others are relatively young," he said. "But this gives us the opportunity to bring different generations together... through our programmes on active and healthy living and volunteering."

The National Solidarity Party which contested Tampines GRC in 2011 has sent its best team for a rematch. The team is headed by its president Sebastian Teo and also includes Mr Lim Tean, Mr Reno Fong, Ms Nor Lella Mardiiiah Mohamed and Mr Choong Hon Heng.

On Polling Day, all eyes will be on how all four members of the core fourth-generation leadership team fare in their first election leadership role.

But at least one of them said that there is more to just elections and election results.

Said Marine Parade GRC's anchor minister Mr Tan: "Every four, five years, it's a natural check and balance as part of the democratic process to offer that choice to our residents. It's good to have competition. But the key thing is we are always focused on people and that's what we continue to do. "

"And we will continue to do that. General election or no general election, our duties remain."