Single-Member Constituencies: Punggol East

PAP wrests single seat back with narrow win

Workers' Party candidate Lee Li Lian says she will not take up NCMP post

Mr Charles Chong said he had a slight advantage as "some of the areas, I have taken care of before".
Mr Charles Chong said he had a slight advantage as "some of the areas, I have taken care of before". ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

The sums have somehow added up for Mr Charles Chong, as the veteran MP reclaimed Punggol East for the People's Action Party (PAP) from the Workers' Party (WP).

Mr Chong, 62, beat the incumbent, Ms Lee Li Lian, 37, by a thin margin, garnering 51.76 per cent of valid votes.

His win ends the opposition's short hold on the single-member constituency, which it secured in January 2013 in a by-election called following the resignation of PAP MP Michael Palmer over an extramarital affair.

Back then, Ms Lee beat PAP's Dr Koh Poh Koon with 54.5 per cent of the votes.

During his campaign, Mr Chong dwelled on the affairs of the Punggol East town council, saying that Pasir Ris-Punggol town council had a surplus of $1 million when it handed its accounts over to the WP after the 2013 by-election.

The WP denied the claim vigorously, insisting that the town council had a deficit of $282,009 then.

The debate took on a life of its own on social media, with professional accountants weighing in on the matter. And observers reckoned that the PAP's claim would backfire.

But as the latest election results have shown, that did not happen.

Mr Chong said his immediate plans were to "get (the) town council in order and some municipal issues, and also some issues which residents have brought up to me during the last few Meet-the-People Sessions".

He also said residents had complained that maintenance of the town had "deteriorated".

"There was not much I could do until I took back the town council, then we can know how much funds we have," he said.

Asked if he expected to win, the man who claimed his first - and equally thin - SMC victory four years ago in Joo Chiat, said: "I never take things for granted. Most of my contests, they have been close. I never take anything for granted."

He said he had a slight advantage as "some of the areas, I have taken care of before".

Before Joo Chiat, Mr Chong was an MP for the Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, which Punggol East was a part of.

Mr Chong, who has been in politics for nearly three decades, said he did not want to harp on the town council accounts, but the WP "kept on raising it during the rally, so I had to respond".

"I think one way of resolving (this) once and for all is to have all the accounts checked, do a forensic, once and for all," he added.

Ms Lee, who impressed residents in 2013 with her earnest and approachable ways, said that her loss may be down to "municipal issues".

She broke down and cried after the sample count was done, but managed to compose herself later when she met the press.

"Right from the start, we cannot expect that we will win," she said. "We have to fight for every vote. We cannot take any election for granted."

Ms Lee looks poised to be offered a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament position because she lost by the thinnest margin among all losers.

But she said she would not take it up.

"I respect the voters' decision," she said.

With Punggol East back with the ruling party, the number of seats the opposition has in Parliament will shrink from seven to six.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2015, with the headline PAP wrests single seat back with narrow win. Subscribe