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GE2020 Hot Spots: East Coast GRC no stranger to tight PAP-WP contests, but stakes are higher now

SINGAPORE — In the past two General Elections (GEs) in 2011 and 2015, the East Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC) — spanning areas such as Bedok, Changi Village, Kampong Chai Chee and the island of Pulau Ubin — was the scene of keen electoral tussles between the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and their main political rival, the Workers’ Party (WP).

GE2020 Hot Spots: East Coast GRC no stranger to tight PAP-WP contests, but stakes are higher now

Candidates from the People's Action Party (top) and the Workers' Party (bottom) are vying for five seats at East Coast Group Representation Constituency.

  • The presence of PAP’s Heng Swee Keat has raised the stakes in the East Coast GRC contest  
  • PAP beat WP the last two elections there in 2011 and 2015, but with the lowest share of votes among all the GRCs that it had won
  • Residents interviewed were mostly pleased with the facilities, services in their estates
  • They hope to see more elder-friendly spaces and services, and lifestyle amenities in Simei and Tanah Merah

 

SINGAPORE — In the past two General Elections (GEs) in 2011 and 2015, the East Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC) — spanning areas such as Bedok, Changi Village, Kampong Chai Chee and the island of Pulau Ubin — was the scene of keen electoral tussles between the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and their main political rival, the Workers’ Party (WP).  

On each of the two occasions, PAP triumphed but with the lowest share of votes among all the GRCs that it won. 

This GE, the stakes have been raised: In a surprise move by PAP, Mr Heng Swee Keat, who is poised to be Singapore’s next prime minister, was redeployed from his Tampines GRC stronghold to lead the team in East Coast GRC.  

Mr Heng Swee Keat from the People’s Action Party meeting residents during a walkabout at Block 216 Bedok Food Centre and Market on July 3, 2020. Photo: Ili Nadhirah Mansor/TODAY

And if that was not enough to whet the appetite for political pundits, there is added spice in the form of social media darling Nicole Seah, who is making her political comeback as part of WP’s team contesting the constituency. 

Ms Seah was remembered as the youngest candidate in the 2011 polls, where she contested as part of the National Solidarity Party’s team for Marine Parade GRC. Against a PAP team helmed by former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, her team lost with a credible showing, receiving 43.4 per cent of the vote.  

Ms Nicole Seah meeting residents in Bedok North during a walkabout in East Coast GRC with the Workers' Party team on July 1, 2020. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

After Nomination Day on June 30, political analysts had singled out East Coast GRC as among the key electoral battlegrounds to watch.

Over several days, TODAY spoke to nearly 60 residents in East Coast GRC.  

Some said that they would have to make what they called a “tough choice”, while others said that they did not care much about politics or felt that things would not change a great deal, whatever the outcome may be. 

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) undergraduate Grace Chen, 22, said that residents would have a hard time deciding whom to cast their votes for, particularly because Mr Heng and Ms Seah are both notable opponents.

Part-time worker Wee Kin Lian, 67, said that she was not giving much thought to her vote. She said that the PAP Government had been helping the people through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Full-time national serviceman Marvin Liong, 24, said that few things would change, whichever way the result swings.

“If PAP wins, everything will be the same. If WP wins, nothing will change that much, because the power will still be with PAP,” he said.

Mr Heng, 59, who left Tampines GRC where he has been serving as Member of Parliament for nine years to anchor the team at East Coast GRC, has with him Dr Maliki Osman, 54; Ms Jessica Tan, 54; Ms Cheryl Chan, 44; and new candidate Tan Kiat How, 43, the former head of the Infocomm Media Development Authority.

Mr Heng Swee Keat (second from right) at a walkabout in Bedok North on July 5, 2020. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

On WP’s relatively younger team are Ms Seah, 33; Mr Dylan Ng, 44; Mr Kenneth Foo, 43; Mr Terence Tan, 49; and another new candidate Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim, 54, who worked as a researcher and quit his job to run in the election.

ABOUT THE CONSTITUENCY 

  • The electoral boundaries for East Coast GRC, which has 121,772 voters this GE, capture areas such as Bedok, Changi-Simei, Kampong Chai Chee, Siglap and the offshore island of Pulau Ubin
  • This year, the GRC absorbed the Fengshan ward again. In GE2015, Fengshan was drawn out from the GRC as a single-seat constituency. With Fengshan returning to its fold, the GRC now has five members, up from four
  • The constituency is a study in contrasts, where high-rise public housing blocks — some of them decades-old blocks of rental flats — sit not too far away from the gated bungalows of Siglap and gleaming condominiums in Bayshore

