New line-up in PM's constituency to woo younger voters?

New line-up in PM's constituency to woo younger voters?
All is abuzz that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, seen here taking a wefie with residents at the launch of PassionArts Festival in his Teck Ghee ward on July 18, will be introducing three new candidates in his six-member Ang Mo Kio GRC for the next general election.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

PM Lee Hsien Loong is anchor minister of Ang Mo Kio GRC, which stays with six members under Friday's boundary changes. But half are veteran MPs who may retire. Insight looks at possible young contenders in-waiting.

The 187,652 voters of Ang Mo Kio GRC - which remains one of two six-member Group Representation Constituencies under the latest electoral boundary changes announced on Friday - may have three new faces to cast their ballots for.

One of the GRC's current MPs, Mr Inderjit Singh, announced on Friday that he is retiring, and two others - Mr Seng Han Thong and Mr Yeo Guat Kwang - may follow suit but they declined to comment when asked about their future at a community event yesterday.

The three veteran MPs have been taking their likely replacements on walkabouts and constituency events for at least half a year.

These possible replacements for the three fourth-termers are all much younger - food-supply company executive director Henry Kwek, 39; colorectal surgeon Koh Poh Koon, 43; and Temasek Polytechnic School of Design deputy director Darryl David, 44.

Nearly every community event and home visit that Mr Singh, 55, attends, Mr Kwek does too.

And wherever 65-year-old Mr Seng goes, so does Dr Koh. Mr David also attends almost all the events that 54-year-old Mr Yeo does.

Small wonder then that the neighbourhood buzz has been that the long-serving trio are likely to retire from politics at the next general election, which must be held by 2017, but which many political watchers expect could be held as early as September.

The presence of the three dedicated potential candidates is a telltale sign, as the People's Action Party has been sending its hopefuls to constituencies early to give them more experience of serving residents on the ground.

The GRC's two other members besides PM Lee are also relative newcomers, being first-termers. They are National Taxi Association executive adviser Ang Hin Kee, 49, and academic Intan Azura Mokhtar, 39.

The young guns, if fielded, could find themselves tested in "battle", too, as the Reform Party, which contested the GRC in the 2011 General Election, has been active on the ground there. Its secretary-general Kenneth Jeyaretnam said on Friday: "I think it is important to challenge the PM on his home turf."

Additionally, under Friday's boundary changes, Ang Mo Kio GRC loses a western portion to Nee Soon GRC but absorbs districts from Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC as well as Sengkang West SMC that have seen population growth from new housing developments in recent years.

What effect, if any, will these young voters have in what has been until now a mature constituency, and what would established constituency voters make of a new, young line-up? Or will the fact that the Prime Minister is anchor minister make all this a moot point? Insight reports.

WHO ARE THE NEW FACES?

The newbies may be fresh faces, but two of them will be familiar to the general public, with Mr Kwek attending community events in Kebun Baru and Mr David in Ang Mo Kio-Hougang.

The most recognisable - in terms of the political landscape, that is - is Dr Koh. He was the People's Action Party's unsuccessful candidate in the 2013 Punggol East by-election.

Then, he was seen as a fresh face "parachuted" into the branch just before the election. Perhaps seeking to rectify this, he has been serving in Ang Mo Kio for more than seven months now.

Then there is Mr David, who in his younger days was known for hosting The Pyramid Game television show and being a sportscaster on local TV and sports channel ESPN. He later obtained a business degree from the Nanyang Business School and became a polytechnic lecturer.

As for Mr Kwek, he also has a business background. He is the executive director of food-supply company Foodtraco Supplies. And like Dr Koh, he is no newcomer to politics. He was a branch secretary for Chong Pang serving Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.

As the ranking activist in a PAP branch, the branch secretary is the MP's point man for many tasks. The role is seen as good political training since it is a demanding one that tests the mettle of potential politicians.

Incumbents Mr Yeo, Mr Singh and Mr Seng all declined to comment when contacted. All three are veteran MPs who entered politics 18 years ago as candidates in the 1997 General Election and are now serving their fourth term as an MP.

If the three new faces seen shadowing them do end up joining PM Lee there, they will push down the average age of his team from 54 years to 46.

Still, the prospect of an inexperienced line-up cutting their teeth in Ang Mo Kio guided by an "elder" statesman of the calibre of PM Lee, 63, might not faze voters.

After all, the team will come under the stewardship of no less than the country's leader - and one who increased the GRC's share of the vote to 69.3 per cent in the 2011 General Election, beating the PAP's national vote share of 60.1 per cent.

Indeed, financial planner Pat Lee, who lives in an executive flat in Hougang Avenue 9, is not too concerned. The 60-year-old said brains and background matter more in choosing an MP.

"In terms of what I'm looking out for in candidates, it will have to be how smart they are and their background... I voted for the PAP the last time, (because) their candidates were better," she said.

For teacher Susan Wong, 50, though, it is the leader that matters. She said: "With PM in my area, I'm very happy."

The idea of living in the GRC led by the Prime Minister conjures up - to some Singaporeans at any rate - the idea of constant upgrades, sparkling clean estates and clockwork efficiency.

But while the GRC has seen its fair share of such pluses, living in a place run by the country's leader does not mean residents do not have the sort of grassroots gripes that bug Singaporeans in other districts.

At the municipal level in Ang Mo Kio, pesky animals have become causes of discontent. Rats and birds have terrorised some residents in PM Lee's own ward of Teck Ghee, for example.

Earlier this year, Teck Ghee Court Market and Food Centre was in the news when a woman having her meal there found herself with unwanted company: four large rats.

The Jan 22 incident prompted the Ang Mo Kio Town Council to release a statement saying it had informed the National Environment Agency to "continue educating stall owners and market tenants on the importance of good housekeeping inside their stalls and to exercise proper waste disposal" while continuing its "weekly treatment outside the market perimeter and bin centre".

Insurance agent Alvin Tan, 39, told Insight that he reckons the rats must have moved from another part of the GRC to his neighbourhood in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10. Every night, around 8pm, he sees "a lot of them" scurrying around the grass patches there. "I complained to the town council, but no one has come back to tell me if anything is being done," he grumbled. "I know this is an old estate, but the cleanliness needs to improve."

Meanwhile, birds are the cause of Madam Au Kio Moi's problems. The 58-year-old factory worker, who lives on the same street as Mr Tan with her two sons, said mynahs flying and defaecating in the area have made drying her clothes outside a daily game of chance.

"If you're unlucky, every other day your clothes will get bombed," she said in Mandarin.

Dealing with these on-the-ground concerns, in the comparative safety of the Prime Minister's own stomping ground, makes for ideal training should a young team be fielded that includes the three newcomers.

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