East to see keenest fights, say observers

WP expected to zero in on 4-member East Coast GRC and the new Fengshan SMC

A People's Action Party supporter carrying the party flag at its rally for East Coast GRC at Bedok Stadium on May 1, 2011.
A People's Action Party supporter carrying the party flag at its rally for East Coast GRC at Bedok Stadium on May 1, 2011. PHOTO: ST FILE

With the new electoral boundaries, the battles in the eastern part of Singapore will be even more keenly fought, said political observers.

They foresee the Workers' Party (WP) zeroing in once more on East Coast GRC - which has been trimmed from a five-man constituency to a four-man one - as well as the new single-member constituency (SMC) that has been carved out of it. The observers also declared that the electoral boundary changes, made public yesterday, are fair and did not surprise them.

Said political scientist Derek da Cunha: "The excitement in the coming election will clearly be centred on the eastern part of the island."

Citing the new Fengshan SMC, the analysts pointed out that it was part of East Coast GRC where the People's Action Party (PAP) won a hard-fought battle against the WP in the 2011 General Election.

The PAP got 54.8 per cent of the vote, its lowest vote share among all the GRCs it won.

Said Dr Lam Peng Er of the East Asian Institute: "I don't think it's a done deal that the ruling party will capture the Fengshan seat. It's up to voters. East Coast is one of the WP's relatively strong areas."

Both Dr Lam and Singapore Management University (SMU) associate professor of law Eugene Tan said former transport minister Raymond Lim, who is the MP for the Fengshan ward, is unlikely to be fielded again.

As for the new four-MP East Coast GRC, Dr Lam is predicting a "battle royale'' and added: "Some people are stepping down, so it's up for grabs."

Sengkang West SMC, which is close to WP-held Punggol East, is another site set for a keen fight.

The PAP won Sengkang West with 58.1 per cent of the vote in 2011 and since then, the WP has become increasingly active there.

The move is in line with its strategy not to spread itself thin but to focus on the east in the hope that "the east will be blue", Dr Lam said, referring to the WP's colour. He also noted the party's "modest goal in having a credible voice in Parliament rather than forming the government".

The boundary changes were largely viewed as fair by the analysts.

Said National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser: "Looking at the report alone, it does come across as adopting a reasonable, rational basis for the boundary changes. The opposition WP-held constituencies are left untouched."

They are Aljunied GRC, and Hougang and Punggol East SMCs.

Also left intact is Potong Pasir SMC, won by the PAP in the 2011 election but long held by veteran politician Chiam See Tong of the Singapore People's Party.

Said NUS political scientist Hussin Mutalib: "What many had guessed would happen - that the Government would redraw the GRCs such that the opposition would not only be caught by surprise but be severely disadvantaged - didn't materialise.

"In this sense, probable accusations of bias and unfairness will be muted."

The analysts also feel the opposition parties will find it easier to field teams, with the number of four-member GRCs raised to six, from two in 2011.

But opposition teams would cry foul over the redrawing of the boundaries of Moulmein-Kallang GRC and Joo Chiat SMC, they added.

Said NUS' Prof Tan: "If they had previously 'done well', that is above 40 per cent of the vote, they would consider it unfair."

Moulmein-Kallang GRC, which the PAP won with 58.6 per cent of the vote, has been split between the nearby GRCs of Bishan-Toa Payoh, Holland-Bukit Timah, Jalan Besar and Tanjong Pagar.

Joo Chiat SMC, made up of private homes and which the PAP won with a slim margin of 51 per cent of the vote, has been absorbed into Marine Parade GRC.

SMU's Prof Tan, who is a former Nominated MP, said the move of Joo Chiat, long left as an SMC, into a GRC could be perceived as unfair and for this reason, the committee should explain in greater detail why the electoral boundaries were changed.

"When you don't explain the reasons behind changes, it gives rise to speculation that the changes are gerrymandering.

"But if you give your reasons, people will be willing to take them in good faith," he said.

•Additional reporting by Choo Yun Ting

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2015, with the headline 'East to see keenest fights, say observers'. Print Edition | Subscribe