12 July, 2020
- Residents gave a variety of reasons for PAP's loss, from perceptions of candidates to municipal issues
- Most said that both teams had competent candidates, but they felt more connected to WP
- Residents said that there was lack of neighbourhood provision shops and hawker centres in Sengkang
- The housing estate is home to many young families who felt that the younger WP team could represent them
- Residents also sang praises of Dr Jamus Lim, a new candidate of WP
SINGAPORE — In what seemed like a repeat of the 2011 General Election (GE), the Workers’ Party (WP) secured a victory at the polls on Friday (July 10) at Sengkang Group Representation Constituency (GRC) to knock off a People’s Action Party (PAP) team consisting of three political office-holders.
This time, it was not the WP’s top guns who won the second GRC for the party by getting 52.13 per cent of the vote.
It was a young four-man team with the oldest member being a new candidate and economics associate professor Jamus Lim, 44.
Besides him, equity research analyst Louis Chua, 33, and Ms Raeesah Khan, 26, founder of women’s empowerment group Reyna Movement, are also new faces.
Only lawyer He Ting Ru, 37, had run in an election before, unsuccessfully contesting Marine Parade GRC in 2015.
How did this relatively inexperienced team pull off a victory against a PAP team led by Mr Ng Chee Meng, 51, an incumbent minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC)?
Following the official announcement of the election results in the early hours on Saturday, TODAY spoke to 30 residents living in the three main areas of the GRC, namely Compassvale, Rivervale and Anchorvale.
They offered several reasons for PAP's loss, ranging from their perceptions of the candidates to municipal issues.
Most of the residents said that both teams were good ones, but what swung it in WP’s favour was that the voters felt more connected to the opposition candidates and their pledge to speak up for voters in Parliament.
One concern raised that cut across generations was the lack of neighbourhood provision shops and hawker centres, especially when compared to neighbouring Hougang and Kovan, where many residents said they travel to in order to buy their groceries or meet up with friends.
Instead, what Sengkang offers are several malls and larger food courts such as the 60-stall Kopitiam Square across the road from Sengkang MRT Station.
“The coffee shop near my house is not very appealing,” business consultant WY Chan, 26, said. “And if I want something else, I have to walk for about 15 minutes to the nearest mall to get food.”
Compared with hawker centres in the more mature housing estates, food prices in Sengkang that average upwards of S$4 tend to be slightly more costly because of the higher rents.
Resident Penny Chiu, 51, who is unemployed, said that the higher cost of food and groceries, especially when households are now facing uncertainties on the job front due to the Covid-19 pandemic, might have pushed Sengkang voters to pick WP to protest against the ruling PAP.
“Lower-income families are finding it hard to afford the food and groceries here,” she said in Mandarin. Due to the lack of options, the prices of items at the wet market can be up to 30 per cent more expensive than elsewhere, she added.
“I’ve lived here for 20 years,” Ms Chiu said. “I thought there were plans to build more hawker centres and markets, but I’m not seeing them.”
[So... "bread & butter" issues?]
Many residents pointed to the proposals made by the WP’s Sengkang team during the televised constituency political broadcast to increase the number of coffee shops and neighbourhood shops in the area.
“That they brought these issues up, even though they aren’t usual talking points, reflected that they were listening to the varied concerns of residents,” university student Cherry Tan, 23, said.
On its end, the PAP team had spoken about a new town council, playgrounds, fitness corners, covered linkways and special amenities for seniors, residents noted. Its manifesto also included plans for lift upgrading.
A relatively new town, Sengkang had its first public housing blocks completed in the late 1990s and is home to many young families.
Data from the Singapore Department of Statistics show that Sengkang residents are younger than the national average: More than 65 per cent of residents are aged below 45 and less than 10 per cent are aged above 65.
Residents said that younger voters want more than just stability that PAP offers or a well-managed estate, because that should be expected of all Members of Parliament (MPs).
Instead, residents are taking a bet that the WP can offer that and still add on to the political discourse with new ideas.
“Younger families want more for their children and their childrens’ future,” housewife Cindy Chan, 65, said. “PAP is more traditional, with old-school ways of thinking, like me.”
Among WP’s proposals, the desire for alternative voices in Parliament stood out for the younger residents and a handful of older ones interviewed.
History undergraduate Tay Zhi Qian, 24, said: “Since 2015, there's been plenty of instances of how the Government had used its 'strong mandate' to pass controversial laws such as the reserved presidency and Pofma (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act).”
WP’s message on not giving the ruling party a “blank cheque” was what won him over, he added.
Ms Tan, the university student, said that Ms He’s focus on unpaid caregiver labour during the constituency political broadcast resonated well with her.
“As a young voter, I think they’ll best empathise and represent the concerns that other young voters have,” she said. “All of them, as young parents, can understand the concerns of many households here as well.”
WP’s proposal to reduce class sizes to between 20 and 25 students was another idea that was well-received by young parents living in Sengkang GRC, which has more than 120,000 voters.
There was also, of course, the “Jamus effect”.
Dr Jamus Lim emerged as a star candidate for WP after his performance during a live televised political debate on July 1, which saw him spar with PAP’s Vivian Balakrishnan, earning him praise on social media.
Mr Hafiz Manan, 34, a quantity surveyor, said: “We have not seen anyone like him from the opposition before."
Ms Chiu said that the WP’s team also has international working experience and this shows that their qualifications do not pale in comparison with candidates from PAP.
While PAP’s team had just one new candidate, lawyer and longtime grassroots leader Raymond Lye, 54, the rest of its candidates are not exactly household names in Sengkang, in part because it is a newly drawn constituency formed with parts of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC and the single-seat wards of Punggol East and Sengkang West.
Two of PAP's candidates, Mr Ng the NTUC chief and Mr Amrin Amin, have served just one term in Parliament. Mr Amrin was Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health. The fourth member was Dr Lam Pin Min, Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport.
One self-employed resident who identified himself only as Mr Foo, 36, said: “It's like weighing newcomers against newcomers. In Sengkang, the only contestant we hear is Jamus.”
He added that news and images of Dr Lim kept popping up on his social media feeds. In contrast, he was not so familiar with the PAP candidates.
When Dr Lam of PAP was mentioned during TODAY’s interviews, it was mostly because the former MP of Sengkang West Single Member Constituency had to front the Government’s ban of e-scooters on footpaths late last year.
Many residents contrasted this with how the WP team proposed expanding the cycling path networks during the constituency broadcast.
Mr Brendon Ng, 38, a systems engineer, said that he is not averse to the polling result even though he “really likes Mr Ng” and felt that the labour chief “could help (Sengkeng) residents through this trying times”.
“Maybe what was lacking with the PAP team was that it didn’t really resonate with the younger crowd here — the WP team is made up of quite a young crowd,” he said. “Jamus Lim charmed his way through the debate and for Raeesah, the police investigation did not stop her from fighting. Young people look to these kinds of leaders.”
Undergraduate Clara Soh, 22, said that she hopes WP will now “translate their words into actions”.
“But I think yesterday’s win was a step in the right direction and the bigger winners are Singaporeans,” she added.