GE2015: 10 unexpected moments from the 2015 General Election - so far

SINGAPORE - The campaign for Friday's general election winds down at the rallies tonight (Sept 9) as Thursday is Cooling-off Day.

Here are some unexpected moments from GE2015 so far:

1. Polling Day on Sept 11

A voter casting his ballot at Block 273 in Pasir Ris Street 21 on May 7, 2011. PHOTO: ST FILE

Before news broke that the general election would be held on Sept 11, the date widely bandied about was Sept 12.

Pundits were expecting the elections in September after the Electoral Boundaries Report was released in July and the People's Action Party (PAP) said it would likely begin formally unveiling new candidates after National Day.

Sept 12 was the date pundits chose as it is the last Saturday of the week-long school holidays. Schools are usually used as counting centres, and elections have traditionally been held on Saturdays. A general election was last held on a weekday in 1997. In addition, the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix from Sept 18 to 20 effectively ruled out that weekend slot.

As it turned out, Friday, Sept 11 was chosen. But Singaporeans weren't complaining as it meant that Friday became a public holiday.

2. Fengshan and Aljunied

Supporters of the People's Action Party (right) and Workers' Party at Fengshan Nomination Centre on Sept 1, 2015. ST PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW

After months of speculation, the PAP opted to field long-time grassroots volunteer Cheryl Chan in Fengshan SMC, which is expected to be hotly contested. She will face Workers' Party candidate Dennis Tan.

Ms Chan is the first new PAP candidate to be fielded in a new single-member constituency since the group representation constituency system was introduced in 1988.

As for the WP, there was growing speculation that it might send one of its "big guns" out of Aljunied to boost its chances of winning in a neighbouring constituency like East Coast GRC - a tactic that paid off when party chief Low Thia Khiang moved from Hougang single ward to contest the GRC.

But party chairman Sylvia Lim later ended that speculation when she said all seven WP MPs will stay in place to defend their seats and seek a new mandate for another term. Word, though, is that East Coast GRC remains a key ward to watch on Sept 11.

3. The NSP's U-turns

National Solidarity Party (NSP) candidate Cheo Chai Chen (centre), who is contesting in MacPherson SMC, chatting with residents during a walkabout at Block 89 Pipit Road on Sept 4, 2015. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

The National Solidarity Party first reversed its pledge to stay out of MacPherson SMC when Mr Steve Chia announced that he would contest against PAP incumbent Tin Pei Ling and Mr Bernard Chen from the Workers' Party.

His move prompted NSP acting secretary-general Hazel Poa to quit the party.

Mr Chia then flip-flopped and pulled out of the race a few days later, citing online abuse. His withdrawal paved the way for a straight fight between Ms Tin and Mr Chen.

But the NSP added one more twist to the tale on Nomination Day, when it sent former opposition MP Cheo Chai Chen to contest MacPherson.

4. Multiple three-cornered fights

Independent candidate Samir Salim Neji (left) greeting People's Action Party (PAP) candidate David Ong at the Keming Primary School nomination centre on Sept 1, 2015. ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN

The three-cornered fight in MacPherson was not the only unexpected development on Nomination Day.

Independent candidate Samir Salim Neji turned up out of nowhere to contest Bukit Batok SMC, which was set to see PAP incumbent David Ong go head to head with Mr Sadasivam Veriyah.

The Radin Mas single-member constituency will also see a three-way battle between PAP incumbent Sam Tan, Reform Party's Kumar Appavoo and independent candidate Han Hui Hui.

5. Correcting errors in the name of fair play

People's Action Party (PAP) candidate S. Iswaran (right) alerting Reform Party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam to a mistake in the team's nomination form at the nomination centre in Keming Primary School on Sept 1, 2015. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Some PAP candidates saved the day for their opponents on Nomination Day, when they flagged slip-ups in nomination papers that could have led to disqualification.

The Reform Party team contesting in West Coast GRC and SDP candidate Jaslyn Go had failed to indicate whether they were contesting as members of a political party or as independents.

Mr S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, alerted RP secretary- general Kenneth Jeyaretnam, and the issue was resolved.

Said Mr Iswaran: "We want to make sure that the voters of West Coast GRC have a choice. We want to have a fair fight and then let the voters choose."

