Face off in Fengshan

Call Fengshan an election hotspot and lift technician Chandra Segaran, a resident there, will laugh.

He knows political watchers are calling a close contest in the Single Member Constituency (SMC) at the coming General Election (GE). But he is more concerned about who will do the MP's job better.

The candidate's political party allegiance was not a big deal, he told The New Paper.

Both the People's Action Party (PAP) and Workers' Party (WP) are contesting the ward, carved out from the East Coast group representation constituency (GRC).

Their battle for the hearts and minds of over 23,400 voters in this part of Bedok and Tanah Merah has stoked speculation: Who will emerge triumphant, the men in white or the ones in blue?

In the 2011 General Election, a five-member PAP team beat the WP team, securing 54.8 per cent of votes - the narrowest margin in a GRC for the ruling party.

The WP team is said to have scored the highest in Fengshan during the 2011 GE. Party sources said the other wards - Siglap, Bedok, Simei and Chai Chee - did not do as well.

But the GRC's anchor minister Lim Swee Say has come out to dismiss the speculation that Fengshan was the reason for East Coast's lacklustre performance at the 2011 polls.

Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan said: "It's popularly believed that Fengshan is the weak link in East Coast GRC.

"Even then, it's not a done deal, given changes at the municipal and national level in the last four years.

Battle on the ground

"With two first-time candidates facing off, voters are going to look at which candidate has connected better and would better serve them."

The ward's former MP Raymond Lim, a former Transport Minister, announced on Aug 15 that he has retired from politics "to have more time with my family".

The PAP candidate contesting Fengshan is long-time grassroots volunteer Cheryl Chan, 38.

The head of secondary industries at multinational gas and engineering firm Linde Group has been on the ground for the past 10 years.

She is the first new PAP candidate to be fielded in a new SMC in nearly three decades, since the GRC system was introduced in 1988. WP's candidate is shipping lawyer Dennis Tan, 45. He is the vice-chairman of the party's media team.

Battle of the rookies

Fengshan was where the orh luak (fried oyster omelette) debate started.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim had posted an Instagram photo of herself eating the dish at the hawker centre in mid August, which led to speculation that she could be contesting there.

But WP's Tan had already known his party's plans to field him there. He was told shortly after the electoral boundaries report was out, The Straits Times reported.

The PAP was also tight-lipped over its candidate's identity, introducing Ms Chan only in late August.

While Bedok New Town was developed in the 1970s, many older flats in Fengshan, mainly three- and four-room flats, have undergone lift upgrading.

Amenities such as covered walkways and spruced-up playgrounds are a common sight now. Retiree Yang B.C., who is in her 70s, hopes the incoming MP will be more energetic compared with the predecessor:

"(Mr Lim) seemed rather quiet. I haven't really see him on TV or on the ground," she said.

Other residents cited the candidate's ability to connect with ordinary people and to get things done as traits they look out for.

Mr Chandra, 58, said: "PAP or WP? It doesn't matter if the cat is black or white. As long as it can catch mice, it's a good cat."

Housewife Madeline Phee, 48, added: "What's important is that the candidate is approachable, willing to walk the ground, take care of the residents and know (our) concerns."

But she wondered if the switch from a GRC to SMC meant "my MP's voice may not be heard (as loudly compared with the GRC MPs') when raising issues in Parliament".

Speaking at last Tuesday's Nomination Day at Fengshan Primary School, Ms Chan said: "We will build a better Fengshan, a better home and a more caring community for all. We will ensure that no one is left behind."

Her opponent, Mr Tan, said: "We hope you give the Workers' Party and myself a chance to serve you here in Fengshan and be your voice in Parliament."

By the numbers

The Fengshan ward was first created in 1984. It became part of Bedok GRC in 1991 and was then part of East Coast GRC in 1997.

Number of voters:
23,404

Types of homes:
70 per cent HDB flats
30 per cent private housing

2015 General Election Candidates:
People's Action Party: Cheryl Chan
Workers' Party: Dennis Tan

2011 General Election Voters in East Coast GRC (which Fengshan was part of): 120,324
54.8 per cent voted for PAP
45.2 per cent voted for WP

Issues

While several residents The New Paper spoke to had no complaints, some highlighted local concerns:

Public transport

More bus services and higher bus service frequency

Sales consultant Norzieyana Norahim, 36, said: "There's only one bus service (No. 17 serving Bedok North Avenue 4) and the average waiting time is about 20 minutes."

Lift technician Chandra Segaran, 58, added: "The buses are always packed... and the students are squashed like sardines on board. Add more buses so it won't be such a squeeze."

Municipal amenities

Housewife Madeline Phee, 48, wishes for more sheltered walkways.

Her engineer-husband Phee Chwee Kiat, 49, hopes more carpark space can be opened up after regular lots were converted for disabled use.

Mr Chandra would also like to have more help with flat maintenance, like "fixing leaking toilets and spalling concrete repairs".


This article was first published on September 7, 2015.
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