SINGAPORE - The opposition attempt on Nee Soon GRC this election seems to be a "half-hearted" one, said PAP incumbent K. Shanmugam on Wednesday (July 1).
The Law and Home Affairs Minister said of his opponents, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP): "I don't want to speculate why PSP has come, but it seems to have been very half-hearted about it. As you will recall, a week ago it was offering to trade Nee Soon for some other constituency."
Mr Shanmugam, 61, was speaking in a virtual press conference streamed from the People's Action Party's Nee Soon East branch, along with fellow incumbents Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, 52, and Louis Ng, 41, as well as new faces - charity founder Carrie Tan, 38, and banker Derrick Goh, 51.
Last week, Reform Party (RP) chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam said the PSP will withdraw from "various grounds" in return for the RP not contesting West Coast GRC, and that the PSP had also offered to cede Nee Soon, but the RP decided not to contest it anyway.
The PSP slate for Nee Soon is led by customer service manager Damien Tay, 51. The rest of the members are party treasurer Sri Nallakaruppan, 56, media consultant Bradley Bowyer, 53, adult educator Kala Manickam, 52, and IT project manager Taufik Supan, 40.
Mr Shanmugam said: "But really, contest is good. It's good for the residents and it gives them a choice. Whoever comes, we will have to deal with them to the best of our ability."
In response to the minister's comments, Mr Bowyer said it was a rumour that PSP had offered to cede Nee Soon, and his team had been preparing for the Nee Soon campaign since the electoral boundary report came out.
“We have been on the ground for nearly a month already as far as possible under the circuit breaker guidelines,” he told The Straits Times. “The only place I have ever been told I would stand was Nee Soon, and I believe it’s the same for everyone here.”
“It seems trying to delegitimise us is the current strategy,” he added. “I was hoping they would take a higher road and say why they deserve to be re-elected, rather than this.”
In response, Mr Shanmugam asked if it was indeed only a rumour that PSP had offered Nee Soon to RP, as Mr Jeyaretnam had claimed. “I hope Mr Bowyer will give a straight answer. He will agree that honesty is important. You shouldn’t play with words with voters.”
PSP candidates who were distributing flyers on Wednesday evening outside Yishun MRT called Mr Shanmugam’s remarks “far-fetched”.
Mr Tay, Mr Bowyer and Mr Nallakaruppan said the PSP had never agreed to cede Nee Soon to RP.
Mr Nallakaruppan added: “We have been sincerely working the ground over the past few months, and when we meet the residents, they say that the PAP MPs are not really coming to the ground and talking to them. They feel they are like part-time MPs.”
Separately, at the press conference, Mr Shanmugam also spoke effusively about outgoing Nee Soon South MP Lee Bee Wah, 59, who is retiring from politics. "She was a once-in-a-generation type of MP - she was sui generis," he said.
Ms Lee, who has been MP for Nee Soon South since 2006, is known for being one of the more outspoken and colourful MPs in Parliament.
He would have liked her to continue, he added. "It's sad to see someone like that retiring, but renewal is part of the PAP's DNA."
Ms Tan, 38, is replacing Ms Lee on the slate. She said that during walkabouts, many people have told her that she has big shoes to fill. "I jokingly say that it's okay, because I have big feet. But I think the key thing here is that I have a big heart for this work."
She added that they have different personalities, with Ms Lee being "very blunt, very direct, very feisty".
"I can be feisty," said the founder of charity Daughters Of Tomorrow. "I used to be quite feisty. But I think my career in the charitable sector has made me evolve quite a bit.
"I think that nowadays, I tend to go for a collaborative approach. I think I will work more with community agencies and government agencies, and look for win-win solutions together."
Mr Goh, 51, spoke about upcoming plans for home improvement programmes for 41 blocks of old Housing Board flats in the Yishun Link area, as well as enhancements to the public transport system, especially bus services in areas with new Build-To-Order flats.
The candidates spoke about improvements in Nee Soon that they had highlighted in a group representation constituency manifesto, which has been distributed to residents and made available on their website.
These include a new HomeTeamNS clubhouse in Khatib, which was completed earlier this year, as well as the Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre in Yishun Central and the Wellness Kampungs, a network of wellness centres and adjacent eldercare facilities in the area.
Upcoming amenities promised include Springleaf MRT station and a zero-energy community centre in Nee Soon South, and a sports integrated park in Chong Pang.