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GE2020: SMC BATTLES

Workers' Party strengthens grip on Hougang

Opposition party has held onto Hougang seat since 1991, making it its seventh term

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WP's candidate Dennis Tan became the fourth WP Member of Parliament elected at a ward which is seen to be a WP stronghold for nearly three decades.

Singapore

THE Workers' Party (WP) has pulled off another victory at the Hougang single member constituency (SMC), a seat it held since 1991, reflecting the party's grip on the ward and successful leadership transition, observers said.

"It is clearly a demonstration that Hougang voters continue to support WP as a credible opposition party within this constituency," said Felix Tan, a political observer and an associate lecturer at SIM Global Education. "Time and again, it has shown faith in WP."

Eugene Tan, Associate Professor of Law at the Singapore Management University, added: "Voters have kept faith with the party. The grip of the WP on Hougang strengthens."

He previously said if WP maintained or improved their showing, it would suggest that the party was making a successful transition away from former party chief Low Thia Khiang. This is WP's first general election under the leadership of Pritam Singh.

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On Friday, WP's candidate Dennis Tan became the fourth WP Member of Parliament elected at a ward which is seen to be a WP stronghold for nearly three decades.

Based on the sample count, Mr Tan, a shipping lawyer, clinched 58 per cent of the votes. In contrast, Lee Hong Chuang from the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has 42 per cent.

SMU's Prof Tan said: "Victory (was) never in doubt as Dennis is known to voters there. As the successor to Mr Low, who is not contesting this time, Dennis is likely to poll better than Mr Png (Eng Huat) did in 2015."

SIM's Dr Tan said Hougang voters "truly believe that Singapore needs some form of check and balance in the parliament".

"Over time, they realise you cannot depend on the other constituencies to ensure a win for the opposition. So they will maintain that," he said, adding that many who grew up in the constituency continued that support.

"The PAP has to seriously re-examine and relook their strategy in Hougang and what is it that really concerns the voters there," said Dr Tan. "I think it is more than just having a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) position or an alternative voice. There is much more in this constituency than just having a simple check and balance in parliament."

Prof Tan noted that 2021 will mark three decades of Hougang being in opposition's hands.

"While the ruling party will continue to contest there, they are likely to be resigned, more than ever, that winning the ward back will require a situation where Hougang voters will vote against the WP rather than vote for the PAP.

"In short, the ward is WP's to lose in the next two general elections at least," Prof Tan said.

The WP has held the Hougang single-seat ward since Mr Low, who was only 35 then, wrested it from the PAP in 1991, winning 52.8 per cent of the votes. It is believed his speeches in Teochew resonated with the largely Teochew-speaking residents there. Since then, Hougang has been the longest-held opposition seat.

Mr Low held the seat until GE2011, when he took a gamble and left Hougang to contest in Aljunied GRC, helping the WP to pull off a historic victory at Aljunied, where an opposition party won for the first time a group representation constituency (GRC). His successor at Hougang, Yaw Shin Leong, won with 64.8 per cent of the vote - the highest margin of victory achieved by the WP.

Mr Yaw was subsequently replaced by Mr Png in the 2012 by-election triggered by the former's expulsion from the party over personal indiscretions.

WP's Mr Tan has been chosen by the WP to defend its stronghold after its former Member of Parliament (MP) for Hougang, Png Eng Huat, retired.

This is the second time PAP's Mr Lee, an adviser to Hougang grassroots organisations and chair of the People's Action Party (PAP) branch in Hougang, is contesting the Hougang SMC seat.

In the 2015 GE, Mr Lee lost to Mr Png after the latter secured 57.69 per cent of the votes in Hougang SMC.

WP's Mr Tan, 50, made his debut as a WP candidate in the 2015 General Election. He is a familiar face in Hougang SMC, where he has been helping Mr Png at Meet-the-People Sessions, and is also a regular at constituency events, temple dinners, as well as tea sessions with residents.

His ability to converse in Teochew, which Mr Low often uses in election rally speeches, is seen as a factor in his candidacy in Hougang.

The WP had aggressively pushed to expand its territory at the last election. This time, it has scaled back and placed all its parliamentarians in the two constituencies it is defending - Hougang SMC and Aljunied GRC.

For more of our Singapore GE2020 coverage, go to bt.sg/ge2020.

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