Dr Koh Poh Koon (left) at a grassroots event in June 2015. He is expected to be one of the new names to be added to the PAP’s slate this General Election (Photo: Koh Poh Koon Facebook page)
By Zul Othman
It happened last Friday (July 24).
The changes to the boundaries of electoral constituencies were announced by the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee, signalling that the General Elections are around the corner.
Since then, the mainstream media has been awash with stories speculating the date of the election (sometime in September is likely, said experts). Reports on the likely new faces to be fielded by the ruling party have also surfaced.
So, what do the heartlanders make of these “new” faces, some of whom have contested and lost in previous elections?
Nearly all of the 30 people - aged 30 to 69 - Yahoo Singapore spoke to said that it is obvious from news reports the ruling party want certain people to be part of the next Parliament.
Maybe that’s why they are being parachuted into safe wards, they added.
“It’s a merry go round, a lot of familiar names are moving around for this year’s election and entering via a safe constituency might be the best way to get them in (to Parliament),” one heartlander told Yahoo Singapore on Tuesday (July 28).
When we approached the portly 68-year-old retiree, who only identified himself as Mr Gan, he was sitting at a kopitiam (coffeeshop) in Ang Mo Kio discussing the upcoming general elections with his friends.
The soft-spoken grandfather of two added, “So far, the newspapers have identified the doctor who lost the Punggol East by-election, now he is said to be part of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s team representing Ang Mo Kio constituency.”
He was referring to Dr Koh Poh Koon, a colorectal surgeon who contested the Punggol East seat for the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the 2013 by-election following the departure of ex-Speaker Of Parliament Michael Palmer.
The latter resigned in December 2012 after it was revealed that he had an extramarital affair.
Dr Koh, the self-professed “son of Punggol” because he grew up in the district, lost the seat to Workers’ Party (WP) candidate Lee Li Lian.
In an interview with MyPaper in late 2013, Dr Koh - then the ward’s PAP branch chairman - admitted he misspoke during his campaign.
He had said then, “Everybody has a car, we have two. We are professionals, we need to travel.” Some felt this reeked of elitism, reported the tabloid.
But in November last year, Dr Koh told Channel NewsAsia that he will spend more time on the ground contributing in Ang Mo Kio constituency.
Dr Koh is not the only new name expected on the Ang Mo Kio PAP ticket this year.
Two other people - former game show host Darryl David, 44, and food supply company executive director Henry Kwek, 39 - have also been identified, reported The Straits Times.
All three are possible replacements for the constituency’s veteran Members of Parliament (MPs) Seng Han Thong and Yeo Guat Kwang, who are expected to retire this year.
One of the GRC’s current MPs, Inderjit Singh, announced his retirement on Friday (24 July).
“Perhaps this Dr Koh is office bearer material, maybe that is why the PAP ‘die die’ wants him in Government,” offered another Ang Mo Kio resident Mr Daniel Sim, 36.
“I’ve seen him around. he seems like a nice guy, but it remains to be seen how he performs as an MP for the people here,” he added.
Mr Francis Han, who also lives in Ang Mo Kio, expects some competition for PM Lee at the polls.
Said the 40-year-old, “Ang Mo Kio will be contested, but I don’t think the PM will lose his seat, my sense is residents here are happy with the way things are going.”
However, netizens have questioned Dr Koh’s supposed loyalties by jumping from Punggol to be part of the “sure win” team headed by PM Lee in Ang M Kio.
But as another Ang Mo Kio resident who identified himself only as G.S. Lim said, such moves are not unexpected for the PAP, “They have a record of sending unsuccessful candidates into GRCs (group representation constituency), that way they can get them into Parliament and into the government. Look at Mah Bow Tan, for example.”
Mr Lim was referring to serving Tampines GRC MP Mah, who retired from his post as Minister for National Development in 2011.
Mah first entered politics at the 1984 general election. He stood unsuccessfully in the Potong Pasir constituency and was defeated by Mr Chiam See Tong, then of the Singapore Democratic Party.
Mah entered Parliament four years later as part of the four-man PAP team at Tampines GRC.
There is also speculation that Mah, who will turn 67 on September 12, will leave his Tampines East ward this year. Expected to take his place is Desmond Choo, a former high-ranking police officer who now works at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).
The latter previously contested against the Workers Party’s Yaw Shin Leong in Hougang in the 2011 GE, and again in the Hougang by-election a year later, when Mr Yaw was expelled from WP following an extramarital affair.
After losing to WP’s Png Eng Huat, 37-year-old Choo left his grassroots position in Hougang and was appointed the second adviser to the grassroots at Tampines East, reported the Today newspaper.
The Tampines PAP team also includes Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister in Prime Minister’s Office Masagos Zulkifli as well as MPs Bae Yam Keng and Irene Ng.
But not all those who are parachuted in GRCs are successful, noted one Aljunied GRC resident who wanted to be known as William.
“Ong Ye Kung is one good example. He was part of the PAP’s Aljunied GRC team in 2011, but they lost. Being sent into a high profile GRC with a high profiled minister may not always work,” added the 39-year sales representative.
A former high-flying civil servant, 44-year-old Ong was in the five-member team that lost to the WP in 2011. That defeat also saw two ministers - former Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo and former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lim Hwee Hua - lose their seats in Parliament.
But Ong, a director of group strategy at Keppel Corporation, is poised to make a political comeback.
According to a Straits Times report on 26 July, he has been spotted at a morning charity walk organised by Sembawang GRC.
That GRC is headed by Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan.
Ong, who previously served in the Kaki Bukit ward in Aljunied GRC, has also never counted himself out of politics.
He told The Straits Times in 2014: “Never have I ever announced that I’m stepping out of politics. So if there is an opportunity to contest, to participate, I will.”