TODAY: Battle royale in Aljunied GRC?

If a contest arises, it could be a heavyweight fight: Analysts

LEE CHING WERN
chingwern@newstoday.com.sg

GOING by the current activity in the constituency, a battle royale could be on the cards in Aljunied GRC in the elections which many believe are just around the corner.

Party bigwigs are not talking but political watchers say that if a contest does come about, a heavyweight battle is likely to be in the offing – with a PAP top-liner in the form of Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo on one side and Workers’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim on the other.

Mr Yeo heads the current GRC slate with MPs Mdm Cynthia Phua, chairman of Aljunied Town Council, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed and Dr Ong Seh Hong.

Both corners are keeping their cards well hidden but last month Mr Yeo, who many political analysts believe is destined for bigger things in government, unveiled a five-year master plan and budget worth $160 million to upgrade the GRC.

The GRC encircles the WP stronghold of Hougang, which is like the hole in the middle of a doughnut. The influence of WP stalwart Low Thia Khiang, who holds fort in Hougang, could spread to the GRC if this geographical juxtaposition of constituencies, which have similarities in demographics, count for anything.

Political watchers, who believe that Aljunied GRC is likely to remain part of the WP’s political strategy, point to the fact that WP’s Ms Lim and 2nd Assistant Secretary-General James Gomez have been spotted working the ground in Aljunied GRC during weekends.

Just two weeks ago, the WP also held a public outreach session at Hougang Ave 1.

The PAP have not been laggards in this aspect. Soon after the unveiling of the master plan by Mr Yeo, residents received flyers informing them of improvements that will be made to their living environment, which includes lift upgrading, security systems, adventure parks and other recreational facilities.

Roving exhibitions to obtain feedback from residents on the facelift are being held at all the housing estates. Mr Yeo has also been seen more often around the estate, residents told Today.

That the GRC has kept up with the needs of residents with the PAP at the helm can be gauged from the number of public amenities – 14 schools, 17 PAP education centres, six Community Clubs, 27 Child Care Centres, two sports halls/swimming complexes, 11 parks and three MRT stations.

In addition, the GRC can boast of being home to 11 churches, 13 temples and five mosques. And for shoppers, five malls.

“The buzz seems to be that the Workers’ Party will field a strong foursome in the upcoming GE against a strong incumbent team which has been doing due diligence since winning the ward in 2001. There are signs that both sides have not rested on their political laurels, and are seeking to make an impression before the GE,” said Ms Jeannie Conceicao, research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies.

How will the $160 million carrot affect the elections, Today asked residents of Aljunied GRC?

Residents welcomed the newly announced measures and IT professional Mr CK Tan said that for supporters of the PAP, they showed the commitment of the party to the constituency.

But some differ.

Then there are the diehards. “I will vote for the party I wish to support, regardless of whether the lift stops at every floor,” said Mr Wilson Aw, a 23-year-old undergraduate.

Mr Yeo, when asked if the upgrading measures were timed to garner support from voters for the GE, said: “If you ask me whether this has anything to do with serving residents, winning their support, yes, the whole idea is to serve residents, win their support and serve them better.”

But will the goodwill felt for Mr Low in Hougang spill over to Aljunied GRC?

“Sentiments still play a part in how people respond to candidates and political parties. This is evident in Hougang. But whether there will be any similar effect in Aljunied is hard to say because it also depends on which particular candidates the WP fields there and not purely on Mr Low’s influence,” said political scientist Dr Ho Khai Leong.

While they have definitely seen the WP working the ground, many residents that Today spoke to cannot remember the names of the party members they’ve met.

“Unless you’re someone who follows politics very closely, chances are you won’t know much about them, especially the new candidates. When we have to choose between voting for a known entity or an unknown entity, the choice is quite obvious. So to convince people to switch camps, the opposition has to be very clear as to what they can offer,” said resident Mr Ow.

And what does the opposition have to offer?

The WP’s Ms Lim told Today: “We have to work within the resources available to us to do our outreach. Even if some voters may not know us intimately, votes for the WP could serve a variety of purposes: To effect change and to indicate support for the WP or its candidates per se, or to express dissatisfaction with the incumbent party by sending them a clear signal.”

With Singaporeans largely viewing upgrading as a given and a part of the social compact between the Government and the people, the new amenities may not win over some residents.

“To be honest, all these are cosmetic add-ons. Adventure parks and CCTVs are good to have, but I don’t really need them,” said Mr Ow, who added he would keep an open mind and listen to what the opposition has to offer before deciding on whom to vote into office.

In the last GE in 2001, a WP team tried to contest in Aljunied GRC but was disqualified because of incomplete nomination papers.

Their supporters would be sorely disappointed if that error was repeated.

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