GE2020: Heng Swee Keat's move reflects PAP's view WP has strong East Coast team – Pritam Singh

·6-min read
Workers' Party candidate for East Coast GRC Nicole Seah speaking to residents at Bedok North on Wednesday morning (1 July).
Workers' Party candidate for East Coast GRC Nicole Seah speaking to residents at Bedok North on Wednesday morning (1 July).

SINGAPORE — The People’s Action Party’s (PAP) 11th hour decision to field its first assistant secretary-general Heng Swee Keat in East Coast Group Representative Constituency (GRC) reflects the ruling party’s view that the Workers’ Party (WP) has a good slate of candidates in the GRC, said WP chief Pritam Singh on Wednesday (1 July).

The opposition party chief also acknowledged that amid economic uncertainty, there might be a “flight to safety” that favours the incumbent party. Nonetheless, voters want to see more opposition seats in the House.

“We know that Singaporeans want to see an opposition in Parliament,” he said. “I think they want to have a balance in Parliament; some semblance of a balance. So then the onus is on us to ensure that we can put a good slate of people out there who are prepared to fight for Singaporeans,” he added.

‘You can’t rely on someone else to vote for the opposition’

The WP leader was speaking to reporters after a walkabout in Bedok North, along with the party’s five candidates for East Coast GRC: Kenneth Foo, Terrence Tan, Dylan Ng, Nicole Seah, and Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim.

The PAP is fielding Heng, who is Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, along with Maliki Osman, Jessica Tan, Cheryl Tan and Tan Kiat How.

At GE2011, the PAP team won 54.8 per cent of votes in the GRC compared with the WP’s 45.2 per cent. The PAP performed better at GE2015, garnering 60.73 per cent of ballots compared with the WP’s 39.27 per cent, when the Fengshan ward was carved out of the GRC into a Single Member Constituency (SMC). For GE2020, Fengshan has been absorbed back into the GRC.

With the WP - the only opposition party with a presence in the previous Parliament with six seats - working the ground over the past two electoral cycles, observers expect another close contest. As the WP team walked through the Fengshan Market and Food Centre at Block 85 Bedok North Street 4 early on Wednesday morning canvassing support, some stallholders and residents recognised the party members and called out to them, with some explicitly stating their support for the candidates.

At the doorstop interview held at Block 58 New Upper Changi Road, coincidentally a stone’s throw away from the PAP headquarters at Block 57B, a reporter asked Singh for his take on voters flocking to the proven track record of the incumbent PAP in times of economic uncertainty.

Acknowledging that it will be a difficult election with a “flight to safety instinct”, Singh said, “And that’s why we have pitched our message to voters accordingly. You have to make your vote count. You can’t rely on somebody else to cast the vote for the opposition.”

Singh added that even if all 21 of the WP’s candidates across the various constituencies are voted in, the PAP government would have a “very strong mandate” with control over two-thirds of Parliament, “and they can still push their agenda through”.

“But we have to grow, we have to evolve with Singapore society and the Workers’ Party wants to play its part,” he said.

‘We promise to put up the best fight’

On the PAP’s strategy in fielding Heng in East Coast at the 11th hour, Singh said, “The move of Mr Heng (in appearing late at the Nomination Centre)...obviously there was an element of strategic surprise on the part of the PAP. Of course to us, we see it as a strong challenge, but it also says something about the PAP’s assessment of the Workers’ Party team in East Coast.”

He added, “I think they see the slate as a very strong one and they know they’ll have to fight hard for every vote as is what the PAP always does in every election. They are a party with deep resources. For us, we promise to put up the best fight as well. I think we’ve got a good slate of candidates - broad, very diverse backgrounds, and I think they’ll represent Singaporeans well in Parliament.”

When asked about the WP’s strategy, Singh said that the party generally focuses on areas where it has contested before. But with electoral boundaries subject to changes at each GE, he added, “A lot of the decision making, the strategic thinking behind how the WP will operate really turn on the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC). So the plan changes every five years because the boundaries change every five years.”

Referring to the case of Fengshan ward, Singh said, “It was carved out into an SMC. Five years later it’s back into a GRC. And these sort of things of course make it harder for the Workers’ Party to plan. But we don’t just wait for the EBRC report to start doing our work.

“I think the East Coast team (and) group of volunteers, have been constantly working the ground, to the best of their ability, and I think they’ll put up a good fight,” he added.

On whether the WP will have to change its strategy with a PAP heavyweight now contesting in East Coast GRC, Singh said, “We’ll have to fight hard for every vote. It wasn’t as if it were someone else we would be fighting any less harder. But we take it as a challenge. Obviously Mr Heng and the PAP take the contest on the slate that the WP has put up very seriously and we’ll fight hard for every vote.”

Nicole Seah’s ‘star power’?

At the interview, Singh was also asked whether the team would be relying on Nicole Seah’s “star power”: she had contested in Marine Parade GRC in 2011 under the National Solidarity Party banner with her team garnering about 43 per cent of the votes against a team helmed by Emeritus Senior Minister and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

In response, the WP leader said, “I think I would be more reliant on the Terrence Tan star power and the Kenneth Foo star power and Mr Abdul Shariff...(they) will bring something for Singapore and Singaporeans in Parliament.”

A total of 192 candidates are contesting 93 parliamentary seats across six four-member GRCs, 11 five-member GRCs and 14 SMCs.

Apart from East Coast GRC, the WP is contesting in Hougang and Punggol West SMCs, and in Aljunied, Sengkang and Marine Parade GRCs.

The PAP is contesting all 93 seats.

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