Singapore GE2020: New Sengkang GRC has the unpredictability factor

Observers say Sengkang GRC could see close fight between PAP and Workers' Party

Sengkang GRC, which covers Compassvale, Rivervale and Anchorvale, is the only completely new group representation constituency. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

The peaceful neighbourhoods of Anchorvale, Compassvale and Rivervale could soon be the stage for an intense political battle between the People's Action Party (PAP) and Workers' Party (WP).

These areas in north-east Singapore make up the new Sengkang GRC - which contains WP stomping grounds and may well see a close fight in the July 10 general election.

As Dr Chong Ja Ian, associate professor at the National University of Singapore's political science department, explains: "It's a new GRC, but includes areas where there has been a heavier WP presence. That means little is known about how that GRC votes, so it may allow for a more intense contest."

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior international affairs analyst with management consultancy Solaris Strategies Singapore, points to the "unpredictability factor" that comes with new GRCs. The PAP is "definitely not going to take (the constituency) for granted".

Sengkang GRC, home to more than 120,000 voters, is thought to have a relatively young, middle-class population.

Official data last year showed that the vast majority of residents in the GRC live in four-room Housing Board flats or larger. More than 60 per cent are aged below 45, and more than one in 20 is younger than five - both above the national rates.

Sengkang GRC was formed by taking the Sengkang Central ward from Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC and combining it with the single seat of Punggol East, and part of Sengkang West SMC. These cover Compassvale, Rivervale and Anchorvale. The GRC is the only completely new group representation constituency.


The PAP's Ng Chee Meng and WP's Lee Li Lian, who are both expected to lead four-person teams to contest the GRC, have been walking the ground.

Labour chief Ng, 51, is likely to be joined by Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health Lam Pin Min, 50; and lawyer Raymond Lye, 54, chairman of the Punggol East Citizens Consultative Committee. Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health Amrin Amin, 41, is also tipped to move over from Sembawang GRC to complete the four-man slate.

Meanwhile, the WP's Ms Lee, 41, has been seen in Sengkang with economics professor Jamus Lim, 44; Credit Suisse's equity research analyst Louis Chua, 33; and Raeesah Khan, 26, founder of the Reyna Movement, which runs programmes to empower women.

Only the PAP and WP have staked claims on Sengkang GRC so far. A three-cornered fight in Sengkang is unlikely, say observers, and even if it did, the third party would not fare well, given the strong competition.

"I (would) fully expect the third party to do quite badly, and not get their deposits back," says Dr Walid Jumblatt Abdullah, assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) School of Social Sciences.

Political observer Felix Tan, an associate lecturer at SIM Global Education, agrees, adding that a smaller political party joining the fray might be sidelined and not have a very large share of the vote.

The Reform Party and Singapore Democratic Alliance took part in the 2013 Punggol East by-election, for example, but neither garnered much support.


The decision to carve out a new Sengkang GRC came as no big surprise when the news broke in March - the population in the area had swelled in recent years.

Insight spoke to Sengkang residents and most were either not that aware of the changes, or if they were, they were unconcerned.

In 2015, Dr Lam Pin Min from the PAP defeated his WP opponent Koh Choong Yong in Sengkang West with 62.1 per cent of the vote.

That same year, the PAP wrested Punggol East from the WP by a slim margin, with party stalwart Charles Chong winning 51.76 per cent of the vote in a face-off against Ms Lee.

She had previously won the SMC in a 2013 by-election, after then PAP MP Michael Palmer stepped down.

Subsuming the whole of Punggol East SMC and part of Sengkang West SMC into Sengkang GRC could therefore dilute the WP's votes, some observers say.


On what issues matter to them, Sengkang voters bring up a range of municipal and national issues - from standards of transport, cleanliness and amenities, to broader concerns such as the Government's management of Covid-19, the economy and bread-and-butter issues.

While most are happy with their estates, some, such as financial analyst Goh Chiaw Khiem, 43, feel more could still be done to improve transport links.

