Singapore GE2020: Tan Jee Say returns to SDP to contest Holland-Bukit Timah GRC

The Singapore Democratic Party's Mr Tan Jee Say (right) at the Methodist Girls' School nomination centre on June 30. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Just days after his Singaporeans First (SingFirst) party was dissolved, Mr Tan Jee Say turned up on Nomination Day on Tuesday (June 30) with the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) team contesting Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.

Mr Tan, 66, had reached out to SDP chief Chee Soon Juan, 57, to return to the party on Monday. This is his third time joining SDP.

The former secretary-general of SingFirst was a member of the SDP team in the 2011 General Election, and also contested the presidential election that year, which he lost.

The latest contest will see some new faces in the line-ups for both the People's Action Party (PAP) and SDP as they face off for the third consecutive time in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.

The PAP will be fielding Mr Edward Chia, 36, alongside incumbents Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, 59, who is Foreign Minister, Senior Minister of State Sim Ann, 45, and lawyer Christopher de Souza, 44.

The four-man team from the SDP comprises Mr Tan, political scientist James Gomez, 55, and first-time candidates Min Cheong, a 35-year-old marketing and communications professional, and businessman Alfred Tan, 54.

With no party supporters allowed to gather near nomination centres this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was a subdued affair as the candidates arrived at Methodist Girls' School on Tuesday morning.

Mr Chia, who is co-founder and managing director of Timbre Group, is replacing backbencher Liang Eng Hwa, who will be contesting Bukit Panjang SMC.

He had been spotted in Mr Liang's former Zhenghua ward as early as March, and made an appearance at a jobs fair in Bukit Panjang last Friday, together with Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Liang.

Timbre Group runs food and beverage venues including Timbre+ and Yishun Park Hawker Centre, and Mr Chia has said that helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to transform and ride out the Covid-19 crisis will be one of his top priorities if elected.

The SDP candidates, other than Mr Tan, were introduced by the party on its Facebook page over the last two days.

Ms Cheong has said that her focus is on "workforce wellness", which she described as an overarching approach to reforming how people in Singapore live and work.

Dr Gomez, who had been part of the SDP team that contested Sembawang GRC in the 2011 General Election, said Singaporeans' top concerns include the rising cost of living, healthcare and housing affordability and "a weak social security and pension system".

Mr Alfred Tan, director of local food and beverage chain Kopi Ong, has experience in international banking, corporate finance and business management.

The PAP won the Holland-Bukit Timah contest with 66.6 per cent of the vote in 2015, increasing its share from the 60.1 per cent it had in 2011. Mr Tan was a member of the SDP team in the 2011 General Election.

This year, the two parties will be batting to win the votes of 115,012 residents in an area that covers swathes of landed housing districts and prime condominiums, as well as public housing estates clustered around Ghim Moh and Bukit Panjang.

In a speech after the candidacies were confirmed, the SDP's Mr Tan said he was happy to be contesting once again in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.

"In this crisis, huge funds are being spent. It is important that we ensure that these funds are correctly and properly spent," he said.

He later told the media that the party's values align with his own, including "fighting for the underdog".

On rejoining SDP, he said: "I know them very well and they know me very well. So just a phone call to Dr Chee saying I'm interested in coming back, and he did some consultations and they welcomed me back."

Mr Gomez, meanwhile, accused the PAP of "mishandling and missteps" in the Government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, pointing to changing advice on the use of face masks, for example.

In response, Dr Balakrishnan said the Government has acted based on evidence and with complete transparency, adding that it will learn lessons with hindsight.

On their opponents and Mr Tan's surprise addition to the SDP line-up, Dr Balakrishnan said: "We'll wait and see what they have to offer our voters." He noted that campaigning under safe distancing restrictions will be difficult, but added: "The fact that our voters know us, trust us, it makes it so much easier".

Speaking about Mr Chia, the new member of the PAP team, Dr Balakrishnan said: "I have high hopes for what he will do not only on the ground in our own constituency but even at national level."

Asked about how he intends to help SMEs weather the storm and the growing calls for fair tenancy legislation, Mr Chia said he has been part of these discussions as a management committee member of the Restaurant Association of Singapore.

"We want a fair relationship between landlords and tenants. Ultimately it's about a good, sustainable partnership," he said.

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