SINGAPORE - People's Action Party (PAP) MP David Ong's resignation was "totally unexpected" but his constituents in the Bukit Batok single seat will be taken care of, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam told reporters on Saturday afternoon, less than an hour after the news broke.
"David Ong has apologised but I want to say to Bukit Batok residents, on behalf of the party, that we are deeply sorry this has happened," said Mr Tharman. "It is totally unexpected but it has happened, and we must now rebuild. And we will."
The Prime Minister's Office had released a statement on Mr Ong's resignation as MP and from his party, due to "personal reasons", and said a by-election will be called "in due course".
Mr Tharman told reporters that the PAP's first priority is to make sure that Bukit Batok is in good hands until the by-election.
Although it is a single seat, Bukit Batok is "part of the Jurong family" together with Jurong GRC and Yuhua, he said. That is why Jurong GRC MPs Desmond Lee and Ang Wei Neng - who were also present at the press conference - will be stepping in to help.
Mr Lee will look after Bukit Batok residents and Mr Ang will take over Mr Ong's role as chairman of Jurong-Clementi Town Council, with immediate effect.
Said Mr Lee, who is also Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development: "My immediate priority is to ensure residents of Bukit Batok will be well taken care of." He said he was in close touch with community leaders and will conduct Meet-the-People Sessions and house visits to listen to residents' concerns.
Mr Ang said he would work hard to ensure a seamless takeover of the Town Council so that residents of Bukit Batok, Yuhua and Jurong GRC will get the same level of service.
Asked when the PAP found out, Mr Tharman said it was "totally unexpected, very sudden". "(We were) all taken aback but we will recover," he said, adding that there was a very strong team of grassroots and activists.
As for whether there had been any rumours before the General Election in September 2015, Mr Tharman said: "Certainly not."
Residents who spoke to The Straits Times mostly reacted to the news of Mr Ong's resignation with surprise and sadness, saying he was a good MP who was always around his constituency helping residents.
A 90-year-old retiree who only wished to be known as Mr Leow said in Mandarin: "It's a pity he has quit. He was a very approachable man, and he would take the initiative to say hello to me. I'm worried about not having an MP, I hope they send someone just as good to take care of us."
Administrative clerk Madam Lim Soon Hiang, 59, said in the short seven months that her family has lived in Bukit Batok, Mr Ong has helped them solve several problems. He helped write to the Housing Board when some of her family's renovation plans were rejected, and also helped write to the Ministry of Defence about her son's National Service deferment.