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GE 2020: GRC SHOWDOWNS

WP's young guns win over Sengkang with focus on social issues

The party clinches 52.13 per cent of the valid votes, making it the second GRC to fall into opposition hands

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A supporter (third from left) taking a photo with WP's Sengkang GRC candidates (from left) Jamus Lim, Louis Chua, Raeesah Khan and He Ting Ru at a foodcourt in Rivervale Plaza on July 7, 2020.

Singapore

THE Workers' Party edged out the People's Action Party (PAP) in Sengkang GRC in a historic upset victory.

WP clinched 52.13 per cent of the valid votes. Sengkang GRC - previously seen as a wild card for the opposition - is now the second GRC to fall into opposition hands, after Aljunied GRC.

The defeated PAP team includes three office holders: labour chief Ng Chee Meng, 51; Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health Lam Pin Min, 50; and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health Amrin Amin, 41. They were joined by lawyer Raymond Lye, 54.

The winning WP team comprises lawyer He Ting Ru, 37, who contested Marine Parade GRC in 2015; as well as three first-time candidates: Raeesah Khan, 26, a social enterprise founder; equity analyst Louis Chua, 33; and Essec Business School associate professor of economics Jamus Lim, 44.

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The victory also means Ms Khan will be the youngest elected member of Singapore's next parliament.

The WP's Sengkang GRC team's performance is remarkable given that the team is politically inexperienced, but went up against a fairly strong PAP team, said associate professor of law Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University.

Despite being new to the political landscape, the WP's candidates managed to strike a chord with Sengkang's demographics, with their emphasis on the concerns of young families, as well as more systemic issues, Prof Tan added.

"They caught on well to the post-material issues that young voters are more concerned with, such as social inequality and climate change. They also captured the imagination of the voters with their energy, creativity and guts," he said.

Tan Ern Ser, an associate professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore, agreed that young voters may have seen in the WP's slate "the knowledge and ability to ask hard, challenging questions of the government and present bold alternatives which make sense to them".

The WP team had also harnessed social media effectively, not just communicating their manifesto, but also building a human connection, said Dr Natalie Pang, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies.

"People look for authenticity and it's something that WP did very well. If you look at their social media content, except for the Hammer Show which is in a studio, most of their videos are in the candidates' homes or coffee shops. They are very candid and there is a human touch," she said.

The WP team also benefited from the virality of video snippets capturing candidate Prof Lim's good performance on the live televised debate that included Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Dr Pang added.

Prof Lim has also been viewed as a star candidate for the WP. Prior to his academic career, he was a lead economist with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and a senior economist with the World Bank.

To be sure, the WP team faced a notable setback after a police report was lodged against Ms Khan for allegedly promoting enmity between groups on grounds of religion or race in two Facebook posts.

Ms Khan later apologised for the "insensitive" remarks she had made, but the WP's top brass stood by their candidate.

WP chief Pritam Singh said that while he had not known about the Facebook posts beforehand, he "would be actually a bit disappointed if our candidates try to sanitise their past".

"I think they should be upfront and authentic to the public. This is who they are. And in the event there are certain posts or certain comments that they may have made which are untoward, then I would expect them to explain themselves," Mr Singh had told the media on July 5.

Despite the controversy, online sentiment showed that many younger voters were supportive of Ms Khan, with hashtags such as #IStandWithRaeesah trending on Twitter, noted Dr Pang.

"Sengkang voters are relatively young and may look at issues of race and religion very differently. To me, this seemed like Sengkang voters were saying that they would like a different way of engaging in issues and addressing racism," she said.

Located in the north-east near the WP stomping grounds of Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC, the new Sengkang GRC comprises the neighbourhoods of Anchorvale, Compassvale and Rivervale.

Beyond being a milestone for the WP, the outcome in Sengkang also signals a promising future for Singapore's opposition parties, said Prof Tan of NUS.

"It shows that WP has indeed extended its stronghold further East, and if we extrapolate, we may argue that the PAP's supermajority can be breached," he said.

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