PAP's Sitoh happy Potong Pasir has been left intact

But absorption of Whampoa, seen as a safe ward for the PAP, into a GRC puzzles many

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (in pink), seen here with some Potong Pasir residents, said yesterday he does not wish to lose a single member of the community as he has spent 15 years building relationships with them.
Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (in pink), seen here with some Potong Pasir residents, said yesterday he does not wish to lose a single member of the community as he has spent 15 years building relationships with them.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Potong Pasir MP Sitoh Yih Pin's wish was answered as the boundaries of his constituency - the smallest of the current 12 single-seat wards - stayed intact following a review by the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee, which released its report yesterday.

"We have spent 15 years working very hard to build relationships with our residents. I really don't want to lose any member of our Potong Pasir community. So I'm very happy," he said.

He wrested the seat from Singapore People's Party (SPP) in the 2011 General Election, with just 50.4 per cent of the total vote share.

But while he gets his wish to prove himself and contest again in a single-seat ward, the same cannot be said for incumbents in Joo Chiat and Whampoa, which got swallowed by neighbouring GRCs.

The absorption of Whampoa, in particular, left analysts and opposition politicians puzzled.

Whampoa, which will merge and become part of Jalan Besar GRC was believed to have been a "safe" ward. In the 2011 election, the People's Action Party's (PAP) Mr Heng Chee How clinched victory against Mr Ken Sun of the National Solidarity Party (NSP), securing 66 per cent of total votes.

Mr Heng, who is Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, would not be drawn into discussion of whether he would be fielded in Jalan Besar GRC, saying it is a decision for the party to take.

"On our part, we will integrate our plans and preparations with those of the others forming Jalan Besar GRC," he said.

"What is important to me is that we continue to do our best to serve the people of Whampoa, regardless of whether it is a Single- Member Constituency (SMC) or part of a GRC."

Former NSP secretary-general Tan Lam Siong, who was in the frame to contest in Whampoa at the next election, said he was surprised that the SMC has been absorbed by Jalan Besar GRC.

Mr Tan may now set his sights on another SMC and contest it as an independent candidate, having quit the NSP earlier this month.

"I am still pondering over why SMCs like Mountbatten and Potong Pasir are still there," he said.

"If you look at votes, one would have thought that if you are talking about redrawing boundaries of SMCs for the sake of gaining some kind of advantage, then these two would have been removed rather than Whampoa."

In the last general election in 2011, the PAP's Mr Lim Biow Chuan won Mountbatten with 58.6 per cent of the votes. The same likely challenger there at the next polls - the SPP's Ms Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss - said in a Facebook post that she was happy the SMC survived the review intact .

As for Joo Chiat, there will be no restaging of the bout between the PAP's Mr Charles Chong and the Workers' Party's Mr Yee Jenn Jong in the next general election.

Joo Chiat SMC was closely fought in 2011 with the PAP just edging out the WP and winning 51 per cent of the vote share.

Hence the move to merge Joo Chiat with Marine Parade GRC did not surprise many. Political scientist Lam Peng Er of the NUS' East Asian Institute believed that Joo Chiat - if it remained an SMC - would have gone to the WP.

"(That's) because Charles Chong is probably in his last term, and Yee Jenn Jong from the WP, he's a local boy and a Non-Constituency MP. He has at least some visibility in Parliament. Chances are, it would have gone to the WP, but it disappeared. But it's just one seat," Dr Lam said.

In place of the two SMCs that are being absorbed by GRCs, three new SMCs are being introduced on the political landscape.

Bukit Batok, Fengshan and MacPherson, having been carved out of larger GRCs, will be open to contests as SMCs in the next general election.

Bukit Batok has been drawn from out of Jurong GRC, Fengshan from East Coast GRC, and MacPherson out of Marine Parade GRC.

Together, these three new SMCs will have a total of 78,953 electors.

Observers, who were expecting to see a larger number of SMCs established from out of the boundaries committee's review, were disappointed with just one "paltry" addition, and wondered why more single-seat wards could not have been carved out from the two largest GRCs.

"Would it have been so difficult for the committee to reduce Ang Mo Kio and Pasir-Ris Punggol from GRCs with six members to five members by hiving off one ward from each to form two new SMCs?  This would have increased the number of SMCs by three to 15," political scientist Derek da Cunha said.

Not surprisingly, the release of the report has been accompanied by some calls from opposition politicians for the committee - in the name of fair play and transparency - to justify its decisions and show how the boundaries came to be determined.

But political observers noted that the retention of Potong Pasir and leaving opposition-held wards largely intact, would blunt any accusation of bias by the committee in the redrawing of boundaries.

Some added that the establishment of the three new SMCs could throw up interesting deployment of candidates by parties, and speculated that there could be keen contests in Sengkang West, Punggol East, Potong Pasir, MacPherson and Fengshan SMCs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2015, with the headline 'PAP's Sitoh happy Potong Pasir has been left intact'. Print Edition | Subscribe