GE2020: My hunt for the anchor man

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking after confirmation as East Coast GRC candidate on Nomination Day on 30 June 2020. (SCREENSHOT: CNA/YouTube)

By Bertha Henson

Except for the huddle of journalists, photographers and videographers outside the school gates, there was little sign that it was Nomination Day.

There were no cheering supporters nor flags. No chants. No screams. Just the candidates and the requisite number of people who had to declare support for the candidacy. And of course, election officers and policemen. 

So I sweated it out outside the gates of St Anthony’s Canossian Primary School, dejected at the lack of excitement that COVID-19 had brought about. But what I really wanted to know was who would be the anchor person for East Coast GRC, my constituency. Some names had been thrown up, like Desmond Lee and Masagos Zulkifli. Would they be sent to fill Lim Swee Say’s shoes? 

I have been voting in an area which have had so many name changes that I can’t remember them all. The east has always been an opposition hotbed and the last general election was no different. The single-seat ward of Fengshan and East Coast GRC had the worst voting numbers on the PAP side. The area has always been known as Workers’ Party (WP) territory. A few times, I have found myself shaking hands with both Fengshan MP Cheryl Chan and WP politicians in the same day at the same neighbourhood centre, so assiduously were our votes being courted. 

If Fengshan had remained a single-seat ward, I would have voted for Chan. She is a good grassroots MP and has raised a number of good points in Parliament, especially about old HDB flats. But the ward was subsumed into the GRC in the latest revision of electoral boundaries. 

I would therefore have to re-think my vote. 

I would like the PAP to remain the Government, but I also believe that opposition deserves a place in Parliament. Now, I would have to weigh the candidates on each slate before making a decision. This is the trouble with a GRC system, you can’t vote for a single person, but for a team. 

I tried to pry the answer out of Ng Chee Meng, whose Sengkang GRC team, was the first to reach the centre. He laughed at the question. I hung around Sun Xue Ling who was at a nearby carpark, hoping to get one of the Punggol West activists to spill the beans. He laughed at me. 

I thought that a better strategy would be to hang around with the PAP activists who had gathered under Block 98. For sure, they would belong to the East Coast team. There, I saw incumbents Cheryl Chan, Maliki Osman and Jessica Tan. So that’s three out of five. I had thought that Tan would have withdrawn since she had served three parliamentary terms, but she was there in party colours, telling those gathered round her that it was also her 30th wedding anniversary. She had told her husband that it would be a belated celebration. 

There was another man in white in that circle of candidates, but the white mask with the PAP logo so obscured his face that I had trouble wondering which new face he was. A party activist whispered that he was Tan Kiat How, formerly with the iMDA. He was extremely chirpy and told me that his first child was due in August. That would be another big event for him this year, he said. 

So, that made four and I suppose that Tan (Kiat How) was one of those new candidates of “ministerial calibre’’ that the Prime Minister had referred to yesterday. After all, you don’t take a high-flying civil servant and have no plans for him right? 

I tried to broach the subject of the fifth person, but it was clear that no one would say a word. Maliki told the media to “be patient’’. So were they waiting for him or her to turn up at the block? But when they started making their way to the nomination centre, it became that the fifth man would be popping up much later. 

By then, the Workers’ Party team had already been “bussed’’ into the centre and Teo Chee Hean and his Pasir-Punggol team had already made their way in. It was close to 11am, when the nomination centre officially opens for business for an hour. 

So I waited it out with the rest of the media, glad that I didn’t have to be behind the barricades erected for them because, I am not officially a journalist. I asked a young man, probably an election officer, who was directing the media on where to stand and gather, if he realised that the members of the media weren’t practising any safe distancing measures. The space was too small, hemmed in by a drain, the school fence and the barricade. He said yes, and quickly disappeared from sight. 

Eyes were peeled on the road for cars that could be coming to a stop at the gate. There was a false alarm when one Toyota Corrolla with its distress signal on slowed down. It stopped further down along the road and appeared to contain election officers.  

Then word was suddenly passed around that “he was on the way’’. Who is “he’’, I asked. But nobody knew. A check online showed that Desmond Lee had moved to West Coast GRC. So he’s out. It was already 11.20am.

Then a blue Lexus followed by a white Volvo surfaced. Heng Swee Keat was in the front passenger seat of the Lexus. The gates opened and the cars went in. 

Now, I have the person designated to be Singapore’s next prime minister as a candidate in my ward. 

My voting calculus has been thrown out of whack. 

Bertha Henson is a veteran Singapore journalist who now lectures at NUS. The views expressed are her own.

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