SINGAPORE - One of the key seats to watch this election, West Coast GRC, will see a match-up between a ruling party slate that includes two full ministers, and a new opposition party line-up led by former People's Action Party (PAP) stalwart Tan Cheng Bock.
The PAP team was confirmed on Nomination Day to include Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, 43, who moved from Jurong GRC to join Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran, 58, in leading it.
It is one of only two teams with two full ministers, with the other in Tanjong Pagar GRC led by Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah.
The other candidates are two-term MP Foo Mee Har, 54; Mr Ang Wei Neng, 53, who also moved from Jurong GRC; and new face Rachel Ong, 47.
The slate faces off against the Progress Singapore Party team led by Dr Tan, 80, who makes a reappearance in the constituency he helmed for 26 years. He was PAP's MP for Ayer Rajah from 1980 to 2006, and upon his retirement from electoral politics under the PAP flag, Ayer Rajah was merged with West Coast GRC.
He heads what pundits have dubbed PSP's "A" team. They include PSP assistant secretary-general Leong Mun Wai, 60, founder of a venture capital firm, and vice-chairman Hazel Poa, 50, a former secretary-general of the National Solidarity Party which contested Chua Chu Kang GRC in 2011.
Rounding it out are Mr Jeffrey Khoo Poh Tiong, 51, Asia-Pacific chief marketing officer of global insurance and reinsurance broker Ed; and Mr Nadarajah Loganathan, 57, a retired senior Singapore Armed Forces officer and co-founder of a skills training firm.
When asked at the Nomination Centre if he felt that PAP moved Mr Lee over due to the perceived threat posed by his party, Dr Tan said: “In politics, it’s that way. I’m not going to question why they do that. But if they say I must be somebody quite good, quite strong, so they are trying to put all their heavyweights come to West Coast, well, that’s good.”
He said he has a “very strong team for West Coast”, with experience in their field. For example, he said, his team has knowledge in environment and climate change, finance and skills development.
His second-in-command, Mr Leong, said that all members of the team have strong track records in their respective fields. “We are coming in with the ideas and policies to chart Singapore in a new direction.”
Asked during a virtual press conference whether two ministers being fielded in West Coast was a reaction to the challenge posed by Dr Tan's PSP team, Mr Iswaran suggested that that was not the case.
He noted that West Coast GRC has had two ministers from 2011 - himself and former Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang. This was the situation even as the GRC has varied from four to five members during this period, he said.
When asked, Mr Iswaran declined to assess the contesting PSP team.
"We are making the case that collectively, with the backing of our party, we are the best team for (voters), and for their children and future, and we want to persuade them that they should put their trust in us.
"Then I think we have to let the voters decide. It is not for us to rate one another or to rate ourselves," he said.
Responding to another question on what he can bring to the GRC, Mr Lee, who is expected to take over Mr Patrick Tay's Boon Lay ward if elected, said there was no real boundary between his former ward in Jurong Spring and Boon Lay, adding that the demographic profiles of both estates are similar.
He said the programmes he helped to develop in Jurong Spring, from strengthening social safety nets to infrastructure development, were things he hoped to bring to West Coast GRC.
The 2020 electoral contest will see former PAP comrades Mr Iswaran and Dr Tan on opposite sides of the fence. Their time in the PAP team by about a decade. Mr Iswaran was first elected MP in West Coast GRC in 1997 and has been in the constituency since.
During the 2015 contest, the PAP team, consisting of Mr Iswaran, Ms Foo, Mr Lim Hng Kiang and Mr Patrick Tay, secured 78.57 per cent of the votes, against a Reform Party team comprising party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam, Mr Andy Zhu, Ms Noraini Yunus and Mr Darren Soh.