Aljunied GRC: Is it all just about the town council?

PHOTO: The Straits Times

It was the first group representation constituency (GRC) to be won by an opposition party since the GRC system was introduced in 1988.

And since then, Aljunied GRC has become a byword for the opposition Workers' Party (WP), which took the constituency during the 2011 General Election.

The People's Action Party (PAP) had 45.3 per cent of the vote share in 2011 - a swing of more than 10 percentage points - and its 2011 team had two ministers and a senior minister of state.

This year, the PAP is fielding a team that it says has the grassroots links.

Although backed by ex-Cabinet Minister Lim Boon Heng as its adviser, there is no anchor minister as with other GRCs.

The team, which includes long-time PAP MP Yeo Guat Kwang, says it is serious about bringing PAP "home" and disagrees vehemently that the WP team is the heavyweight in this contest.

But it is clear that there is a fair amount of ground support for the team in blue.

Mr Gerald Tan, 63, who has lived in Aljunied GRC for over three decades and spends most nights drinking at a coffee shop in Serangoon North, said it is nice that he sees his Members of Parliament around often.

"Every few weeks, we'll see Sylvia Lim walking around, talking to residents and inspecting the estate," Mr Tan said in Mandarin. Ms Lim is the MP in charge of the Serangoon division of the GRC.

He added: "We hope (the WP MPs) can speak up more in Parliament, because when we hear from them, it's always about the town council."

Political analysts note that the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) issue could be a double-edged sword, though it will likely dominate the Aljunied campaign.

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a research fellow at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, said how much the issue comes up in the hustings will depend on the PAP, because the WP will be forced to respond.

"On the one hand, it will compel the WP to backpedal and be preoccupied in dousing the AHPETC blaze. On the other, the AHPETC affair could hijack the entire campaign coupled with the perception of 'bullying', which, in the end, will favour WP," he said.

Framing the fight

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said the PAP will frame the battle with the WP as one of competence and integrity, while the WP will use it to show how systems here are tilted in favour of the PAP.

"How pivotal the issue will be depends on how the PAP and WP calibrate their actions.

"Too much hammering away at the issue on the PAP's part, voters might get turned off and question if the PAP's electoral strategy is just about six letters: AHPETC," he said.

National University of Singapore law and business lecturer Lan Luh Luh said residents are unlikely to care about the saga unless they have to pay more in service and conservancy charges.

Aljunied GRC residents The New Paper interviewed were mostly sanguine.

Madam Anna Tan, 55, who has been living in Paya Lebar division for about five years, said that when people find out where she lives, they all want to know what it is like living in opposition territory.

"It's really nothing different, all the facilities here, we already have from before the last elections," said Madam Tan, who works in a school.

But one resident said she was concerned about where the town council's money was going.

"If they were really overpaying a company that was run by their friends, it's a bit unfair. They should share the money with residents, like build more amenities for us," said the woman in her 50s, who declined to be named.

Ms Jan Lim, 29, who has been living in Serangoon North all her life, said: "I'm happy to see that the PAP is trying hard to win back Aljunied, but even if it did, all the upgrading has been completed, our estate is still in order. So what more can they offer us?"

Issues

1 More amenities

Since the 2011 General Election, residents in Aljunied GRC have been hoping for more amenities.

While there are covered walkways and common gathering areas, residents are hoping they are better connected.

Said a resident, who wanted to be known only as Mr Muthu, 48, referring to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPTEC) saga: "Some of the blocks here look a bit old and need repainting, so I do wonder if the money for that is gone."

Mr Muthu, who uses a wheelchair, added: "But I hope they get the money from the Government soon so they can install more ramps and make the area more connected so it's easier to move around."

2 Cleanliness

While previous reports say that cleanliness is an issue, most people TNP spoke to were generally happy with it. Some residents say that the estate seems to be cleaner than before.

A resident of Serangoon who wanted to be known as Mr See said, speaking in Mandarin: "Whenever we're at the coffee shops or sitting around void decks, we can see the MP (Sylvia Lim) walking around to inspect the estate, so maybe that's why everything is cleaner."

3 AHPETC

Much has been made of the AHPTEC saga, but residents said they have not felt a discernible difference.

A report by the Auditor-General's Office released earlier this year showed serious financial and governance lapses at the town council. In response, the AHPETC said this was because no one responded to their open tender for a management agent.

It agreed to several measures which including putting new measures in place, but the Ministry of National Development (MND) said it was insufficient and withheld $7.2 million in operational grants from the town council this year.

Last weekend, MND accused the WP-run town council of grossly overpaying its former managing agent, FM Solutions & Services, to which AHPETC issued a strongly worded reply questioning the timing of the announcement.

But residents say this hardly matters to them because the town still looks in good order.

Aljunied by the numbers

Voters: 148,024

Types of homes

77 per cent public housing
23 per cent private housing

Breakdown of flats

27 per cent three-room or smaller
31.5 per cent four-room
18.5 per cent five-room or executive units

GE 2015

Workers' Party
Low Thia Khiang
Sylvia Lim
Pritam Singh
Chen Show Mao
Faisal Abdul Manap

People's Action Party
Yeo Guat Kwang
Chua Eng Leong
Victor Lye
K. Muralidharan Pillai
Shamsul Kamar

GE 2011

Voters: 143,148

Workers' Party (54.7 per cent)
Low Thia Khiang
Sylvia Lim
Pritam Singh
Chen Show Mao
Faisal Abdul Manap

People's Action Party (45.3 per cent)
George Yeo
Lim Hwee Hua
Zainul Abidin
Cynthia Phua
Ong Ye Kung


This article was first published on September 3, 2015.
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