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PAP unveils 3 new faces for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC
THREE MPs in the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, including former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng, will retire to make way for three new faces to be fielded on the People's Action Party (PAP) ticket to help defend the five-member constituency in the coming general election.
The new candidates are former senior civil servant Chee Hong Tat, OUE Hospitality Trust chief executive Chong Kee Hiong and Maybank's head of Foreign Exchange Research Saktiandi Supaat. They are the first of an expected slate of 22 new contestants PAP formally introduced in a coffee shop in Toa Payoh Central on Wednesday.
The trio join the remaining two PAP MPs, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Senior Minister of State for Transport and for Finance Josephine Teo, in the fight to retain Bishan-Toa Payoh.
Their opponents in the hustings, expected to be held next month, are likely to be a joint team from the Singapore People's Party and the Democratic Progressive Party.
Apart from Mr Wong, 68, who has been in politics for over 30 years, the two Bishan-Toa Payoh MPs who are calling it a day are Zainudin Nordin and Hri Kumar Nair.
Mr Wong served as minister in the then-Ministry of Community Development, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs before becoming deputy prime minister and co-ordinating minister for National Security.
He entered Parliament in 1984 as custodian of the Kuo Chuan single-member constituency; in the next election in 1988, he became part of the then-three-member Toa Payoh GRC (group representation constituency) through a walkover.
"Bishan-Toa Payoh will always have a place in my heart," he said.
He said of his move to retire from politics: "Seven terms, 31 years, is a very long time. I think the only one left from my term is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and before us, Mr Goh Chok Tong.
"I've walked through this long journey, more than three-quarters of my working life. Don't you think I deserve a rest?"
Singapore football chief Mr Zainuidin, 52, who was elected to Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC in 2001, said: "We know that as a party, we must continue to be relevant to the people. I requested not to stand in the next GE because the time is right for me to focus on my family. It's been a long time."
Mr Hri Kumar, 49, who joined politics in 2006, said he is leaving politics to refocus his priorities because of his wife's illness; it was the first time he made public her battle with lymphoma.
"She's doing well, but that has sort of propelled me to rethink how I spend my time," said the litigation lawyer, who is looking forward to spending more time with her and their only child, a daughter aged eight.
The PAP has traditionally introduced its new candidates at its headquarters, but Dr Ng, PAP's organising secretary, said the party chose a heartland coffee shop on Wednesday to drive home the message that "elections are about electing MPs who can take care of you and your town".
He said there will be few surprises this time around; the PAP candidates "are familiar faces" who have been on the ground "a fairly long time". "We did not cobble up this team on a whim," he said.
Two of the three new faces, Mr Chong and Mr Saktiandi, are said to be known to Bishan-Toa Payoh residents from their having done grassroots work there for the past two years.
Mr Chong, the oldest of the three at 49, will take over Mr Wong's ward, Toa Payoh, a job which gives him "big shoes to fill", he said.
Outside his work at OUE Hospitality Trust, he is vice-chairman of the Bishan East Citizens' Consultative Committee (CCC) and chairman of social enterprise NTUC Foodfare.
"The last two years have given me plenty of opportunities to interact with residents," said Mr Chong, who is married and has four children.
Mr Wong described him as one who "works very hard" and has "strong, sound values".
"Having come from a humble background, he has moved up through our meritocratic system. He comes with a good heart," Mr Wong said.
Mr Saktiandi, 41, has been doing volunteer work for more than a decade, starting with the youth wing of the Association of Muslim Professionals.
The replacement for Mr Zainudin, he helped out at Meet-the-People sessions from 2009 to 2012 and has served in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Community Club Management Committees and the Toa Payoh East CCC as vice-chairman, and as a Bishan-Toa Payoh town councillor.
Asked why he wanted to stand for election, the former kampung boy and now father of three said: "I've seen Singapore progress since my childhood. I believe in the Singapore dream."
Mr Saktiandi, who started his career at the Monetary Authority of Singapore, said he sees three parts to an MP's role - raising and debating national issues, fixing issues at the municipal level and keeping alive the community spirit within the constituency.
Mr Chee, formerly Second Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, is a resident of Bishan-Toa Payoh looking to serve his fellow residents.
"One of my priorities is to meet as many residents as I can through house, market visits. I want to hear from residents on how we can improve their living environment, improve their lives, for both HDB and private estates," said the 41-year-old, who is married and has four children.
He was Principal Private Secretary to former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in 2008, and chief executive of the Energy Market Authority in 2011.
Mr Hri Kumar, whom Mr Chee will replace, describes the new candidate as "quick and sharp to grasp issues" although he has not been active in grassroots work for long because of his position in the civil service.
But Mr Chee is said to have recently undertaken grassroots work in Marine Parade; he is also a volunteer with SCORE's Training Committee, which focuses on training inmates and helping them find jobs after their release from prison.
Read more about the coming Singapore General Election here.