A tough fight for Punggol East

PHOTO: The Straits Times

Punggol East, with its scenic waterfront and breeze-kissed trees, makes an unlikely setting for battles.

But the idyllic scene obscures the fierce contests between the People's Action Party (PAP) and the opposition in the past. Political watchers say it will be no different in the upcoming General Election.

Since Punggol East Single Member Constituency (SMC) was carved out of Pasir-Ris-Punggol Group Representation Constituency (GRC) four years ago, it has been through two rounds of elections.

WP's Lee Li Lian won the 2013 by-election in a four-cornered fight with the PAP's Koh Poh Koon, Reform Party's Kenneth Jeyaretnam and Singapore Democratic Alliance's Desmond Lim.

The Punggol East seat was left vacant in late 2012 after the PAP's Michael Palmer resigned over an extramarital affair.

It was also the only ward to face a three-cornered fight in the 2011 GE.

For the coming GE, Ms Lee, 37, will defend her seat against PAP veteran Charles Chong, 62, who has moved to contest in Punggol East SMC after his Joo Chiat SMC was merged into Marine Parade GRC. Mr Chong, a six-term MP, described his move as a "homecoming".

Residents are familiar with him because he was an MP in the Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC until 2011.

Said political observer Bilveer Singh: "It's (Charles Chong) a former familiar face who did well versus the current strong Li Lian, so it will definitely be a close fight."

'Hardworking'

He also said that first-term MP Lee has been "hardworking" and walking the ground regularly, and there is "no doubt that WP is going to give its full swing with the advantage it had after the by-election".

He said Punggol East residents - mostly made up of young families who are well-educated and better-off than the national average - are more likely to relate with Ms Lee who is also a new parent.

The lack of childcare facilities was a hot button issue in 2013. That year, then-Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing had said that Punggol would have 14 new childcare centres by this year, and another 12 by 2018.

Said civil servant Alan Wong, 37, who has lived in Punggol East with his wife and two-year-old daughter for five years: "There are definitely more childcare centres than before, so the number is not an issue any more.

"But not all centres run quality programmes and have good facilities. So it would be better if we could still have more options for quality childcare and schools."

Accessibility in the area, another gripe among residents back in 2013, has also improved with the increased frequency of public buses and trains.

Mr Muhammad Salman Khan, 35, a marketing manager who has been living in Punggol East for five years with his wife and two children, said getting around is much more convenient now especially with the opening of the new LRT stations and more bus services.

However, municipal issues like cleanliness of corridors and the lack of amenities remain. Madam Linda Wong, 48, a bakery assistant, said there have been occasions when she and other residents have had to sweep the corridors and void decks.She has been living in the area for 15 years with her family of four.

But her biggest bugbear is the lack of options when it comes to shopping for groceries and eating out, which was also brought up in previous elections.

Madam Wong said: "My husband is a security guard so we don't earn much. The closest (place we can walk to) is NTUC at Rivervale Mall. But the variety is limited and it's more expensive than wet markets.

"The nearest market is about a 20-minute walk away, which is inconvenient."

Despite these issues, some residents like Madam Julie Eng, 59, praised Ms Lee for being down-to-earth and approachable.

Said Madam Eng, who is unemployed and has lived in the area for 16 years: "I met her for the first time when she came to offer condolences during my husband's wake a while back. She seemed very sincere, and I can tell she's a good person."

Political analyst Tan Ern Ser said the climate this time is different from the past two contests, especially with the recent Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) financial saga.

The National University of Singapore sociologist said: "In 2011, the WP was seen as the credible opposition, while the PAP was experiencing much negative vibes.

"But in 2015, the WP's brand has been dented by the AHPETC saga, while the PAP has had four years to address the hot-button issues."

He added: "It'll be a tough fight."

Punggol East by the numbers

Estimated number of voters:
34,466

Types of Homes
96.4 per cent public housing
3.6 per cent private housing

Breakdown of public flats
90.7 per cent are four- and five-room or executive units
5.7 per cent are one- to three-room flats

2015 General Election
Candidates:
Workers' Party: Ms Lee Li Lian
People's Action Party: Mr Charles Chong

2013 By-election
Voters: 29,859
54.5 per cent voted for Ms Lee Li Lian (WP)
43.7 per cent voted for Mr Koh Poh Koon (PAP)
1.2 per cent voted for Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam (RP)
0.6 per cent voted for Mr Desmond Lim Bak Chuan (SDA)

2011 General Election
Voters: 33,281
54.5 per cent voted for Mr Michael Anthony Palmer (PAP)
41.0 per cent voted for Ms Lee Li Lian (WP)
4.5 per cent voted for Mr Desmond Lim Bak Chuan

Issues

Municipal issues seem to be the bugbear of Punggol East residents this General Election.

More amenities

Residents say that although previous election issues, like the shortage of childcare centres and bus services, have been addressed, there still seems to be a lack of amenities like wet markets and food establishments.

Cleanliness

Residents also said that estate cleanliness and the maintenance of facilities like playgrounds and parks are problems that have cropped up as the estate gets older.


This article was first published on September 10, 2015.
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