PAP unveils three new faces in Sengkang GRC

(From left) Mr Ling Weihong, Ms Theodora Lai, Dr Lam Pin Min and Associate Professor Elmie Nekmat distribute groceries to underprivileged families in Sengkang GRC on March 27, 2022. PHOTO: PEOPLE'S ACTION PARTY

SINGAPORE - Three new faces have been unveiled by the People's Action Party (PAP) to chair its party branches in Sengkang GRC, a sign that they could be the ruling party's candidates there in the next general election.

In a party statement issued by chairman of the PAP HQ Executive Committee Chan Chun Sing on Sunday (March 27), it was revealed that Associate Professor Elmie Nekmat, Ms Theodora Lai and Mr Ling Weihong will replace Mr Ng Chee Meng, Mr Amrin Amin and Mr Raymond Lye, who were part of the team that was fielded against the Workers' Party (WP) in GE2020.

Prof Elmie will be the branch chair of Sengkang Central, while Ms Lai will chair Sengkang North and Mr Ling Sengkang East.

Dr Lam Pin Min, branch chair of Sengkang West, will lead the PAP Sengkang GRC team.

Mr Ng, Mr Amrin and Mr Lye will continue to assist the new team.

Mr Ng will also be the adviser to the PAP Sengkang GRC team.

"The Party would like to thank the outgoing branch chairs for their service and contributions to Sengkang GRC, and we look forward to their future contributions in other capacities," said the statement.

In a Facebook post shortly after the announcement, Mr Ng said he was happy to share that the new trio will be stepping up to serve with Dr Lam leading them.

“I know them well, and I will support them in my new role as adviser,” he wrote.

“I am confident that they will do their best for residents. I remain steadfast in my commitment to serving Singaporeans and will continue to contribute to the Party where needed.”

In GE2020, WP won the new Sengkang GRC with 52.12 per cent of the vote against a 47.88 per cent share for the PAP.

The WP got 60,217 votes, while the PAP received 55,319 votes.

The reveal on Sunday comes after the WP faced a major blow last year when former MP for Sengkang GRC Raeesah Khan resigned from the party and Parliament after she admitted to making false allegations in Parliament.

Speaking to the media after a grocery distribution event for underprivileged families in Sengkang GRC on Sunday, Dr Lam said: “I think with our passion and enthusiasm to serve residents, we hope residents can see we are sincere in serving them and that they’ll give us their trust and support.”

He added that the introduction of the new team now would give them a long enough runway for interactions with residents before the next general election.

But the lack of heavyweights in the form of a current political office-holder among the new faces was apparent, drawing a question from the media about comments that the new team may be seen as a “suicide squad”, sent to fight a losing battle.

Dr Lam, however, denied that this was the case.

“I won’t say it’s a suicide squad,” he said. “All of us are in this together.”

Asked for his comments on the incident involving Ms Khan, Dr Lam said it was an “unfortunate incident”.

“But whatever the reason is, as a new team in Sengkang, our main focus is to serve the residents,” he said.

Prof Elmie, 40, is an associate professor of Communications and New Media and assistant dean of research in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore.

He has been a party activist since 2016, including with the Young PAP and Malay Affairs Bureau.

He is a board member of Sport Singapore, council member of Ngee Ann Polytechnic and district councillor for Central Community Development Council.

He is also a member of the Malay Language Learning and Promotion Committee for the Ministry of Education, Malay Language Examination Syllabus Review Committee for Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board and adviser for the Steering Committee of Community Leaders Forum Leadership and Benefactor Scheme for Yayasan Mendaki.

(From left) Associate Professor Elmie Nekmat, Ms Theodora Lai and Mr Ling Weihong. PHOTOS: TIMOTHY DAVID, THEODORALAI/INSTAGRAM, SCREENGRAB FROM THE STRAITS TIMES/YOUTUBE

Ms Lai, 36, is the chief strategy officer of food app company Burpple, and has been a party activist since 2009, including as chairman of the PAP Policy Forum from 2019 to 2020.

