PAP 'suicide squad' alive, making presence felt in Aljunied

PAP 'suicide squad' alive, making presence felt in Aljunied
PAP’s Aljunied GRC candidates (from left) Chua Eng Leong, Shamsul Kamar, Yeo Guat Kwang, Victor Lye and K. Muralidharan Pillai greeting supporters on Friday before the results of the recount of votes were announced.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

You would expect a team dubbed the "suicide squad" to go its separate ways after failing to pull off a win in a hotly contested seat last September.

But six months on, the five-member People's Action Party team for Aljunied GRC - who fought the Workers' Party's A team - is very much alive and kicking.

Even Ms Chan Hui Yuh, the party's branch chairman for the GRC's Serangoon division, who did not stand but helped out actively during the campaign, continues to work the ground. She was once tipped as a potential candidate.

In fact, The Sunday Times understands all six - the team and Ms Chan - still meet at least once a month to plan group activities and, yes, to strategise over how to wrest the constituency from the WP.

While the team did not win, it came close: the party's performance improved by about 4 percentage points, enough to trigger a recount. The WP narrowly held on with a 50.95 per cent vote share.

Rather than let the defeat eat away at them, the PAP team - lawyer K. Muralidharan Pillai, senior bank officer Chua Eng Leong, unionists Yeo Guat Kwang and Shamsul Kamar, and insurance firm director Victor Lye - says it is buoyed by the election result.

It now operates with more confidence and experience, its members say. "Now we're known nationally, we're getting into the swing of things, we're less disjointed as a team. Our residents know we are resourceful and can help with their problems," says Mr Chua, chairman of the PAP's Eunos branch.

He and his teammates have continued to pound the ground with a third or even fourth round of house visits, festival celebrations and get-together dinners.

Some are also working on long-term projects - a sign they are here for the long haul.

For example, Mr Pillai has set up a fund to install panic buttons in the homes of wheelchair users and the elderly sick who live alone in his Paya Lebar ward. It is the first such fund in the GRC.

The buttons alert an assigned neighbour, a Residents' Committee member, and a social worker.

Each system costs several hundred dollars, funded through donations his team has sought. Ten recipients have been identified, with plans to find a further 10, he tells The Sunday Times.

But it is not just welfare programmes or increased donations that the team is seeing - more people are also signing up as PAP activists. As Mr Chua, who has had 10 new faces sign up as activists in the last six months, puts it: "Some people are now convinced that the party is indeed softer and more understanding these days."

While the PAP's top brass has had a hand in the image makeover - following criticism in the watershed 2011 General Election - its Aljunied representatives have done their part too. Says retired chauffeur Ang Hock Leong, 64, of Bedok Reservoir-Punggol's Mr Lye: "I often see this guy running all over the place, saying hello to residents, taking pictures with them, giving out masks or food or something else."

But will friendliness, increased citizenry or better programmes be enough to win back the GRC?

Some acknowledge the team's commitment to residents, but wonder if they'll stick it out, citing how those in the PAP's 2011 team, except Acting Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung, have left politics.

"So far so good, but the election is still five years away," says Serangoon resident, accountant Donald Yap, 37.

Others say that they will vote for the opposition as long as it remains the clear overall minority.

But former Cabinet minister Lim Boon Heng, who led the PAP's task force in Aljunied, says: "They were inspired by, and grateful for, the residents' vote of confidence, and will continue to serve."

This article was first published on March 13, 2016.
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