Bukit Batok by-election: Elderly residents in mature estate the focus

At a time when residents across Singapore are asking for more playgrounds to be built, some in Bukit Batok feel there are too many.

They say their neighbourhood could do with more fitness parks for the elderly instead.

It is perhaps a reflection of the maturity of the public housing estates in Bukit Batok, which was developed in the 1970s.

Among the 45,900 residents living there are many elderly Singaporeans, like 67-year-old Madam Au.

The long-time Bukit Batok resident, who did not want to give her full name, said: "I don't think the children play at the playgrounds much. This area has a lot of old folk. It would be better if there are more fitness parks for us to exercise."

Elderly residents like her are the focus of the People's Action Party's (PAP) Murali Pillai and the Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) Chee Soon Juan at the upcoming by-election in the constituency.

Both men have pledged to champion the residents' causes.

Mr Murali, a 48-year-old lawyer, has said that he hopes to help the elderly in Bukit Batok age with dignity.

Dr Chee, 53, secretary-general of the SDP, has said he will help them deal with the rising cost of living.

For these elderly residents, the personal touch is what matters.

Many still speak fondly of their former MPs, Mr David Ong and the late Dr Ong Chit Chung, whom they said were always around to chat with them and "always smiling".

Madam Akthar, a 60-year-old support officer who goes by one name, said what she liked about Mr Ong, who stepped down over an alleged extramarital affair last month, was that "he is not a show-off".

"If you see him downstairs, he will say hello to you," she said.

At the mature estates, amenities are mostly well developed. There is a bustling market and more than 10 coffee shops around the estate, which residents say serve them well enough.

With frequent bus services in the neighbourhood, transport is also not much of an issue.

Residents who spoke to The Straits Times mostly had minor gripes about rubbish in void decks or lifts breaking down once in a while.

With many of the flats in the constituency built about 30 years ago, they also hope for their living areas to be upgraded.

Madam Margaret Cheah, 66, who works in a clinic, is largely happy with her estate, as it has all the amenities she needs, and transport connectivity is good too.

She said she hopes there will be more sheltered walkways in her neighbourhood, adding: "There should be one leading to the bus stop. It will make things more convenient for residents."

Bukit Batok was carved out as a single-seat constituency in the last general election, after 18 years of being part of Bukit Timah GRC and later Jurong GRC.

It was created in 1972 as a single-seat constituency in the west of Singapore.

Three-quarters of its constituents are Chinese, near the national average.

Reflecting the opinion of some residents, housewife Geraldine Koh, 31, a resident of 10 years, said: "Of course it would be better if our MP could speak Mandarin to us."

Because of this, both Dr Chee and Mr Murali have made efforts to speak Chinese to residents.

Dr Chee has also made a point of writing in Chinese when posting updates on Facebook.

Mr Murali said that the Chinese-speaking seniors in the estate find it easier to call him "Ah Mu".

"I'm really glad that they address me as Ah Mu," he said.

This article was first published on April 21, 2016.
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