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Incumbency advantage, brand name key to PAP wins in SMC strongholds

Mountbatten SMC.jpg
PAP's Lim Biow Chuan at a polling station. The party emerged victorious by the widest margin in Mountbatten SMC, where incumbent Mr Lim defended his seat against Peoples Voice newcomer Sivakumaran Chellappa.


RADIN Mas, Mountbatten and MacPherson are among the SMCs where the People's Action Party (PAP) defeated opponents by the widest margins, as challengers failed to convince voters to switch sides.

Political observers said that the above SMCs are traditional PAP strongholds where the brand name still holds sway, with incumbents mostly known names who have a strong following on the ground.

On the flipside, challengers are relative newcomers who have not established themselves with residents, they added.

Dr Felix Tan, associate lecturer at SIM Global Education, said: "Those that will take the largest margins are those stable constituencies where there are familiar faces on the ground. For these PAP strongholds, there is a tendency to continue with that kind of support."

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Eugene Tan, associate law professor at Singapore Management University (SMU) added that one commonality seen among these SMCs is that the winning candidates are "strong on the ground".

At Radin Mas SMC, Melvin Yong, 48, secured 74.03 per cent of the votes compared with 25.97 per cent by Reform Party's (RP) Kumar Appavoo, 51.

While Mr Yong is the newcomer in this face-off, his predecessor Sam Tan, who has retired from politics, won 77.3 per cent of the votes in a resounding win against the RP's Mr Appavoo who secured 12.7 per cent, and independent candidate Han Hui Hui back in 2015.

SIM's Dr Tan said: "It's a mature estate and Melvin Yong will garner a lot more votes from conservative, elderly voters."

"RP hasn't demonstrated influence in that area… Kumar didn't turn up for the national broadcast, which could leave an impression on people that he doesn't care."

RP had apologised to Radin Mas residents, saying Mr Appavoo missed the recording of his constituency's political broadcast on Wednesday due to "unfortunate circumstances" that were undisclosed.

Another SMC where PAP emerged victorious by the widest margin is in Mountbatten, where incumbent Lim Biow Chuan, 57, successfully defended his seat against Peoples Voice newcomer Sivakumaran Chellappa, 57, with 75 per cent of the votes, based on the sample count.

Mr Lim contested and won Mountbatten SMC in the 2011 and the 2015 elections, each time against challenger Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss. Mr Lim won with 71.86 per cent of the votes in 2015, improving on his 58.62 per cent in 2011.

SIM's Dr Tan said that Mr Lim is a "strong candidate" as he is both a familiar face, coupled with the PAP brand name.

Furthermore, he is up against a relative unknown, who was only unveiled as a PV candidate on Nomination Day in a surprise move.

Meanwhile, PAP's Tin Pei Ling's win over People's Power Party's Goh Meng Seng, 50, at MacPherson came as no surprise to political observers. Ms Tin, 36 won 71.74 per cent of votes, compared with Mr Goh's 28.26 per cent.

SMU's Mr Tan said that Ms Tin, who has improved on her performance in 2015, has established herself after a shaky start in 2011.

"She has this ability to connect with older voters, of which MacPherson has quite a significant proportion of," he noted. "And because of her youth, she can also connect with younger voters at the same time."

"She's a good example of an MP growing in stature - it boils down to hard work and showing voters her dedication to serve. It's not just all talk and promises, but also rolling up sleeves and getting things done."

Yuhua SMC is another constituency that has long been PAP's stronghold. Grace Fu, 56, won 70.54 per cent of the votes, compared with 29.46 per cent by Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) Robin Low, 44.

Ms Fu, who is also Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, has been the MP for Yuhua since 2006.

"This is PAP's example that ministers can also fight in SMCs," said Mr Tan. "SDP received a bit of a boost this GE (General Election), but the fact that she (Ms Fu) has been there for a while has worked to her advantage."

SDP's Mr Low did not compete for the seat in Yuhua in 2015, which made him a relative newcomer in the constituency.

In a surprise twist, newly-carved out SMC Kebun Baru saw first-term PAP MP Henry Kwek, 44, take one of the more decisive wins with 68 per cent of the votes, against Progress Singapore Party (PSP) candidate Kumaran Pillai, 49, based on the sample count.

Kebun Baru was part of Nee Soon GRC in 2015, and has been carved out as an SMC this year for the first time in nearly 30 years. Mr Kwek has been in charge of the Kebun Baru ward since he was elected with the Nee Soon PAP team in 2015.

SIM's Dr Tan said that this new constituency was "hard to tell" as both candidates were relatively new to the ground. "If Henry Kwek wins, it's likely due to the PAP brand name and not because of the face," he added.

In this General Election, all 14 SMCs were contested, with Pioneer SMC the lone single-seat to see a three-cornered fight. PAP secured 13 seats, while Hougang SMC went to the Workers' Party.

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