From West Coast to Sengkang: The 5 closest fights of GE2020

Voters at Poi Ching School polling station in Tampines on July 10, 2020.
Voters at Poi Ching School polling station in Tampines on July 10, 2020. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - The Straits Times looks at the five most hotly contested constituencies of the 2020 General Election, which took place on Friday (July 10):

1. West Coast GRC

Final result: PAP win

Vote share: PAP 51.69%, PSP 48.31%

This year's West Coast PAP team was helmed by Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran, 58, who has now been re-elected in six straight general elections.

He contested all of them in West Coast GRC, which was created in 1997. Since then, the PAP in West Coast has seen two walkovers and challenges from the Workers' Party and Reform Party, but had never secured less than 66.6 per cent of votes.

Mr Iswaran's team this year comprised Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, 43, Ms Foo Mee Har, 54, Mr Ang Wei Neng, 53, and new candidate Rachel Ong, 47.

They were up against Progress Singapore Party (PSP) chief Tan Cheng Bock, 80, PSP assistant secretary-general Leong Mun Wai, 60, Ms Hazel Poa, 50, Mr Nadarajah Loganathan, 57, and Mr Jeffrey Khoo, 51.

The GRC was billed as one of the tightest contests in the election, pitting a team led by Dr Tan - a retired general practitioner - against his former party. He ran a campaign calling for greater transparency, and the need to put workers and businesses first.

 
 
 

A well-known face in the area, his return to his old stomping ground as an opposition candidate made the battle for West Coast GRC one to watch. He was a popular MP who had held the Ayer Rajah seat for the ruling PAP for 26 years from 1980 to 2006, when his stronghold was absorbed into West Coast GRC.

However, it has been 14 years since he retired as a PAP MP, and voter profiles in the area are likely to have changed, which are some factors that may have led to the PSP's defeat.

Meanwhile, the PAP campaigned on a platform which focused on job creation, providing employment assistance, strengthening social safety nets and initiatives for young people and families.

Traditionally viewed as a PAP stronghold, West Coast GRC absorbed part of Chua Chu Kang GRC and Hong Kah North SMC for this election and was expanded from four to five members from the last election.

2. Sengkang GRC

Final result: WP win

Vote share: WP 52.13%, PAP 47.87%

In possibly the biggest upset of the election, the Workers' Party team consisting of lawyer He Ting Ru, 37, economics professor Jamus Lim, 44, social enterprise founder Raeesah Khan, 26, and equity research analyst Louis Chua Kheng Wee, 33, won the new Sengkang GRC.

This means the fresh-faced WP team has claimed the opposition party's second GRC, following a tough fight for the new constituency.

 
 
 

They were up against the PAP's team of labour chief Ng Chee Meng, 51, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health Lam Pin Min, 50, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health Amrin Amin, 41, and lawyer Raymond Lye, 54.

Pundits had expected this fight in Sengkang to be intense for several reasons: the WP's history in the area, the "unpredictability factor" of a new GRC, and the performance of Associate Professor Lim, who won praise for how he handled himself against Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in a televised debate during the campaign. At the live debate, Prof Lim urged Singaporeans to vote for the WP and deny the PAP "a blank cheque".

Besides Punggol East and part of Sengkang West, the four-member group representation constituency that was created after electoral boundaries were redrawn in March also takes in the Sengkang Central ward of Pasir Ris-Punggol SMC.


The WP's Sengkang GRC candidates (from left) Raeesah Khan, Louis Chua, He Ting Ru and Jamus Lim outside the WP HQ on July 11, 2020.

The GRC thus covers the Anchorvale, Compassvale and Rivervale neighbourhoods, and a younger, more middle-class demographic than the national average.

The new GRC also had its fair share of drama during the campaign. On the weekend before Polling Day, two police reports were filed against the WP's Ms Raeesah for remarks she made in two Facebook posts in February 2018 and May this year.

The posts suggested that police officers discriminated against citizens, that rich Chinese and "white people" were treated differently under the law, and that minorities and mosque leaders were given different treatment compared with church leaders.

Ms Raeesah apologised that same weekend, joined by WP leaders Pritam Singh and Sylvia Lim as well as her Sengkang teammates.

3. East Coast GRC

Final result: PAP win

Vote share: PAP 53.41%, WP 46.59%

The PAP's vote share in this GRC is down from 2015, when it won 60.73 per cent.

The WP had fielded some of its stronger teams there since first mounting a challenge to the ruling party in the 2006 General Election.

 

But on Nomination Day, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat made a surprise move to helm the PAP's East Coast team, strengthening its slate significantly.

