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Heng's shift to East Coast GRC seen as key political move

The PAP retained East Coast in 2015, but with the weakest performance among its GRC wins

As Finance Minister, Mr Heng has led the government's nearly S$100 billion response to the Covid-19 crisis.


DEPUTY Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's move to the East Coast GRC, and its significance for the future prime minister as well as Singapore politics remain a key talking point after four days of election campaigning.

Mr Heng's dramatic move from Tampines Group Representation Constituency (GRC) - the constituency that catapulted him to parliament in 2011 under Mah Bow Tan's team - to East Coast GRC drew different readings from political watchers.

At Solaris Strategies Singapore, senior international affairs analyst Mustafa Izzuddin characterised Mr Heng's move as a "masterstroke" that has significantly strengthened the PAP team in East Coast against "a credible WP team with considerable political experience". The Workers' Party (WP) has also been building support in East Coast, close to its Aljunied stronghold, for a number of years.

This may force a rethink of the WP's strategy, although Chris Leahy, founder of Blackpeak Group, feels that the WP will still stay engaged in the areas as moving "would be a sign of capitulation on their part and I think the political system needs legitimate contest on a consistent basis across all constituencies". Blackpeak is an investigative research and risk-advisory firm which provides services that include political-risk analysis.

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There is also the question of Mr Heng's personal stakes in the East Coast contest. As Finance Minister, he has led the government's nearly S$100 billion response to the Covid-19 crisis, and some will see the results in the constituency as an indication of voters' response to Mr Heng and the government's handling of the pandemic.

A strong performance would put Mr Heng in a good position to lead the 4G (fourth-generation) team and also, eventually, to lead Singapore, said Felix Tan, an associate lecturer at SIM Global Education.

The People's Action Party (PAP) retained East Coast GRC in 2015, but it was the worst-performing GRC that the party won, with 60.7 per cent of the vote, compared to the 69.9 per cent popular vote that the party clinched. That year, PAP also had to fend off a challenge from WP in Fengshan Single Member Constituency (SMC), which has been put under East Coast GRC this year.

In 2015, Fengshan SMC was helmed by PAP's then newcomer Cheryl Chan, who won 57.5 per cent of the votes, against WP's Dennis Tan, who garnered 42.5 per cent.

Said Mr Leahy: "If we assume that Mr Heng will be the next PM, then it seems fair to assume that the electorate would expect strong results from him."

What would be considered a good outcome for PAP in East Coast?

SIM Global's Dr Tan said that if the PAP slate is able to garner better results this time than 2015's 60.7 per cent, it would be deemed as a job well done. However, Dr Mustafa is less concerned about the margin. "A win is a win as far as the PAP is concerned."

Mr Leahy said a good result would burnish Mr Heng's credentials. But there are other factors at work too, especially with voters personally affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

All agree that Mr Heng's move is not without risk. Said Dr Tan: "After all, he is up against a tough team there."

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