SINGAPORE - In the 2015 general election, the Workers' Party had a close call in Aljunied GRC, when it bested the PAP with just 2,626 votes.
Recounting the result on Friday (July 3) in a televised broadcast, WP chief Pritam Singh told Aljunied voters the party understands their vote has to be earned.
"We have worked hard to earn your trust, sometimes under difficult circumstances. For those who feel that we have not met your expectations, we seek your understanding and promise to do better. Now, more than ever, your vote is essential to chart the kind of political system Singapore should have," he said.
Spelling out the high stakes in this year's general election, in the first of a series of constituency political broadcasts, Mr Singh reiterated a key theme of his party's campaign: that a strong opposition presence is important and there is a need to have elected opposition MPs in Parliament.
The WP had wrested Aljunied - the only opposition-held GRC in Singapore - from the People's Action Party in 2011. But it won by a much smaller margin four years later with 50.95 per cent of the vote share, enough to trigger a recount into the wee hours of the morning.
Mr Singh said that as MPs in Parliament, his party had asked tough questions on residents' behalf to hold the PAP government accountable.
"As WP MPs, we have been rational and responsible. We support the government agenda when we think it is on the right track, and oppose it only when we find the direction is not in the national interest," he said, citing the party's opposition to the 2013 Population White Paper and the goods and services tax (GST) hike as examples.
Expanding on the theme of needing checks and balances, fellow WP candidate Gerald Giam urged voters not to be swayed by the PAP's argument that there is no need to vote for the opposition, as the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme ensures their voice in Parliament.
"The PAP will feel safe as long as their two-thirds majority is not threatened. But once the opposition gains more seats, they will be forced to consult you, and you will also get a more responsive government," said Mr Giam, a former NCMP.
He said that when he was in Parliament, he filed more than 150 questions and debated with ministers on the 2013 Population White Paper and MediShield insurance payouts.
Rounding up the WP team in Aljunied are two other incumbent MPs - party chairman Sylvia Lim and Mr Faisal Manap - as well as NCMP Leon Perera. Mr Giam and Mr Perera will replace former party chief Low Thia Khiang and party stalwart Chen Show Mao, who will not be standing for election.
Mr Perera said the voices of NCMPs can be ignored, as they do not carry the full mandate of the people.
On the other hand, "the voices of fully elected opposition MPs cannot be ignored by the PAP at the risk of losing more fully elected seats", he added. "Please make your vote count and vote Workers' Party."
Mr Singh also sought to pre-empt concerns over the mismanagement of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC), saying that the current financial position of AHTC is healthy.
The town council has steadily built up its operating fund position and most recently recorded an accumulated surplus of $7.9 milion, more than double the accumulated surplus recorded when it took over from the previous town council in 2011, he said.
"You know that the services in your estate are functioning, from cleaning to pest control...There have also been improvement works, such as the addition of covered linkways," he added.
The High Court found last October that Ms Lim and Mr Low had breached their fiduciary duties towards the town council in hiring a managing agent company without calling a tender. They had thereby put their own political interests ahead of that of residents under their charge, the judge said. They have appealed against the ruling.
The PAP team in its broadcast, on the other hand, argued that community should come before politics.
PAP's Bedok Reservoir-Punggol branch chairman Victor Lye said: "Aljunied is yours - not someone's political hostage".
His colleague in Kaki Bukit, Mr Shamsul Kamar, asked: "Are we (Aljunied) the check and balance mechanism for the country or the catalyst to take Singapore forward and scale greater heights?
"Aljunied deserves a team that not only speaks for you but journeys with you, for you."
Rounding up the PAP camp are lawyer Alex Yeo, marketing director Chan Hui Yuh, and bank executive Chua Eng Leong.
Mr Chua pointed out that despite losing in the last two general elections, the PAP team has not left Aljunied behind. On the contrary, they have continued to improve the infrastructure there, with new plans to build new polyclinics, community hospitals and MRT stations.
"In the next five years, we will complete the upgrading of our neighbourhoods and parks, and make your estates barrier-free," he added.
In their speeches, the team outlined plans to set up job centres and a pocket money fund for disadvantaged children, and secure cheaper essential goods and services for residents.
Ms Chan and Mr Yeo described their collaborative approach to providing local services and programmes.
"We can harness the power of negotiation as a constituency with group buys on essential goods and services," said Ms Chan.
She plans to set up a local fund for residents, so that even those living in private estates are eligible as long as their income level meets the lower threshold set.
She added: "Our help schemes will be based on trust and not on rules that may make it difficult for you to get help when you need it. We will build a culture where everyone looks out for neighbours, making our estates safe and harmonious for young and elderly residents."
Mr Yeo stressed the need to listen actively and deliver what residents really need.
Citing his ward's grocery distribution programme, he said that he saw beneficiaries giving away some of the groceries after collection, either because the items were too heavy, or the elderly residents would not consume some of them. This led to a revamp of the programme in 2017, he said.
"We raised funds so that we could purchase items based on feedback, giving beneficiaries what they need. These experiences taught us that how we serve on the ground is very important. We must always listen, go the extra mile, and try our very best."
Wrapping up the team's speech, Mr Lye said that the PAP team "can do better" for the residents of Aljunied.
"In GE2015, we stood up for you. Forced a recount. The opposition who lost could enter Parliament; we could only look on and resumed helping you the next day.
"It's been nine years. It's time. Bring us home."