Charles Chong to take on WP in Punggol East SMC

Charles Chong to take on WP in Punggol East SMC
PAP veteran Charles Chong, the newly announced candidate for Punggol East SMC, sharing a joke with Sengkang resident Irene Choo, 63, during a visit to Rivervale Drive yesterday.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Veteran politician Charles Chong was confirmed as the PAP candidate for Punggol East yesterday, ending weeks of speculation on whether he will be the person to challenge Workers' Party's (WP's) Ms Lee Li Lian in the single-member constituency (SMC).

The battle will pit one of the People's Action Party's (PAP's) longest-serving MPs against a relative newcomer from WP.

Mr Chong, 62, former MP of single-seat Joo Chiat, has fought in six general elections since he entered politics in 1988. He started in Sembawang GRC, before moving to Eunos GRC, Pasir Ris GRC and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

In the last polls in 2011, he beat WP's Mr Yee Jenn Jong in Joo Chiat by no more than 388 votes. Joo Chiat is now part of Marine Parade GRC.

Unlike his past contests, this is Mr Chong's first in opposition territory, after Ms Lee, then 34, wrested the SMC from the PAP in a by-election in 2013.

She beat PAP newcomer Koh Poh Koon, among others, in a four-cornered fight for the seat vacated by former Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer, following revelations of his extramarital affair.

Ms Lee got 54.5 per cent of the vote - a result showing a vote swing of 13.5 percentage points to the WP.

Asked about his chances, Mr Chong said they were "50-50".

"I have been here before because part of my old ward, Punggol South, is here," he said. "I see some of the residents who were previously in my ward and they come by to wish me well. But Ms Lee has been here a couple of years and I am well aware that I am the opposition now."

He told The Straits Times that about 40 people have been turning up for his Meet-the-People sessions, a rise from the three to five that came when the meetings were held by the branch chairman.

He believes Punggol East residents are getting a raw deal because it is now part of a town council that is not in good financial shape.

"When the PAP handed the ward over, it was part of Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council which had a surplus," he said. "Do the residents want to subsidise Aljunied and Hougang?"

Punggol East SMC, with Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC, joined forces and formed Aljunied-Hougang- Punggol East Town Council, whose accounts are found to have lapses.

Mr Chong acknowledged that some residents might point to the cleanliness of the estate and say it is not an issue.But he added: "I spoke to some cleaners in the past week and they said they have been very busy. I asked them why and they said that it is election time."

Finances, however, are an important issue, he stressed. "It is up to us to make it relevant to residents here for them to decide."

This article was first published on Aug 28, 2015.
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