Bukit Batok by-election

PAP activists held back from celebrating till last moment

Mr Murali with residents and supporters outside the PAP branch office after being declared winner of the Bukit Batok by-election.
Mr Murali with residents and supporters outside the PAP branch office after being declared winner of the Bukit Batok by-election.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

After the polls closed last night in Bukit Batok, a crowd began to form outside the People's Action Party (PAP) branch office at Block 148 to await the results.

Yet, most of those gathered were not party members clad in white but ordinary voters.

Unlike the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), whose supporters gathered at Bukit Gombak Stadium last night, the PAP did not have an official assembly centre.

It used a classroom in a PAP Community Foundation kindergarten located next to its branch office.

While PAP activists waited there, about 50 residents - overwhelmingly PAP voters - milled outside the branch, curious to know how their candidate fared.

Many huddled over their smartphones to keep abreast of the news. A number even asked reporters if they had, by any chance, heard of the results already.

At 9.24pm, the early sample count came in showing PAP candidate Murali Pillai leading with 61 per cent to SDP chief Chee Soon Juan's 39 per cent.

Someone in the crowd was overheard asking another: "The sample poll - accurate or not?"

The crowd included housewife Lee Mei Chee, 56, and retiree Chia Lai Kuen, 68. The long-time PAP supporters were among those who looked relieved. They explained that what they heard on the ground in the initial days of the election worried them.

Said Madam Chia in Mandarin: "When we did our grocery shopping, some of the aunties said, 'Why should we vote for someone with darker skin?' I thought this was very dangerous thinking. So every day, I went to the market to tell people why they should choose Murali and vote PAP."

Madam Lee added: "Mr Murali has been working very hard. But we thought it would be a close fight because Dr Chee has been very energetic."

In the end, Dr Chee secured 38.8 per cent of the vote, against Mr Murali's 61.2 per cent.

For the PAP, this was a drop of almost 12 percentage points from the 2015 General Election result for the seat, in which former MP David Ong obtained 73 per cent. But for PAP branch vice-chairman William Chung, last night's result was more than good enough.The 63-year-old businessman said he was glad his six weeks of leave to help Mr Murali with his campaign had paid off, adding: "Considering that this is a by-election, this is a very good result - it shows that residents are supportive of Murali's plans."

Most party activists, meanwhile, held back from celebrating even after the sample poll counts were released. Their conservatism seemed to echo Mr Murali's. He came out more than once to thank the growing crowd of residents for their support, but would not be drawn to give comments and told reporters to wait for the official results.

It was only after the official results were announced at around 11.30pm that shouts and cheers could finally be heard from the room which they were in.

Those cheering in the room included his family. About a dozen family members were there to show their support, including his wife, his two younger daughters and in-laws.

Said Mr Murali's brother-in-law N. Prem, 42, a field engineer: "We are extremely proud of him. I'm especially happy for the family. I hope to get the chance to talk to him later if he's not too busy."

Mr Murali, for his part, presented his mother, Madam Vasanthi Ramadass, 75, with a bouquet of flowers and gave her a kiss on the cheek. The beaming mother said: "I am very proud of him."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 08, 2016, with the headline 'PAP activists held back from celebrating till last moment'. Print Edition | Subscribe