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BUKIT BATOK BY-ELECTION

Bukit Batok set to vote on May 7

Nomination Day is April 27; contest likely to be straight fight between PAP's Murali Pillai and SDP's Chee Soon Juan

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Nomination Day is set for April 27, with the contest likely to be a straight fight between Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and Murali Pillai of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

Singapore

THE residents of Bukit Batok have been without their own member of parliament (MP) for the last six weeks. They will get to vote for a new representative on May 7.

That is the date for the by-election in the single member constituency (SMC), after President Tony Tan Keng Yam issued the all-important writ of election on Wednesday.

Nomination Day is set for April 27, with the contest likely to be a straight fight between Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and Murali Pillai of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

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The poll was triggered after the shock resignation of former Bukit Batok MP David Ong for a "personal indiscretion" on March 12, allegedly over his extra-marital affair with a fellow party member. Both Mr Ong and the woman have since resigned from the PAP.

As with previous elections, there will be nine days of campaigning starting April 27, after nominations close at noon that day and the returning officer officially declares a contest.

The mandatory cooling-off day - a 24-hour period when all campaigning is barred - is on May 6, and more than 25,600 eligible voters will be allowed to cast their ballots the next day.

Polling Day is not a public holiday. Under the law, employers have to give all their staff who are eligible voters a reasonable period of time to vote when the polls are open from 8am to 8pm.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is currently in the Middle East for an official visit, said that he hoped that residents would "vote wisely".

"Now that the Budget is out of the way, we are calling this by-election to enable residents of Bukit Batok to have their own MP as we work together to improve Singaporeans' lives," he wrote on his Facebook page.

He added that the partnership between the government and Singaporeans was key to the country's success. "I hope Bukit Batok residents will elect the candidate who will be concerned for their welfare, represent them ably in Parliament, and make Bukit Batok the best home for them."

The PAP acted quickly after Mr Ong's sudden departure. Senior Minister of State Desmond Lee was named as a caretaker for the ward, while his fellow Jurong GRC (Group Representation Constituency) MP Ang Wei Neng took over Mr Ong's duties as chairman of the Jurong-Clementi Town Council.

Less than 24 hours after news of Mr Ong's resignation broke, the SDP conducted a walkabout in Bukit Batok and Dr Chee, its secretary-general, was officially named as the opposition party's candidate on March 20.

A day later, the PAP announced that Mr Murali, the head of commercial litigation at law firm Rajah & Tann, was its top choice to defend the seat.

Mr Murali, a 48-year-old father of four, is a familiar face in the ward, having spent the last 16 years as an activist there. He is also the current branch chairman in Bukit Batok.

This will be the former senior police officer's second time as a candidate on the PAP ticket. He was in the party's five-member team that narrowly lost to the Workers' Party in Aljunied GRC in last September's general election (GE).

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon after finishing another round of house visits, Mr Murali declared that his team was ready for the upcoming campaign.

His exact plans for Bukit Batok will only be revealed in the next few days, but he shared that they would likely centre on upgrading and assistance for needy families.

"These plans are in relation to what have surfaced as part of their concerns, as part of their aspirations, so you can expect the plans to cover issues such as the fact that Bukit Batok is a mature estate with the number of seniors," said Mr Murali.

"We can also expect plans to deal with needy families among us, because we have rental flats; the poorest of the poor live here. It would include aspects of making the living environment better for our residents so the quality of living, the connectivity between precincts is improved," he added.

As for Dr Chee, the SDP's long-serving secretary-general is making his fifth attempt to get into Parliament. At the last GE, the 53-year-old led a four-member team that lost to the PAP in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.

Like Mr Murali, he has also been out and about in Bukit Batok on a daily basis, visiting coffeeshops, the MRT station, and housing blocks together with a team of party members and volunteers.

Last Sunday, Dr Chee said that, if elected, he would push for retrenchment insurance for laid-off workers, something that the SDP has been advocating for the past five years.

On Wednesday, shortly after the writ was issued, Dr Chee took to social media to make yet another call for the public to sign up as volunteers for the by-election.

He said on Facebook: "We've got a mountain to climb and we will climb it. I'm looking forward to it, but we need your help. Democracy needs your help, Team SDP needs your help, I need your help."

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