SINGAPORE - Grassroots leader Cheryl Chan will contest Fengshan single-member constituency (SMC), ending intense speculation over the identity of the People's Action Party (PAP) candidate there.
Ms Chan, 38, was unveiled together with the PAP's slate for East Coast group representation constituency (GRC) on Thursday (Aug 27) morning, at the party's branch office in Bedok.
The head of secondary industries at gas and engineering firm The Linde Group takes the place of incumbent MP Raymond Lim, who is retiring from politics after serving Fengshan for 14 years.
Mr Lim, 56, a former transport minister, formally announced his decision to retire on Aug 15. His ward was carved out from East Coast GRC - which has been downsized from five to four members - after a rejig of the electoral boundaries last month.
Handing his vote of confidence to Ms Chan, Mr Lim said she "knows the ground well" after a decade volunteering in Fengshan and is "not just capable and hardworking, but also has a kind and caring heart".
"I have no doubt that if elected, she will be a very good MP," Mr Lim added.
Ms Chan, who is single, shared that she comes from a humble family of four which emphasised character building more than education.
She said: "I started volunteering 10 years ago when I wrote to the PAP and asked how I could reach out. They said, you are a Fengshan resident, go help out there."
She recounted a memorable incident during her time assisting at Meet-the-People sessions, when a mother of four children - one of whom was disabled - wanted to stop their education.
"We took all the steps to help and two years ago I met them. The eldest child is now in university. These are the kind of cases that make my work so meaningful."
She intends to champion two causes if elected - help for the elderly and children from less privileged backgrounds.
While Ms Chan's appointment appeared to be a straightforward choice given her familiarity with the area, it is extremely rare for the PAP to field a new face in an SMC it currently holds.
Thus far, senior IT manager Lee Hong Chuang, 45, is the only other first-time PAP candidate contesting a single-seat ward. But that is in Hougang, a Workers' Party stronghold.
Word on the political grapevine is that it was a toss-up between Ms Chan and a more experienced MP; Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Lee Yi Shyan's name was floated, but the ruling party was tight-lipped over the rumours.
WP chairman Sylvia Lim, 50, set tongues wagging when her maiden post on photo-sharing site Instagram showed her tucking into a plate of oyster omelette, or orh luak, at a hawker centre in the ward. She later cleared the air by confirming that she would remain in Aljunied GRC to defend her seat.
In response to Ms Lim praising the dish, Ms Chan said she preferred laksa to orh luak. She added that the bak chor mee, not the orh luak, was the best dish at that particular hawker centre.
Fengshan is widely expected to be one of the most hotly-contested seats at the coming polls, which will be held on Sept 11. Political watchers even mooted the possibility that it had performed poorly at the 2011 General Election, and was thus hived off from East Coast GRC.
In the last election, East Coast saw the narrowest win for a GRC for the PAP, with 54.8 per cent of the vote.
But Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, East Coast's anchor minister, remained bullish about the PAP's chances of retaining Fengshan, and said that his team would be supporting Ms Chan.
"I am aware of speculation that Fengshan was the weakest link, which is completely untrue. We are going in fighting to win," he added.
"In the past 10 years we have seen Cheryl's sincerity and desire to serve the people, so we have a lot of confidence in her. If not I would not have sent here there.
"It is not important whether Cheryl is a new face, but whether she has the sincerity. Among the five of us, we all agreed she is the best person. In a SMC, all politics are local. Fengshan residents will decide and we believe that given her years on the ground, they will know we are there to stay."
A veil of secrecy also surrounds the WP's likely candidate in Fengshan. Non-constituency MP Gerald Giam and new party members, including sociologist Daniel Goh and consultancy firm CEO Leon Perera, have all been spotted walking the ground.
Fengshan has an estimated 23,404 voters - the third-lowest number next to Potong Pasir (17,389) and Yuhua (22,599), of the 13 SMCs.
This is its second appearance as an SMC on the electoral landscape. The PAP's Dr Arthur Beng was its MP for two terms, from 1984 to 1991, before it was absorbed into the now-defunct Bedok GRC.
Along with the news later on Thursday that veteran PAP MP Charles Chong will stand in Punggol East SMC, the PAP has announced its line-ups for all but one of the 29 constituencies being contested.
Only the slate for the five-member Aljunied GRC, which the PAP lost to the WP at the 2011 General Election, has yet to be revealed.