There were no horns, party umbrellas or whistles on Nomination Day owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the battle for Singapore's 17 group representation constituencies (GRCs) served up some twists and last-minute surprises yesterday as candidates from the 11 political parties in the fray headed to the nine nomination centres around the island.
While the line-ups went largely to plan, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) chose to beef up its teams with two big moves in hotly contested constituencies in the east and the west.
All 17 GRCs will be contested this time, with all but one seeing straight fights. Many have retained their anchor ministers from the PAP, but three of the battlegrounds will see new ministers at the helm.
DPM HENG MOVES TO EAST COAST
The biggest surprise came in East Coast GRC, as Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, 59, who has been a Tampines GRC MP since 2011, moved there to lead the team in what has been tipped to be the toughest fight in this election.
The PAP team comprising Dr Maliki Osman, 54, Ms Cheryl Chan, 43, and Ms Jessica Tan, 54, and new face Tan Kiat How, 43, had arrived earlier at the St Anthony's Canossian Primary School nomination centre without a fifth member, as former minister Lim Swee Say, 65, has retired from politics.
Mr Heng was spotted at the centre only around 11.30am, half an hour before nominations closed, before his candidature was confirmed.
In his speech to voters, he said: "Covid-19 has plunged the world into a period of profound uncertainty with a major crisis on many fronts - healthcare, economic, social and geopolitical. The People's Action Party has a plan to enable us to overcome this crisis, has a plan to emerge stronger from this."
Mr Heng added in a Facebook post: "We cannot afford a gap in East Coast in these uncertain times. We need a full team that can take care of the residents and position them to come out of this crisis stronger than before."
The PAP will face the Workers' Party (WP) team of Mr Kenneth Foo, 43, Mr Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim, 54, Mr Terence Tan, 49, Mr Dylan Ng, 45, and Ms Nicole Seah, 33.
The WP has contested in East Coast GRC in the last three elections and party chief Pritam Singh, who is standing in Aljunied GRC, said Mr Heng's move was "an important signal that they (PAP) take our challenge in East Coast very seriously". "I would say we take their challenge equally seriously and that's why we've put together a strong slate of candidates in the East Coast team," he added.
ON DECISION TO STAND IN EAST COAST
We cannot afford a gap in East Coast in these uncertain times. We need a full team that can take care of the residents and position them to come out of this crisis stronger than before.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER HENG SWEE KEAT, previously an MP in Tampines GRC, on why he decided to stand in East Coast GRC.
I would say we take their challenge equally seriously and that's why we've put together a strong slate of candidates in the East Coast team.
WORKERS' PARTY CHIEF PRITAM SINGH, who said Mr Heng Swee Keat's move was "an important signal that they (PAP) take our challenge in East Coast very seriously".
It took us 16 years (after independence) before one seat fell to opposition in 1981, and it took 23 years after the enactment of the GRC system for an opposition to break through in one GRC. It's an uphill battle and it's going to be a difficult fight.
NO 'SUICIDE SQUAD'
If it was a suicide squad, how did (the PAP team) pull off a marginal loss (in 2015)? It is about whether you have the heart to serve people.
MR LIM BOON HENG, a former MP and now an adviser for Aljunied GRC, responding to comments on the PAP team in the GRC.
JOURNEY TO THE WEST
Another minister who made a big move was Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee, 43, who moved from Jurong GRC. He joined the West Coast GRC team led by Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran, 58, and comprising Ms Foo Mee Har, 54, Mr Ang Wei Neng, 53 - who also moved from Jurong GRC - and new face Rachel Ong, 47.
The hotly contested battle will see the two ministers and their colleagues going up against the Progress Singapore Party's (PSP) "A team" headed by its chief Tan Cheng Bock, 80. The team includes PSP assistant secretary-general Leong Mun Wai, 60, and vice-chairman Hazel Poa, 50, a former secretary-general of the National Solidarity Party.
The other members are Mr Jeffrey Khoo, 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.
Former parliamentary colleagues Mr Iswaran and Dr Tan face off in a constituency the former has served in since 1997. The latter is back on familiar stomping ground as he was the PAP's MP for Ayer Rajah from 1980 to 2006 before it was absorbed into West Coast GRC.
Mr Iswaran said: "We, as the team, have worked through the years to look after your needs, and care for you. Vote for us, your PAP team, so that we can continue to work together to protect our lives, our jobs and our future."
Dr Tan said he would not question why the PAP had moved Mr Lee to West Coast, adding: "In politics, it's that way... But if they say I must be somebody quite good, quite strong, so they are trying to (get) all their heavyweights (to) come to West Coast, well, that's good."
