Is Hougang by-election local or national?

Will this by-election be a local contest or will Hougang become a platform to discuss national issues?

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday : "This by-election is a local election. "...it is about who is the best representative for Hougang residents, who can best help them solve their problems on the ground."

But Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Kiang believes it can never be so clear-cut whether it's local or national.

These differing views are the contesting parties' attempts to set the agenda and characterise the by-election, said political observer and law lecturer at the Singapore Management University (SMU) Eugene Tan, but ultimately it is the voters who will decide which are the issues that are important to them.

Said Assistant Professor Tan: "When campaigning begins, the characterisation will not be static. "If the voters feel that national interests are important, the PAP will have to respond to how voters are reacting.

"The way I look at it, Singapore is so small, it is difficult to say whether an issue is local or national."

Housing prices

He said Hougang residents' concerns over housing prices are also a national issue.

"Poor public transport connections may afflict the Hougang residents more but it also reflects on the national issue of transport and infrastructure," he added.

In March last year, The New Paper polled 100 Hougang residents on issues they deemed important. Among the municipal issues they wanted to raise in GE 2011 were cleanliness, upgrading of lifts, homes and estate, availability of wet markets and availability of parking spaces.

But national issues were also their concerns - cost of living, being treated differently for living in an opposition ward and competition from foreigners for jobs.

One year on, the same issues are still foremost on their minds, especially the cost of living.

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