Murali pledges to put residents first

After weeks of wooing Bukit Batok residents, Mr Murali Pillai launched his official campaign yesterday at 12.37pm by promising them better homes and a brighter future if they vote him in on May 7.

Addressing about 500 supporters and residents in Malay, Tamil, Mandarin and English, the 48-year-old People's Action Party (PAP) candidate also vowed to make the constituency "a beautiful place for us all".

After his speech, he was approached by reporters but Mr Murali's eyes were fixed on the thick crowd gathered in the yard of Keming Primary School, the nomination centre, to cheer him on.

"Residents first," he told the reporters, asking them to defer questions until after he had thanked his supporters and constituents.

Later, he told reporters that the groups he is most intent on helping are the jobless, the elderly and children from lower-income or broken homes.

"I will not just talk in Parliament or on YouTube, but come up with actionable plans on the ground to help residents."

He also hoped residents would pick him to continue enjoying economies of scale from being part of the "Jurong family''. Bukit Batok is currently under the Jurong-Clementi Town Council.

But Mr Murali declined to comment on an accusation by his Singapore Democratic Party rival Chee Soon Juan that the PAP uses estate upgrading plans to entice voters.

He said he preferred to showcase his plans, like a health cooperative where families with elderly folk can buy items such as catheters and vitamins at a lower price, and let residents decide.

"I've met residents who are excited about our cooperative, or whose relatives have lost their jobs. The campaign is a big opportunity for us to explain our policies and I want to focus on that," he said.

He spent the afternoon talking to residents in coffee shops and void decks of Housing Board blocks, accompanied by branch activists. Mr Murali was flanked by a group of about 10, some of whom lent a hand when residents spoke to him in Mandarin or other Chinese dialects.

A team of 15 PAP activists from the Chong Pang ward in Nee Soon GRC also took nine days of leave from work to help him distribute fliers and follow up on issues raised by residents.

Mr Murali's political colleagues believe one of his major strengths is his long ties with the constituency's PAP activists and grassroots network. He began volunteering in the single-member constituency 16 years ago.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, an MP for neighbouring Yuhua SMC, told The Straits Times that if elected, Mr Murali would "hit the ground running".

"He's known to the volunteers, and they are also known to him... There isn't the need for a period for them to get to know each other because that relationship has been built over the last 16 years," she said.

To demonstrate this close relationship, his election posters show him with residents - a change from the formal portraits of the candidate that the PAP used previously.

Mr Murali said he will fight hard for every one of the 25,727 votes in the next eight days.

The voters include residents like retiree Lee Wuming, 65, who said he is for having more opposition voices in Parliament but is willing to listen to what Mr Murali has to offer, including how he would critique policies constructively.

Unemployed resident V. M. Selvarajah, 63, who has diabetes among other ailments, said he wants assurances from Mr Murali that he will fight for better subsidies for medical items like blood glucose test strips.

Other residents caught up with Mr Murali on his walkabout yesterday to ask questions, and take selfies and share their wish list with him.

One told him, "I'm voting for you, Ah Mu", to which Mr Murali said: "Thank you for your encouragement."

This article was first published on April 28, 2016.
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