NO 'SUICIDE SQUAD' IN ALJUNIED
The site of a historic opposition victory by the WP in 2011, Aljunied GRC is set to be the scene of another fierce battle as the WP has fielded its strongest slate - Mr Singh, 43, party chairman Sylvia Lim, 55, Mr Faisal Manap, 45, all incumbent MPs, as well as Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, 49, and former NCMP Gerald Giam, 42. They will face PAP candidates Victor Lye, 58, Chua Eng Leong, 49, Shamsul Kamar, 48, Alex Yeo, 41, and Chan Hui Yuh, 44.
After a near-loss in 2015 when the WP captured 50.95 per cent of the votes, the party is missing stalwart Low Thia Khiang and Chen Show Mao as both are stepping down.
It remains to be seen if the WP's popularity will be hit by its legal troubles, as the High Court last October found that Mr Singh, Ms Lim and Mr Low breached their duties to Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, which was said to have made millions of dollars in improper payments under their watch. The trio have appealed against the ruling.
Mr Singh said: "It's going to be a difficult election. There have been some commentaries in the media about the real risk of a wipeout.
"It took us 16 years (after independence) before one seat fell to opposition in 1981, and it took 23 years after the enactment of the GRC system for an opposition to break through in one GRC.
"It's an uphill battle and it's going to be a difficult fight. But we have to put people who are committed who can do the whole stretch."
While some commentators have called the PAP team a "suicide squad", Mr Lim Boon Heng, a former MP who is now an adviser for the GRC, disagreed. He said: "If it was a suicide squad, how did (the PAP team) pull off a marginal loss (in 2015)? It is about whether you have the heart to serve people."
NEW GROUND, NEW BATTLE
Newly formed Sengkang GRC is the scene of a fight between a PAP team led by labour chief Ng Chee Meng and the WP's He Tingru, 37. The constituency combines Sengkang Central ward from Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC with the former Punggol East SMC and part of the former Sengkang West SMC.
The PAP team consists of former Pasir Ris-Punggol MP Mr Ng, 51, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health Lam Pin Min, 50, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health Amrin Amin, 41, and new face Raymond Lye, 54, a lawyer. They are up against Ms He, economist Jamus Lim, 44, equity research analyst Louis Chua, 33, and social activist Raeesah Khan, 26. Aside from Ms He, the other three are contesting their first election.
Mr Ng said: "We humbly ask for your support so that we, the PAP, can lead the country out of this crisis. Not just for ourselves, but for our children, our grandchildren. We want to ensure that every Singaporean has a good job, and can look forward to better jobs for the future."
He added that his team wanted to build Sengkang town into "the most liveable place for all of us". Mr Amrin said "this time of crisis is not a time for experiment(ing)" and pointed to the PAP's track record.
Dr Lim, an associate professor of economics, said the WP would share its plans to build a thriving and inclusive society in Sengkang. "We have listened as you shared with us your stories, your fears and concerns, and your dreams and hopes. This in turn has informed our ideas, plans and policies," he added.
The WP won Punggol East SMC in a 2013 by-election but lost it in 2015 to the PAP's Mr Charles Chong, 67, who won 51.76 per cent of votes against the WP's Ms Lee Li Lian, 41.
TANJONG PAGAR GRC
There was a small disagreement when the PAP team led by Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah found a small error in the forms of its opponents from the PSP.
The PSP slate, led by its organising secretary Michael Chua, did not fill out the name of the constituency in one of its forms. Amendments could not be made as the deadline for making changes had passed, but officials accepted the papers as the PAP team decided not to raise any objections.
The PAP slate comprises Mr Chan, 50; Ms Indranee, 57; Ms Joan Pereira, 52; and two first-timers - Mr Alvin Tan, 40, LinkedIn's Asia-Pacific head of public policy and economics; and former public servant Eric Chua, 41.
On the PSP's team are Mr Chua, 55; lawyer Wendy Low, 43; technologist Harish Pillay, 60; senior trainer Abas Kasmani, 67; and new face Terence Soon, 29, a Singapore Airlines pilot.
Ms Indranee said the PAP team decided to waive its right to object as it did not want to be returned to power because of a technicality.
"If we are returned, we want to be returned because our voters have said they've given us the right and the privilege to return."
Asked about the mistake, PSP's Mr Chua said his team could have also found fault with the PAP's forms, which listed its candidate Mr Eric Chua's occupation as "retired SCDF officer".
"That is not an occupation," said Mr Michael Chua. "So I think in that spirit of competition, we really want to give Singapore a choice of two very good teams, and for them to cast a vote for the future. It's not about paperwork, and these very minor technicalities."
On this, a spokesman for the PAP team said "no such issue was raised at the nomination centre, as should be done under the rules if there was indeed an issue".
"The PAP team remains focused on the contest so the voters can decide who will represent them."