Singapore GE2020: Heng Swee Keat to helm East Coast GRC in election

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In one of the biggest surprises on Nomination Day, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat left his Tampines stronghold to lead the five-man People's Action Party team contesting East Coast GRC at the July 10 general election.
DPM Heng Swee Keat and Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman arriving at St Anthony's Canossian Primary School, on June 30, 2020. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
(Clockwise from top left) DPM Heng Swee Keat, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, Ms Jessica Tan, Ms Cheryl Chan and new candidate Tan Kiat How. ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM, KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat will be leading a five-man People's Action Party (PAP) team into the battle for East Coast GRC, which is being contested for the fourth time in electoral history.

Mr Heng and his team will be up against the Workers' Party (WP) team comprising Mr Dylan Ng, Mr Kenneth Foo, Mr Terence Tan, Mr Shariff Kassim and Ms Nicole Seah.

The other members of Mr Heng's team are Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, 54; three-term backbencher Jessica Tan, 54; and one-term Fengshan MP Cheryl Chan, 44, whose single-seat constituency is now part of the GRC. New face Tan Kiat How, 43, the former Infocomm Media Development Authority chief executive, is also part of the team.

Former anchor minister Lim Swee Say and three-term MP Lee Yi Shyan, who was Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development until he returned to the backbench in 2015, will be retiring from politics.

The role of anchor minister for this GRC had been widely watched and Mr Heng's arrival at St Anthony's Canossian Primary School late on Tuesday morning (June 30) had surprised political watchers. He had been the anchor minister for neighbouring Tampines GRC and was expected to remain there.

The school is the nomination centre for East Coast GRC, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, Sengkang GRC and Punggol West single seat.

Mr Ng, 44, works in the finance industry and was previously fielded in the WP's team for Marine Parade GRC in 2015.

Mr Foo, 43, ran in Nee Soon GRC in 2015 where his team lost to the incumbent PAP, with 33.2 per cent of the vote.

Mr Tan, a lawyer and director at the firm Robertson Chambers, turns 49 on Tuesday. He contested Marine Parade GRC in 2015 and his team garnered 35.9 per cent of the vote.

Mr Shariff, 54, is a former researcher and first-time candidate.

Ms Seah, 33, is an associate director in a multinational marketing firm who has been volunteering with the WP since 2015. She was a National Solidarity Party candidate in the 2011 election.

Workers' Party's candidates are (clockwise from top left) Mr Dylan Ng, Mr Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim, Mr Kenneth Foo Seck Guan, Mr Terence Tan and Ms Nicole Seah. PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI

In his post-nomination speech, Mr Heng, 59, thanked Tampines residents for their support over the years and East Coast residents for supporting his predecessor, Mr Lim Swee Say.

"Covid-19 has plunged the world into a period of profound uncertainty with a major crisis on many fronts - healthcare, economic, social, and geopolitical. The People's Action Party has a plan to enable us to overcome this crisis, has a plan to emerge stronger from this. So I look forward to the support of all Singaporeans for the People's Action Party."

Ms Seah said the WP has been working very hard on the ground for the last five years. "We will stand firm. We will remain courageous and we will always offer all of you a vote for fairness, and balance," she added.

Mr Tan added that it was a privilege to meet Mr Heng and his team in this election.

"Whoever is the victor, I always pray that Members of Parliament will work tirelessly for their residents."

(Clockwise from top left) DPM Heng Swee Keat, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, Ms Jessica Tan, Ms Cheryl Chan and new candidate Tan Kiat How. ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM, KUA CHEE SIONG

At a doorstop interview with reporters at Hougang Ave 5, WP chief Pritam Singh said that PAP fielding Mr Heng in the East Coast team was "an important signal that they take our challenge in East Coast very seriously".

"I would say we take their challenge equally seriously and that's why we've put together a strong slate of candidates in the East Coast team."

He added he has full confidence in his team, even the younger candidates. "I think they will do well for WP and prove to voters that they are no pushovers, and that they will be prepared to fight for the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans not just in Parliament, but in their constituencies, and in their town councils as well."

East Coast saw its first electoral battle in 2006, when a WP team led by lawyer Chia Ti Lik - then deputy organising secretary of the party - entered the fray. The PAP team, helmed by then Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar, sent their opponents packing. The WP's vote share then was 36.1 per cent.

In 2011 - the year in which the PAP's overall vote share fell from 66.6 per cent to 60.1 per cent - the WP mounted a fresh challenge. This time, it was up against a team led by then labour chief, Mr Lim. The PAP team won with 54.8 per cent of the vote. East Coast was the worst-performing GRC won by the party that year.

The next general election in 2015 saw a massive national swing towards the incumbent, which secured 69.9 per cent of the popular vote.

In East Coast, the men in blue nevertheless garnered a 39.3 per cent vote share while the PAP claimed 60.7 per cent.

That year, Fengshan SMC was also carved out of East Coast and subsequently became the subject of a heated electoral contest between long-time PAP grassroots volunteer Cheryl Chan and the WP's Dennis Tan, a shipping lawyer. Ms Chan won with 57.5 per cent of the vote.

In a Facebook video message, Mr Lim, who has served in East Coast GRC for the past 10 years, urged voters there to give Mr Heng and his team their full support.

He said he had been hoping that he would be succeeded by someone who was "young, smart, and caring". When he learnt that Mr Heng was coming to East Coast, he was "overjoyed".

"All these years, I've always been impressed by his ability to see far, to think deep, to come up with bold and innovative policies. He not only knows a lot, but he cares a lot," he said.

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