Likewise, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu, who is defending single-seat Yuhua, told Ms Go about her mistake.

6. A cruise ship remark that took sail

Mr Low Thia Khiang (clapping), secretary-general of the Workers' Party, with Marine Parade GRC candidates (from left) Firuz Khan, Yee Jenn Jong, Terrence Tan, He Ting Ru and Dylan Ng chatting with some diners at the Geylang Serai market on Sept 7, 2015. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong may not have expected an analogy about cruise ships to spark one of the more memorable exchanges of GE2015.

During a walkabout in Aljunied GRC, he likened choosing a party to choosing a cruise ship to travel on. Going with the PAP was like taking a cruise ship with a definite destination, while other choices were akin to gambling ships that go nowhere, he said.

Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang hit back by likening the PAP to the Titanic, which sank and killed more than 1,500 passengers due to a lack of safeguards against failures.

"I'm afraid the cruise ship is over capacity limit. It used to be a luxury cruise ship. The designer claimed that it's not sinkable. The name is Titanic," Mr Low said, referring to the passenger vessel that sank on its maiden voyage.

In a Facebook post that same day, ESM Goh came back with a rejoinder: "Titanic sank on its maiden voyage. The PAP cruised over 50 years under three captains. All onboard are safe."

7. The resurgence of Chee Soon Juan

Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan at the start of his speech during a lunchtime rally at UOB Plaza Promenade on Sept 7, 2015. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

After sitting out the past two elections due to bankruptcy, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan has been leaving an impression during the hustings this round.

He received a warm reception from the crowd at the party's first rally, and the rallies have since been well attended. A long queue of autograph hunters formed after his lunchtime rally speech in the Central Business District on Monday (Sept 7).

A 18-minute short film, Behind The Man, by film-maker Tay Bee Pin gave a glimpse into Dr Chee's family life, and helped soften his image.

In a surprise turn, he even moved away from his party's previous confrontational stance when he pledged to find common ground and work with the PAP during one of his speeches. He prefaced those comments by saying: "What I'm about to say may register significantly on the Richter scale."

8. PAP not first to the city

The Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) first lunchtime rally of this election, held at the promenade at UOB Plaza, drew a big crowd on Sept 7, 2015. Many came to listen to SDP chief Chee Soon Juan and candidate Paul Tambyah. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

A day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters that he would be speaking more about his party's policies at a lunchtime rally on Monday, the SDP pipped the ruling party to the slot.

The SDP had won the ballot to hold the first lunchtime rally beside UOB Plaza from noon, while the PAP got to hold it there one day later.

During the 2011 General Election, the PAP was the first party to hold its rally there.

The UOB Plaza promenade has symbolic significance as it is the successor venue to Fullerton Square, where founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew spoke from the 1960s through the 1980s, delivering some of his most stirring speeches. It is also the only site available for lunchtime rallies.

9. SDP's secret wish about Tharman

SDP candidate for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Paul Tambyah speaking at the UOB Plaza Promenade on Sept 7, 2015. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

At the SDP lunch time rally on Sept 7, candidate Paul Tambyah let on what he said was a "secret".

Praising Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam as the most brilliant of the current PAP ministers, Dr Tambyah said: "Many of us think he will make a fine PM... Many of us in the alternative parties hope that one day DPM Tharman will have a falling out with PM (Lee Hsien Loong) and will come out to lead a grand coalition of opposition parties - Pakatan Rakyat Singapura! - to present a real alternative to the current PAP government.

His comments raised eyebrows, and drew flak from his PAP opponents in Holland Bukit-Timah GRC.

10. Sample counts

Counting assistants pouring out a ballot box on Polling Day for Singapore General Election on May 7, 2011. PHOTO: ST FILE

In a first here, the Elections Department announced that it will release a sample count before all the votes are counted for the General Election to help provide an early indication of the possible result for each electoral division.

From as early as 10pm on Polling Day, a sample count for each of the 16 GRCs and 13 SMCs will be made public.

Political watchers said the move will introduce an element of greater certainty during the counting of votes, though some were concerned that it would fuel speculation and add tension, particularly in close contests.

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