Curious patrons craned their necks to check out the commotion.
While members of the media surrounded the People’s Action Party (PAP) candidates for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC at Bee Hwa Yun in Toa Payoh Central, a coffee shop assistant could be heard hollering orders in the background.
It was quite a first, to say the least, introducing candidates at a coffee shop in the Toa Payoh heartland.
Not only was the setting laid back but even their dress code was more relaxed, giving a “common touch to the occasion”, said political analyst Eugene Tan.
The younger candidates chose to leave their shirts untucked albeit retaining the all-white that is symbolic of the purity and incorruptibility ideals of the party. Outgoing Member of Parliament Zainudin Nordin even opted for a crew neck T-shirt with an embroidered party logo.
The banter between the candidates was also easy. As PAP’s organising secretary Ng Eng Hen introduced the outgoing MPs, he playfully quipped that Mr Zainudin’s singing skills came in handy during grassroots organisation trips.
Yesterday’s showcase of new candidates is a stark contrast from the previous PAP’s tradition of formally introducing its new faces in batches.
In an amphitheatre-type setting at the party’s headquarters at New Upper Changi Road, they would be introduced to the assembled media by a senior member of the party.
In previous GEs, where the candidates would stand remained a mystery until Nomination Day itself.
The coffee shop venue in the heart of Toa Payoh reflects the true spirit of elections, said Dr Ng.
“We wanted to do it in the heartlands to put across the message that elections are about electing MPs who can take care of you and your town.”
Dr Ng had said previously that there would be few surprises when the PAP unveiled its candidates after National Day — potential candidates had already been on the ground and would be familiar to residents.
This change in approach by the PAP was intentional as it wanted residents to be comfortable with candidates, and for potential candidates to get to know the residents so that they could serve them well.
Yet some things remain the same.
The new faces are very much cut from same cloth: all three are Rafflesians and have stellar academic records.
Ex-civil servant Chee Hong Tat, for instance, has double degrees, in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, as well as Economics from the University of California at Berkeley.
The new candidates are also obviously very pro-family, keeping with the party ideals. Between the three men, they have 11 children — quite an achievement in a Singapore struggling to reach a replacement rate of 2.1. The team also paid homage to the people who had put in the hard yards in the years past.
After Dr Ng announced veteran MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng’s retirement following more than three decades in politics, the PAP’s Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC team stood up and bowed as one solemnly.
A visibly emotional Mr Wong, who stood along with his team members but was later made to sit down, simply said: “Thank you very much.”
Singapore Management University’s Associate Professor Eugene Tan sees PAP’s new approach as an attempt to better engage voters by having the “local flavour”.
But he added that there may be a “tinge of the PAP trying too hard, in that the effort may come across as contrived”.
“Ultimately, it is about being authentic. A branch office as the venue would have maintained the informality desired and yet not appear contrived,” he said.
But Bishan-Toa Payoh resident Peter Ng, 52, found the new approach “a lot more personal”.
“It feels like they are a lot more relatable in this setting,” he said.
This article was first published on Aug 13, 2015.
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