Weekend TODAY: An unusual contest in Ang Mo Kio

GE2006

For PM, it’s a rare electoral test, for young WP team, an indication for the future

JASMINE YIN
jasmine.yin@newstoday.com.sg


YOUNG FACES: WP’s Ang Mo Kio team member Lee Wai Leng (left) and team leader Yaw Shin Leong face a tough challenge on PM Lee’s turf.

IT IS a foregone conclusion to many: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will emerge victorious at Ang Mo Kio GRC today – his first test at the polls since assuming the leadership in 2004.

Nevertheless, when the Workers’ Party (WP) announced their intention to contest the People’s Action Party stronghold, many sat up.

After all, it is not every election that the Prime Minister faces a challenge in his own ward – and by a mostly young and well-educated team, no less.

As the nine days of hustings drew to a close yesterday, however, some have been left wondering: Has the promising Ang Mo Kio GRC contest been reduced to a mere sideshow?

Not only has the battle in the 159,872-strong ward been overshadowed by the James Gomez saga, the WP team led by 30-year-old e-business analyst Yaw Shin Leong has also been keeping a quiet profile.

This is despite analysts’ initial predictions that the team would enjoy the exposure just by challenging the PM. It has been dismissed by Ang Mo Kio incumbent Inderjit Singh as a “token team”; the People’s Action Party (PAP) also does not seem to think much of the competition.

PAP chairman Lim Boon Heng has set a target of “at least 80 per cent” for Mr Lee’s six-man team.

When asked about that target during a community walkabout yesterday, Mr Lee laughed and said: “He sets very high targets. It’s his job to set stretch targets and we try our best.”

While he did not want to be drawn into giving a figure, Mr Lee had said last Friday that he would “try our best to make sure it costs them some money”.

Candidates who get less than 12.5 per cent of the vote will lose their $13,500 deposit.

Calling many of his constituents his “old friends”, Mr Lee said yesterday: “I think the voters are supporting us. We’ve got our message across to voters that this election is about the future and I think voters understand the people they choose will help them to win, help Singapore to win, to move forward.”

But the WP team, with an average age of 32.5 years despite the inclusion of 52-year-old Gopal Krishnan, has made clear from the beginning that they never thought they would win the ward.

During the WP rally at Ang Mo Kio GRC on Thursday, Mr Yaw only urged voters to give his team a mandate of a “decent percentage” of votes.

Political analyst Ho Khai Leong, however, believes that the results from Ang Mo Kio GRC would be significant, as it marks the first time that “Mr Lee’s constituency has been challenged”.

“This is a constituency of great interest because the challengers are so young. Mr Lee has been talking about the concerns of the young and the post-65ers, so having a young group to challenge him certainly creates some spark there,” he added.

Added political observer Seah Chiang Nee: “I think this is a learning curve for them. I don’t think anyone or the WP is expecting them to perform miracles. As long as they go in, do the best that they can, work hard from it, I think it will augur well for the party.”

The PAP team is also taking no chances despite its opponent’s inexperience.

Said PAP MP Mr Inderjit Singh: “I think for each one of us, it’s very important. We’re fighting it as if it’s the most important battle and the reason is because this is the Prime Minister’s GRC and we want to score as high a percentage of the votes as possible.

“I think it’s a very significant battle.”

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