SINGAPORE - Bukit Panjang SMC will be contested by two political veterans after a last-minute tactical switch by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) saw its chairman, Dr Paul Tambyah, fielded to contest the seat.
Dr Tambyah, who anchored Holland-Bukit Timah GRC in the 2015 election, will face the People's Action Party's Liang Eng Hwa, 56, who was moved from the neighbouring GRC to fill in for Dr Teo Ho Pin.
Dr Teo, 60, had held the seat for the PAP for the past 14 years and is retiring.
Speaking after the nomination proceedings, Dr Tambyah, a professor of medicine at the National University of Singapore, said that he had been considering a move to Bukit Panjang for "at least a few weeks", and was ultimately convinced by the positive response he saw on the ground during his walkabouts.
He said the party conducted a vote - in which he abstained - for his move to the single-member constituency on Monday after Mr Tan Jee Say of the dissolved Singaporeans First party rejoined the SDP.
He said: "The division between Bukit Panjang SMC and Holland-Bukit Timah GRC is really very artificial. If you go down a road, half of the blocks are in one ward and the other half in another. We have visited many of these blocks on numerous occasions and are very familiar with the residents."
An infectious diseases expert, Dr Tambyah was recently appointed as the first Singaporean to lead the Massachusetts-based International Society of Infectious Diseases in 2022 as its president. He is supporting the incumbent president Prof Alison Holmes in running the organisation in the meantime.
Questioning the timing of the election, he added: "“As an infectious disease physician, (the election) does not make sense. The focus of the nation should be in bringing the number of cases down to zero but the PAP has opportunistically chosen to call for an election in the hope that people will make this flight to safety.
“There is a real concern that there may be an opposition wipeout,” he said, adding that he will be campaigning on the SDP's Four Yes, One No platform.
Dr Tambyah was seen on a walkabout in Bangkit Road on Monday with the then expected SDP candidate for Bukit Panjang Khung Wai Yeen, who had been fielded to contest the seat in 2015. Mr Khung had told The Straits Times then that the SDP had conducted some 60 walkabouts in the SMC between this year and the previous election.
Meanwhile, the PAP's Mr Liang said who his opponent is will not affect his plans for Bukit Panjang as his focus is on the residents. He said he will work with the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC team to make sure the Bukit Panjang estate continues to be upgraded.
"In the next few days, I'll cover as much ground as possible during my walkabouts. That will be where my attention is," he said.
Mr Liang lives and grew up in the Bukit Panjang area, and said his family still frequents the eating places and exercises in the parks there.
"It is with a heavy heart that I'll leave Zhenghua, but I am ready to serve Bukit Panjang, which I call home. My residents in Zhenghua often have familial links with those in Bukit Panjang SMC, too, so I am no stranger," he said.
On the issues he has pushed for in Parliament, Mr Liang said on Monday that he has raised many questions about jobs and "pushed hard for direct government intervention in public transport", citing among his achievements the additional platforms at Chua Chu Kang LRT to cut waiting time and the introduction of new bus services.
If elected, he said that he will focus on increasing the employability of Singaporeans through training and job-matching, as well as promote sustainable habits, particularly the reduction of food wastage.
"It will be a tough fight and I'll need to win the residents' trust and confidence. I'll never take this for granted and I am going to work very very hard."
Also speaking at the nomination centre on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the choice of Mr Liang to take over Dr Teo is a pointed one.
“We knew we wanted to ensure that the town council and Bukit Panjang will have someone equally hardworking, equally ground-based, equally familiar with all the details and intricacies.
“That’s why I decided the best person to stand in Dr Teo Ho Pin’s very large shoes would be Mr Liang Eng Hwa.”