TEO HWEE NAK
DEPUTY NEWS EDITOR
OOI BOON KEONG
GRCs in red, Single Member Constituencies in blue
IT HASN’T happened since 1991. After all, it isn’t exactly the wisest thing to do.
When it comes to fielding candidates in the General Elections, Singapore’s Opposition parties have always steered clear of wards held by the Prime Minister – or any senior minister, for that matter – for obvious reasons.
The Workers’ Party (WP), however, may shelve that prudence this time around.
WP chief Low Thia Khiang (picture) has identified Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency (GRC) as one of the wards it is targeting to stand in for the coming election, which it will campaign on the theme, “You have a choice”.
The GRC, now held by a six-member People’s Action Party team helmed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is one of four GRCs – out of a total of 14 on the electoral map – handpicked by WP as its targeted battlegrounds. The other three are Aljunied, Sembawang and East Coast.
The party is also gunning for the two Single Member Constituencies of Nee Soon East and Joo Chiat, on top of defending Mr Low’s Hougang seat.
Sending a team to PM’s ward may be a suicide mission – but that’s not the point, Mr Low said.
“We’re not saying that we’ll win Ang Mo Kio, what,” he quipped. “We’re going there to participate so people have a choice. I think the people in Ang Mo Kio would like that.”
While the Prime Minister’s mandate historically comes from the national percentage, Mr Low thinks it is “important” that a mandate comes from his own constituency as well, since this is Mr Lee’s first election as Prime Minister.
He told Today: “I think it will be a disservice to Singaporeans if he doesn’t have a chance to show that he has the mandate. It’s our view that Ang Mo Kio should be contested. But whether or not we are able to do it depends on our resources.”
It also depends on how the electoral boundaries are redrawn, Mr Low added.
He declined to reveal his priorities for the constituencies his party has picked out, but said they were chosen after “feeling the ground”.
The last time a Prime Minister’s ward was contested was in 1991 – also Mr Goh Chok Tong’s first election as Prime Minister. Mr Goh beat the team from the Singapore Justice Party with 77.25 per cent of the votes.
Mr Lee also has not faced a direct contest on homeground since 1988, when independent candidate Patrick Leong contested his Teck Ghee ward. Mr Lee took the seat with a landslide 79.13 per cent of the votes.
If WP really fields a team in Ang Mo Kio GRC – which apart from Ang Mo Kio town also covers Yio Chu Kang, Yishun, Serangoon, and some parts of Punggol and Sengkang – it will be the first time constituents in the GRC get to vote.
Calling this an interesting development in what is an “untested territory”, political scientist Ho Khai Leong said that a contest in Ang Mo Kio would give the constituents a chance to endorse – or reject – the Prime Minister and his programmes directly.
But he said that the move could also backfire. “People won’t want to vote the PM out. Mr Lee can then claim that mandate, even if total PAP votes go down,” said Dr Ho.
He also noted that in past elections, the Prime Minister has visited other wards during the campaigning period to help rally support for other MPs.
Said Dr Ho: “If he’s preoccupied in his own constituency, he may have less time to go elsewhere.
“But I think the Prime Minister will be able to juggle.”
Mr Seng Han Thong, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, doesn’t have a shred of doubt on that.
A contest in Ang Mo Kio GRC would not only be a local election – it will escalate into a national contest, he said.
“The Prime Minister, as national leader, will not only have to defend his own ward, but also go around advocating the PAP’s agenda and manifesto. He will not confine himself to Ang Mo Kio,” said Mr Seng, who added that he had seen Mr Low working the ground in the constituency.
The Prime Minister, in an email responding to TODAY’s query, said that he welcomes this contest, and “looks forward to meeting the WP team in Ang Mo Kio GRC, hopefully led by Low Thia Khiang himself”.