SINGAPORE - Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan has been named as the party's candidate for the upcoming Bukit Batok by-election, a week after incumbent MP David Ong's shock resignation over personal indiscretion.
Dr Chee, 53, was formally introduced as the party's candidate by SDP member Sadasivam Veriyah, who contested the seat in last year's general election, before a walkabout in Bukit Batok on Sunday (March 20) morning.
If elected, Dr Chee said his priority will be to ensure the efficient and productive management of the town council. "The SDP's goal is to surpass current levels of performance of PAP-run town councils," he said.
He added that the SDP wants to pioneer a new model of town council management where residents are involved in the planning and running of the community.
The party will work towards a seamless takeover of the town council if it wins the by-election, he said, adding that it will put in place a transition team to be announced in due course. "This transition team will within three working days after the election handle the transfer of the town council," he told reporters.
He said the SDP will not engage a managing agent. "Instead, we will employ qualified and experienced professionals to be part of the team."
He added that he intends to hold regular townhall meetings to ask residents about their concerns and the issues to bring up in Parliament.
When asked to explain the candidate choice, Dr Chee would only say SDP had internal discussions and details of this could not be given.
But he noted that Bukit Batok "is no new territory" for SDP. The party contested the ward in 1988 and 1991 before it was redrawn into a group representation constituency, and when it became a single seat last year.
He added: "My taking part in this by-election in Bukit Batok in no way reflects my lack of sentiment for the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC that I contested in the last elections... my role in Parliament, if I do get elected, would be to serve all Singaporeans."
On the sidelines of a community event on Sunday afternoon to commemorate the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's first death anniversary, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that the People's Action Party will, too, announce its candidate for the Bukit Batok by-election soon.
"I'm not surprised that Dr Chee Soon Juan has indicated that he's going to stand in Bukit Batok. We welcome the contest. We will be announcing our candidate very soon and we are confident we have someone who is known to residents, who works very hard, and is sincere at heart," said Mr Tharman.
When asked by reporters if the announcement would come in the next few days, Mr Tharman said: "Possibly."
"We won't keep you waiting too long," he added.
SDP party has wasted no time in staking its claim to contest the single- member constituency, walking the ground there a day after Mr David Ong resigned on March 12 as MP and from the People's Action Party (PAP), citing personal indiscretion. Mr Ong, 54, is believed to have had an extramarital affair with a woman who is a grassroots leader in his ward.
Bukit Batok resident Teo Lai Choon, 59, said he was not surprised with the SDP's choice of candidate.
"I'm not surprised by their announcement. More people know Dr Chee than Mr Sadasivam. I'm not sure about their chances of winning, but I think they'll improve from last year's result," he told The Straits Times in Mandarin.
In the general election last year, Mr Sadasivam, a former teacher and ex-PAP member, represented SDP to contest Bukit Batok. He stood against Mr Ong but garnered only 26.4 per cent of the votes. Mr Ong won 73 per cent in the three-way race also contested by independent Samir Salim Neji.
Dr Chee has said the party was hoping for a one-on-one contest with the PAP in the Bukit Batok by-election for which a date has not been announced.
Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim has confirmed that her party will not contest the by-election.
She cited two reasons: The WP is not active in that area, and the SDP had declared its intention to run, having contested the constituency in last year's general election.
The Singaporeans First party , the Democratic Progressive Party and the People's Power Party, have also ruled out running for the seat.
DPM Tharman has said earlier the PAP had a few "very strong candidates" it was looking at to replace Mr Ong. Without revealing names, he told reporters on March 14: "When we finally announce the candidate, I can assure you it will be someone committed to the interest of Bukit Batok residents, and who will be able to also speak for them and Singaporeans in Parliament."