Food deliveryman Sam Koh, 26, is concerned that the neighbourhood could get crowded as more HDB flats are built.

Then there is retired confinement nanny Ho Kam Lan, 69, who feels "pained" to have to give up her non-approved personal mobility device, although she has now found a permitted one.

But weighing heavier on people's minds is the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Government's ability to steer the country through choppy waters.

"There are a lot of big issues, such as the economy," says manager Rajiv Aravindan, 37, who adds that he would be "very jittery" if a new party came in.

"Singapore is such a small country. It's so vulnerable. You need really strong leadership, and I feel the PAP has it - at least at this point in time," adds the Rivervale resident, who has found his MP, Mr Chong, "approachable and helpful" during Meet-the-People sessions.

Food deliveryman, Mr Koh, who lives in Punggol East, thinks the Government will have the edge in this election because of the various support schemes amid Covid-19.

"The Budgets and the policies enacted during this period of time are mostly by the ruling party," he says.

"I don't think I would be surprised if the winning margins are quite big."

SIM Global Education's Dr Tan describes the Sengkang demographic as one that tends to be younger and "more affluent, more globalised or even liberal in their thinking" - and this may have some bearing on their vote.

Some residents, such as undergraduate Russell Tan, 24, tell Insight that issues related to social justice are important to them.

The intersection between national and municipal issues is likely to be part of how the PAP rolls out its campaign, including in Sengkang GRC, says Dr Mustafa.

"One of the messages the PAP will certainly be banking on is stability and security during this period of battling the pandemic, and that you need strong leadership not just during (it) but also (after)," he adds.

"But I think there's still no running away from municipal issues. Usually what matters to the electorate is what is visible to them - and how it impacts them personally - job security, better infrastructure, upgrading and all those things within the estate."

Neighbourhood booklets with details of upgrading and renewal plans have been appearing in some residents' mailboxes.

About a fortnight ago, Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council, chaired by the PAP's Zainal Sapari, issued a publication that gave a breezy overview of improvements to the area. It noted, among other things, that Sengkang now has more bus routes and childcare facilities, and residents can also look forward to developments such as the Buangkok Integrated Hub, Singapore Institute of Technology and the Rivervale Shores Build-To-Order flats.

Ang Mo Kio Town Council, which also covers Sengkang West SMC, released a publication in March, outlining improvements to the estate as well as upcoming attractions such as an aquatic-themed playground in Anchorvale.


Contesting Sengkang GRC is part of the WP's strategy to strengthen its reach in eastern Singapore, Dr Mustafa says, noting the area's proximity to Aljunied and Hougang.

While he expects a close fight in Sengkang, he thinks the PAP will still hold its ground there - the question being only how narrow its victory margin would be.

For the WP, the GRC might rank lower in its priorities compared with other constituencies it is contesting, he adds.

"I think they are going to go the way they did in 2015, which is to ensure that their best teams and the greatest amount of resources are in Aljunied and Hougang, followed by Marine Parade and East Coast."

NTU's Dr Walid says a lot would ride on the PAP's anchor minister for the Sengkang GRC team.

"The minority candidate is also what I am looking out for - it is no secret that the PAP has been more adept at attracting good minority candidates, especially from the Malay community," he says.

"The WP's choice of the minority candidate would be crucial. Over the past couple of elections, the quality of WP's candidates has been getting higher, so I think that trend will continue."

Beyond municipal issues, political observers point to wider topics.

"I believe this GE will be a referendum on the 4G leadership and how they have handled Covid-19 as a health and economic crisis, and whether Singaporeans have confidence in their leadership, which includes their ability to communicate with the electorate as well," Dr Walid adds.

Dr Chong says: "What is really at stake for Singaporeans is whether they believe more of the same is good enough for the future, or if the country needs different approaches to address the world's new challenges."

Meanwhile, Dr Tan says: "It's really a renewal of leadership at all levels. It is going to be a watershed election because it's literally a new crop of leaders rising to represent voters."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2020, with the headline Constituency to watch: New Sengkang GRC has the unpredictability factor. Subscribe