East Coast GRC

The fierce battleground that wasn't

PAP beats Workers' Party team in East Coast GRC with 60.7% of votes cast

Jubilant PAP supporters greet the East Coast GRC team, comprising Mr Lim Swee Say, Mr Lee Yi Shyan, Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman and Ms Jessica Tan, with a rockstar reception.
Jubilant PAP supporters greet the East Coast GRC team, comprising Mr Lim Swee Say, Mr Lee Yi Shyan, Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman and Ms Jessica Tan, with a rockstar reception. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

At 9.30pm, Mr Lee Yi Shyan was on his way to yet another counting centre when he received a call from Mr Lim Swee Say, asking him to join him at the Bedok branch of the People's Action Party (PAP) instead.

There, the two men settled down in front of the television to watch the news coverage of the election.

"It's more comfortable," Mr Lim told The Straits Times with a smile.

That the anchor minister of the PAP slate in East Coast GRC could relax in front of the TV instead of anxiously going from one counting centre to another on Polling Night, was a sign of just how his team's margin was shaping up.

In the end, East Coast GRC was the fierce battleground that wasn't.

The PAP team won handily over its Workers' Party rivals, with 60.7 per cent of the votes cast, a six percentage-point improvement over its performance in 2011.

Expectations had been that East Coast GRC, bordering the WP-held Aljunied GRC and the most narrowly won GRC for the PAP in 2011, would see a tight race.

Sensing vulnerability, the WP put forward a slate that was touted to be its next generation of leaders.

Mr Gerald Giam, 37, an IT solutions architect; Mr Leon Perera, 44, a research and consultancy firm chief executive; Dr Daniel Goh, 42, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore; and Mr Mohamed Fairoz Shariff, 36, a former librarian, were the fresh faces also given the high-profile role of drafting the party's election manifesto.

They arrived at Hougang Stadium last night, subdued. Some supporters sobbed. Others left, leaving the most loyal to fill less than half the space that had been packed during the rallies. "Most of us thought it was going to be a close fight, since the WP has put together a good team to stand here," said engineer Samuel Wong, 25, a Simei resident.

Mr Giam thanked the quiet crowd and promised to continue to fight on. He declined to say if he would take up again the position of non-constituency MP, given to the opposition's best performing losing candidates.

It was a different mood at Bedok Stadium. Outside, all four PAP candidates arrived almost at the same time for the results. Glimpsing teammate, Minister of State Mohamad Maliki Osman, 50, Mr Lim walked over and gave him a hug,

Inside, jubilant PAP supporters greeted the team with a rockstar reception, mobbing them for an endless stream of selfies.

Dr Maliki and his wife, Madam Sadiah Shahal, 47, a housewife, meanwhile shared a quiet moment, locked in a long embrace across a fence. She whispered: "We did it." He replied: "Thank you, sayang."

The fourth PAP candidate was Ms Jessica Tan, 49, Microsoft Singapore's managing director.

Mr Lim told The Straits Times his team would not take the residents' support for granted: "The last four years, we did our best to serve the residents. Next five years, we are going to do even more."

The PAP team on the ground had waged a tactical campaign battle. While national leaders trained their guns at the WP over its handling of finances at the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council, the East Coast GRC team avoided the negative campaigning that could have turned residents off.

Instead, it focused on the work done by its MPs, such as the upgrading of Bedok Central. The quartet had also revamped the way they engaged residents, emphasising intimate dialogue. Mr Lim, for instance, conducted over 125 talks on Medishield Life and the Pioneer Generation Package, to groups ranging in size from 70 to 150.

East Coast GRC resident Annie See Toh, 40, an assistant human resources manager, called Mr Lim "a very people person", saying: "We always see him in the area meeting residents."

Hype over the WP slate may also have propelled a swathe of swing voters - concerned about the opposition's seemingly speedy ascent - to throw their support behind the PAP.

Said Ms Cheryl Tan, 33, a procurement executive: "We were quite worried because the WP has strong support base and the attendance at rallies was very high."

Ultimately, the WP's call for Singaporeans to "entrench the opposition" - its East Coast team at the forefront - failed to gain traction among the constituency's residents, half of whom live in private property. Instead, the PAP's exhortation for residents to compare the teams man for man, rather than to give the opposition a "discount" appeared to have caught on.

On what is next, Mr Lee said the team would be rolling out programmes for the elderly, youth and young parents.

Adds Mr Lim: "This time round, 38 per cent of the residents did not vote for us. We will not give up."

•Additional reporting by Joanna

Seow, Wong Kim Hoh and Calvin Yang

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2015, with the headline The fierce battleground that wasn't. Subscribe