GE2020: GRC BATTLEGROUNDS

DPM Heng's entry raises stakes for voters in keenly fought-over East Coast GRC

In fielding him there, the PAP has turned contest into one that has larger consequences: NTU professor

Singapore

DEPUTY Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's surprise departure from Tampines GRC to run for election in East Coast GRC as part of the People's Action Party (PAP) team will raise the stakes for voters there, observers say.

"Voters will be more careful now, as they know Heng Swee Keat is the future PM and they won't want to risk him not continuing," said former PAP Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh.

Mr Heng took over from former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say as anchor minister of the PAP team in East Coast GRC.

The GRC has seen fierce fights between PAP and Workers' Party (WP) in the past three polls, with the ward registering the lowest vote share among all the GRCs that PAP won in 2011 and 2015.

In fielding Mr Heng in East Coast, the PAP has turned the contest in the GRC into one that has larger consequences, said Alan Chong, an associate professor at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), given that Mr Heng is highly regarded as the leader of the fourth-generation (4G) leadership of the party and country.

Singapore Management University (SMU) law professor Eugene Tan felt that deploying the future prime minister to East Coast GRC "seems to unnecessarily flatter the WP, which has just definitively entered the post-Low era".

Low Thia Khiang, former WP chief, is not standing in this election - the first for the party under the leadership of current secretary-general Pritam Singh.

While PAP may want to put an end to the ward long known for being a tricky one for the party with close contests, it remains an open question whether the PAP has overstated the challenge from the WP, said SMU's Prof Tan.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim said in a press conference that the party is "honoured that the PAP has seen fit to send DPM Heng to helm the East Coast GRC".

Ms Lim added: "But of course, we are also quietly confident that the slate that we field there, and the slate that we field in every constituency we are contesting in, is a strong and diverse slate who will be able to represent residents of the area well."

Mr Heng, in a Facebook post after nomination, wrote that East Coast GRC cannot afford a succession gap after the retirement of Mr Lim and another MP Lee Yi Shyan in such uncertain times.

"If I move, I can do my part in East Coast," Mr Heng wrote. "We need a full team that can take care of the residents and position them to come out of this crisis stronger than before."

In his brief speech given at the nomination centre, Mr Heng said the novel coronavirus pandemic had plunged the world into profound uncertainty and countries are grappling with a major crisis in healthcare, economy, social and geopolitical.

PAP has a plan to enable Singapore to overcome the crisis and emerge stronger, Mr Heng said.

The party also has a plan for East Coast GRC. "We humbly ask for your support and strong endorsement so that the team can continue to serve you and serve fellow Singaporeans in the coming years."

There were signs which pointed to a late switch for DPM Heng to contest in the five-member GRC.

First, the incumbent MPs Jessica Tan Soon Neo, 54; Maliki Osman, 54; and Fengshan SMC MP Cheryl Chan, 44; turned up together with first-time candidate Tan Kiat How, 43 - without Mr Heng, who came alone later.

Second, on the list of PAP nominees for the GRC, only Mr Heng's name was handwritten while the other four names were typed.

The PAP slate is up against WP candidates Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim, 54; Foo Seck Guan, 38; Terence Tan, 44; Dylan Ng, 40; and Nicole Seah, 33.

Both Mr Singh and NTU's Prof Chong think that Mr Heng should be able to help PAP secure a victory in the GRC.

Mr Singh quipped: "While Nicole Seah can pull votes, I believe Heng Swee Keat can also do the same."

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