First-timer runs solo in new SMC

For the first time in nearly three decades, the People's Action Party is fielding a first-time candidate to run solo in a new single-member constituency.

Ms Cheryl Chan, 38, who has been a party volunteer for 10 years, will contest Fengshan, which was carved out from East Coast GRC.

She is the first new PAP candidate to be fielded in a new SMC since the group representation constituency system was introduced in 1988.

She is expected to face an opponent from the Workers' Party who has yet to be named, and the Fengshan contest is already being talked about as a hot contest in this year's general election.

Ms Chan was introduced officially yesterday, putting to rest months of speculation over who would succeed incumbent MP Raymond Lim, who is quitting politics after 14 years.

Mr Lim told reporters at the PAP Bedok branch that she is a new candidate but not an unfamiliar face in Fengshan: "She lived in Fengshan for many years and has been an active volunteer for more than a decade... She knows the ground well."

During this time, Ms Chan was actively involved in branch activities, supported Meet-the-People Sessions and conducted house visits.

As chairman of the community club management committee, she also started a befrienders programme for lonely senior citizens.

Political observers said the work she has done and the rapport she established with residents will stand her in good stead against her opponent in the contest for votes.

"If she has been successful, she will have built up a good deal of political capital to tap on," said Dr Gillian Koh, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies.

Questions about Ms Chan's candidacy in Fengshan dominated much of the two-hour press conference, which also jointly presented the PAP's slate for East Coast GRC.

Among them: Why Fengshan was hived off and whether Ms Chan was being offered up as a "sacrificial lamb".

The suggestions were dismissed by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, the East Coast GRC's anchor minister.

"I'm aware that out there there's still speculation that Fengshan is being cut off because Fengshan is the weakest link in East Coast GRC. Completely untrue," he said.

He said that in the 2011 General Election, the level of support for the PAP in all five wards of the GRC was "fairly even".

His team won narrowly, beating the WP team by securing 54.8 per cent of the vote.

Mr Lim Swee Say said Ms Chan was being sent to Fengshan because the party has "strong confidence" in her and she was the "best person" for the SMC, given her deep engagement there.

Ms Chan herself was unfazed by who the WP would field, and the talk that the PAP is prepared to sacrifice the SMC to the opposition.

She told reporters that she and her team of activists have worked the ground and are focused on the residents' interest and welfare.

A move into the political arena was the logical next step , she said, adding that she has "full confidence in the team because at the end of the day, it's the residents who really matter to us".

The last time the PAP fielded a first-time woman candidate in an SMC was in 1988. Dr Seet Ai Mee ran in Bukit Gombak, which was formed ahead of the 1988 polls.

Ms Chan's candidacy also appeared to signal a change in the way PAP inducts new blood.

"It may be the PAP trying to explore this new recruitment route of letting long-term party supporters have the chance to stand as candidates in the GE," Dr Koh said.

Sending a woman to Fengshan may also be an astute move.

Said Associate Professor Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University: "There is much to be said that the PAP's best performers in GE 2011 were both women!"

That year, Dr Amy Khor, now Senior Minister of State, garnered 70.6 per cent of votes at Hong Kah North, fending off Singapore People's Party's Mr Sin Kek Tong. And Ms Grace Fu, now minister, took Yuhua, with a 66.9 per cent vote share, against Singapore Democratic Party's Ms Teo Soh Lung.

Prof Tan said the large number of women contesting in SMCs this year is a sign of the times: that they can hold their own in the political arena and be as competitive as their male counterparts.

This article was first published on August 28, 2015.
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