Tough contest, rough fight

A keen contest. A fight filled with plenty of fireworks. A by-election that will see the opposition attempt to wrest a ward which the ruling party had won with a comfortable margin.

That is how political experts predict the impending two-way fight in the Bukit Batok by-election will pan out.

Yesterday, the People's Action Party (PAP) introduced Mr K. Muralidharan Pillai, 48, as the candidate for the single-member constituency (SMC). (See report on facing page.)

This comes a day after Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) declared its intention to field its secretary-general Chee Soon Juan.

The Workers' Party, the Democratic Progressive Party and the People's Power Party have said they will bow out of the contest.

The seat was vacated after MP David Ong's alleged affair with a grassroots activist.

Deputy Prime Minister and Jurong GRC's anchor minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said at a press conference yesterday: "People liked David Ong as an MP... They had a high regard for him. They thought he was very hardworking and they felt sorry that he had to go. (But) they understood why we acted, they understood why he resigned.

"I think people will support what happened because we had to uphold high standards in politics, which is very important in the long run.

"But it was not a situation where there was a low regard for Mr David Ong as an MP..."

Will PAP lose another SMC to the opposition following the Punggol East by-election?

In 2013, former PAP MP Michael Palmer resigned after admitting to an affair. The seat was later won by the Workers' Party after a four-cornered fight.

Maybe not, said Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore.

He expects "plenty of fireworks and verbal exchanges" as Dr Chee tries to fight his way into Parliament.

"I doubt the PAP would lose this SMC given its huge majority in 2015, (the SMC's) proximity to Jurong, being a PAP stronghold, the higher proportion of HDB dwellers, having the well-liked DPM Tharman 'helming' the election, and (there is) probably no serious local issue.

"On the minus side, there could be the by-election effect and the SDP does have a presence in that constituency, plus the fact that Dr Chee is well known in Singapore politics, not to mention that he has already activated his campaign," he said.

The by-election effect refers to what observers see as voters being more willing to elect an opposition candidate because the ruling party is in no danger of losing power.

Agreeing, Singapore Management University law don, Associate Professor Eugene Tan, said: "I think (the SMC) will still be keenly contested. It is a by-election... Dr Chee is certainly very desirous of getting into Parliament.

"The circumstances in which the seat was vacated is something that Dr Chee, we can be sure, will want to capitalise on."

TOWN COUNCIL

As an SMC, the issue of the town council becomes important - something Dr Chee recognises and has pushed for, said Dr Mustafa Izzudin, a research fellow at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Earlier, the SDP secretary-general had said that improving the town council in Bukit Batok will be his priority if he is elected - a change from the democracy and alternative policies he spoke of in last year's general election.

Over the weekend, Dr Chee said on the SDP website: "The SDP's goal is to surpass current levels of performance of PAP-run town councils."

Said Dr Mustafa: "Dr Chee is arguably now a more consummate politician who has come to the realisation that he has to...play his cards right to, first and foremost, get himself elected into parliament.

"If this much-wanted goal is reached, Dr Chee is unlikely to forego the opportunity to vocalise and debate liberal democratic issues and causes long synonymous with him and the SDP."

Dr Chee's change in tune drew a cutting remark from DPM Tharman, who said he is glad the SDP chief has now recognised the importance of running a town council well.

During the 2013 Punggol East by-election hustings, Dr Chee had said he would let the Workers' Party run the town council as part of his proposal for a joint campaign with the party.

"(Dr Chee) must have a change in mind, and realises that here in Bukit Batok, it is important to focus on those tasks. It is not the only duty of the MP, but they should focus on it and do it well..." said Mr Tharman yesterday.

tnp@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on March 22, 2016.
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