SINGAPORE - Hougang remains firmly a Workers' Party (WP) stronghold, with residents hammering home the point at the polls on Friday (July 10).
Despite being a new face in the single-member constituency, shipping lawyer Dennis Tan, 49, retained the seat for his party with 61.19 per cent of the votes.
He beat People's Action Party challenger Lee Hong Chuang, 50, an IT manager, who took 38.81 per cent.
Mr Tan's winning margin is more than the 57.7 per cent that his fellow party member Png Eng Huat won in the last election, in 2015, also against Mr Lee. Mr Png stepped down from electoral politics this year, but Mr Tan started walking the ground with him three years ago.
After the results were announced, Mr Tan thanked the Hougang residents in Teochew, adding that the Hougang spirit had "spoken clearly today". "Today's results showed why Hougang is known as the beacon of democracy in Singapore," he said. "I am truly humbled and will do my best to serve you and speak up for you in Parliament."
"Hougang voters who have not voted for me, you are also Hougang nang (people)," he added. "I will work hard to serve you and hope to win your support in due course."
Mr Tan will be Hougang's fourth WP MP. Created in 1988, the constituency has been held by the opposition party since 1991, when Mr Low Thia Khiang claimed victory.
Since then, it has been defended successfully by Mr Yaw Shin Leong from 2011 to 2012, and Mr Png from 2012 to 2020.
But this general election marks the first time the WP has retained the seat without Mr Low contesting the election. Last month, he announced that he would be retiring from electoral politics.
But the 63-year-old has continued to walk the ground with Mr Tan in the past weeks, often to warm reception, and the sense is that residents still vote loyally with the party whose flag brandishes the symbol of a yellow hammer.
In a video address earlier this week, Mr Low spoke fondly of the ties he had with Hougang residents despite moving to contest in Aljunied GRC in 2011.
"I still return to Hougang often, as it has become my habit, after more than 20 years, to visit my old friends," he said in Teochew. "I will always remember the familiar and warm feelings. This is why I refer to Hougang as my second home."
PAP's Mr Lee, a former national gymnast, who previously acknowledged in 2015 the enormity of his task, has been walking the ground in the last six years.
Hougang, which spans a landed private estate, condominiums and some 150 Housing Board blocks, has 26,468 registered voters.
Throughout the hustings, Mr Tan has focused less on municipal issues and instead stressed more on the call for alternative voices in Parliament, something he said Hougang residents have understood since they voted the WP into Parliament 29 years ago.
As a former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP), Mr Tan also spoke multiple times on the scheme, which allows the top-performing losers from the opposition to enter Parliament, calling it a "poisoned chalice".
He said it is not a solution to providing varied perspectives in Parliament and does not allow for opposition politicians to sink roots in the community.
Meanwhile, the PAP's Mr Lee, who is the adviser to Hougang grassroots organisations, focused more on bread-and-butter matters, such as care for the elderly, improving existing facilities, and also streamlining government resources to provide help for the needy.
A controversy, however, erupted when his campaign flyers drew WP's ire for purportedly claiming credit for the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP), among other upgrading efforts. In a post on July 6, Mr Png said the NRP was implemented by the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council. Mr Lee has not responded to this.