She is a founding member of the Young Women's Leadership Connection, and of Prep Junior - a free-to-download app which helps to teach Chinese to pre-schoolers through interactive stories around Singapore.

Ms Lai is also an adviser with Safespace, a mobile platform that connects people who are going through mental health issues with mental healthcare professionals.

The party statement also said she is an active community volunteer, including as a district councillor in Northeast Community Development Council.

Dr Lam Pin Min (second from right) will lead the PAP Sengkang GRC team while Mr Ng Chee Meng, Mr Amrin Amin and Mr Raymond Lye will continue to assist. PHOTO: RAYMOND LYE/FACEBOOK

Mr Ling, 41, is a lawyer in private practice, and has been a party activist since 2015, including as branch secretary of Sengkang Central Branch since April last year and assistant branch secretary of Woodlands Branch from 2016 to 2018.

He helped to launch the Woodlands Mentoring Programme, which paired children from low-income families with youth mentors in the community, and was an assessor for Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act from April to October 2020, as well as a volunteer with the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme between 2007 and 2016.

The PAP has 93 branches across Singapore, and branch chairmen have traditionally been its elected MPs - except for those in opposition-held constituencies.

Political observer Eugene Tan, associate professor of law at Singapore Management University, noted the lack of heavyweights among the new team.

“Except for Dr Lam, it is a new line-up,” he said.

“So the first order of business is to ensure residents know who they are and the plans they have. They will have to be creative, given that WP is also upping their game in the wake of Ms Khan’s resignation last year. The PAP team has to operate without reinforcing WP’s messaging that voting for the WP will result in the PAP serving residents well.”

He added that the new trio will have their work cut out for them, and that if Mr Ng and Mr Amrin are to contest in the next general election, they would likely be fielded in other GRCs.

“The PAP is realistic about its prospects in Sengkang GRC and they have not lined up any heavyweight or minister or even an existing political office-holder such as a minister of state,” he said.

“It is still too male-dominated a line-up, although a slight improvement from the all-men line-up in the 2020 GE.”

Associate Professor Bilveer Singh, deputy head of the National University of Singapore’s political science department, said the reveal of the trio comes early and may be reflective of a new style with the PAP’s 4G leadership.

“It’s surprising the PAP has gone public with the new faces so early, because usually the candidates will work the ground first and are revealed closer to the next GE,” he said.

“The 4G’s style seems to be moving very quickly instead of waiting for the last minute, which is very different from previous generations.”

He added that the early announcement may also be indicative of a GE being called sooner instead of later.

“It’s an uphill battle now for the WP which has been discredited, and the younger Singaporeans are quite judgmental and punishing, so when you break their heart and trust, they punish you,” he said.

“With the WP in trouble, and the transition to the next prime minister being an urgent issue now that the pandemic situation is getting better, there’s no reason for the ruling party to wait for too long to call the next election.” 

But residents who spoke to The Straits Times appeared to be taking a cautious approach, hinting that their votes may swing either way when the time comes.

Many said they would be closely watching how the different candidates handle issues for the community such as amenities, estate activities, and day-to-day living issues.

Miss Dina Syazlysa, 24, a hotel receptionist who has lived in Sengkang for more than seven years, said the people want to see change.

“Aside from just giving the needy residents groceries and food vouchers occasionally, we want to see changes that make our community and estate better,” she said.

“Many voted for the WP because we were looking for such changes. But if these new faces show that they can bring out more changes for the better, then maybe we might go back to the PAP.”

She added that while the saga involving Ms Khan has affected the WP’s reputation, it would be made up for if WP could show residents tangible results not just for Sengkang, but for policy changes to improve the lives of Singaporeans across the board.

She said: “I feel like so far, the WP has been speaking up for Singaporeans, and the Sengkang GRC MPs have been raising issues in Parliament that affect many Singaporeans.”

Mr Alvin Lim, 40, a project engineer who has lived in Sengkang for the past decade, said he, too, hopes more can be done for Sengkang and Singaporeans.

“There have been some good changes, but we want to see more,” he said.

“And we don’t want to see just talk, we want concrete results. We want the problems solved, not just raised and discussed.”

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