Apart from Mr Heng, the PAP's five-member team in East Coast includes Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, 54; Ms Jessica Tan, 54; Ms Cheryl Chan, 44; and new face Tan Kiat How, 43.

They were up against a slate led by lawyer Terence Tan, 49, the WP's deputy organising secretary. His team also included Mr Dylan Ng, 44, Mr Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim, 54; Mr Kenneth Foo, 43; and Ms Nicole Seah, 33.


The PAP's East Coast GRC candidates (from left) Tan Kiat How, Cheryl Chan, Heng Swee Keat, Maliki Osman and Jessica Tan. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

East Coast GRC was created in 1997, when Bedok GRC was expanded to take in parts of Eunos, Marine Parade, Tampines, Changi and Aljunied. It has been contested four times so far, all by the WP.

In 2006, the PAP team won with 63.86 per cent of the vote. Its vote share dropped to 54.83 per cent in 2011, then went up to 60.73 per cent in the last general election in 2015.

During this year's nine-day campaign, the opposition team had reiterated that it would put up a good fight despite being surprised by Mr Heng's move to East Coast.

The five members had run a campaign championing diversity in Parliament and "a balanced system", among other issues.

On the last day of the campaign period, Mr Heng unveiled plans for a new East Coast Conversation series for residents to discuss the issues they care about.

Much of his time at the hustings was spent getting to know residents in the GRC. On top of his house visits, Mr Heng visited most major markets and food centres in East Coast GRC at least twice during the campaign period.

He emphasised that Singaporeans are choosing the next government for the country in this election, and had called on voters not to be "taken in" by opposition parties' claims of a wipeout, given that the Non-Constituency MP scheme guarantees opposition voices in Parliament.

4. Bukit Panjang SMC

Final result: PAP win

Vote share: PAP: 53.74%, SDP 46.26%

The largest single-member constituency (SMC) of Bukit Panjang will remain in the hands of the PAP.

This year's contest between the ruling party's Mr Liang Eng Hwa and SDP chairman Professor Paul Tambyah - an infectious diseases expert who has criticised the Government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic - had been closely watched and the constituency touted as a hot seat.

 

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Culture, Community and Youth, had thrown their weight behind Mr Liang, joining him in Bukit Panjang for walkabouts and touting his ability to helm town council matters.

But Prof Tambyah had support from other members of the opposition, with chief of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Tan Cheng Bock accompanying him on a Bukit Panjang walkabout as well.

The two also challenged the PAP to a debate on the Covid-19 pandemic, although this never materialised.


PAP candidate for Bukit Panjang SMC Mr Liang Eng Hwa arrives at the party HQ on July 11, 2020. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

Comprising about 160 Housing Board blocks and three condominiums, Bukit Panjang has 35,497 registered voters.

Since the SMC was created in 2006, the PAP and SDP have faced off in four elections, with the SDP fielding a different candidate each time.

In 2015, the PAP's Dr Teo Ho Pin won 68.38 per cent of the valid votes and in 2011, 66.27 per cent. In the 2006 General Election, the ruling party took home 77.18 per cent of the votes.

5. Bukit Batok SMC

Final result: PAP win

Vote share: PAP 54.8%, SDP 45.2%

This was not the first time the PAP's incumbent Mr Murali Pillai, 52, and Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, 57, had locked horns.

They had faced off in the single-member constituency's 2016 by-election after PAP MP David Ong stepped down following allegations of an extramarital affair with a grassroots volunteer, with Mr Murali winning 61.21 per cent of the votes against Dr Chee's 38.79 per cent back then.

 

This time, the margin of victory was much smaller, decreasing from 22.4 percentage points to 9.6.

Mr Murali had been criticised by Dr Chee during this campaign for juggling his role as an MP with his career as a lawyer, with the SDP chief promising residents a "full-time" MP if he were elected.

Mr Murali said that while he spends six days a week listening to residents' concerns and dealing with issues on the ground at the second largest of 14 SMCs, it takes not just one person to serve the residents, but an entire village.


The PAP's Bukit Batok SMC candidate Murali Pillai won 54.80 per cent of the votes. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

During campaigning, he said that there are plans to have the SMC's town council affairs managed together with Jurong GRC and Yuhua SMC. This, he said, will not just lead to cost savings, but also the chance to tap the "collective wisdom" of Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (Jurong) and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu (Yuhua).

Dr Chee had focused his campaign on a "show and tell" of faults in the SMC, including delayed upgrading projects and safety lapses. His party also said it wants to suspend the goods and services tax till 2021, pay retrenchment benefits, and provide income to retirees.