PAST POLLS 

  • This year will be the fourth GE that WP is facing off with PAP in the GRC, where WP has been fielding what has been described as strong teams. The results of the past polls had not been consistent, but signalled that voters had been giving WP greater consideration as the party tilled and toiled doggedly on the ground over the years
  • In GE2006, PAP took 63.9 per cent of the vote, with then Cabinet Minister S Jayakumar leading the team. WP had four new candidates that year in the five-member team
  • In GE2011, East Coast GRC, anchored by then Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lim Swee Say, became the worst-performing GRC won by PAP with a slim 54.9 per cent of the vote. WP fielded three new candidates, Mr Png Eng Huat, Mr Gerald Giam and Mr Mohamed Fazli Talip
  • In GE2015, PAP coasted to a comfortable 60.7 per cent victory. However, it was still the poorest showing by a winning PAP team in a GRC that year. WP had three new candidates then: Associate Professor Daniel Goh, Mr Leon Perera and Mr Mohamed Fairoz Shariff
Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh (standing) joined the team at East Coast GRC for a walkabout in Bedok on July 1, 2020. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

MORE AMENITIES IN RECENT YEARS 

The residents interviewed said that they have few complaints about their estates. Many of their concerns were on issues at the constituency level related to day-to-day living, but some also raised national-level issues related to unemployment, the use of plastics that harms the environment, and the Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) Selective En Bloc Redevelopment (Sers) scheme. 

Mr Dennis Tan, 50, a public servant, would like to see more HDB blocks in Bedok put under the Sers scheme. “The HDB flats here are very old and should make way for new ones,” he said.

Mr Ming Hwa, 63, who has lived in Simei for 30 years and is now unemployed, said: “At my age, it’s really hard to find a job because people want to hire younger people. The government schemes cannot feed me.”

As for their immediate living environment, most of the residents have noticed some of the key projects that have sprouted in towns such as Bedok in recent years.

One of these is the lifestyle hub Heartbeat@Bedok, which houses a sports centre, a swimming complex, a public library, polyclinic, community club and a senior care centre. It opened in 2018.

Ms Winnie Tay, 57, who did not want to reveal her profession, said that she uses the library, tennis centre, pool and polyclinic at the hub. 

“It's a very integrated hub and it's especially good for older people, since the estate is quite old,” she said.

Seniors outside the lifestyle hub Heartbeat@Bedok, which houses sports facilities, eateries and amenities. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

Retiree Ng Ah Moi, 60, said that the opening of Heartbeat@Bedok has increased food options in the area and it is conveniently located.

Ms Terin Yim, 60, who lives in the Bayshore area, said that schools, facilities, wet markets and food places are plentiful in the ward. 

Taxi driver Jamal Udin, 70, a Bedok Reservoir resident, noted the convenience brought about by the connectivity of bus and train networks in his estate.

Others pointed to the ample provision of covered linkways in towns across the GRC.

A concept artist who gave his name only as Mr Ho, 27, said that there have been more covered walkways in Simei over the last two years. “I am happy for that.”

WHAT RESIDENTS HOPE FOR

With a greying population in certain towns across the GRC, a key concern among residents interviewed was how to keep seniors active and healthy.

Market researcher Derek Goh, 42, suggested that there could be more social programmes and spaces for seniors.

“It’s important to have volunteer programmes as bridges to connect the younger generation with the older generation, where young people step up to see how to help the elderly,” Mr Goh said.

Ms Chen, the NTU undergraduate, would like to see more wheelchair ramps and railings as aids for people who are weak and less mobile.

Hotelier Zack Ahmad, 57, said that some places in HDB estates, such as in Bedok, still lack slopes that improve accessibility for bicycles and wheelchairs.

“We can have more, especially since there are so many elderly people,” he said.

Mr Selamat Bankri, 58, is worried about seniors who have to use overhead bridges, such as the one in front of Block 85 Bedok North Street 4. He said there was talk that a lift was to be built there.

Agreeing, Ms Nancy Chia, 73, said that many seniors have their meals at the popular hawker centre at Block 85 and they find it hard to climb the stairs along the overhead bridge.

Ms Cheryl Chan, the incumbent Member of Parliament for the area, told TODAY that a lift would be built at the overhead bridge, but the project’s tender has been delayed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Mr Ho Teck Chau, 65, said that he would like the exercise area for seniors in his Simei estate to be upgraded. “Because some of these equipment were built more than eight years ago, it is time to do some upgrading,” the retiree said.

Mr Justin, 26, who is unemployed and declined to give his last name, said that his main concern was the rise in dengue cases, noting that parts of East Coast are known to be hot spots for the mosquito-borne disease.

He suggested that drainage could be improved, and more checks and fumigation done in housing estates.

As of this week, parts of Bedok North, Bedok South and Bedok Reservoir, for instance, were listed by the National Environment Agency as high-risk areas with 10 or more dengue cases.

Others wanted to see improved transport infrastructure.

Ms Yim, the retiree, said that she takes classes at the Siglap South Community Club along Palm Road and would like to cycle there from her Bayshore home.

“But at the moment, I don’t feel very safe doing it because there's no proper cycling track,” she said, asking for improved bicycle paths to Bedok South, Bedok MRT Station and Marine Terrace.

Posters of the political parties contesting in East Coast GRC displayed in Bedok North. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

Retiree Andrew Ng, 70, lamented the lack of bus services plying Bedok North Avenue 4. This has meant that people must walk to Bedok North Road to get the bus services they want and it is tedious for an older person. Right now, Bedok North Avenue 4 is served by two bus services, 17 and 48.

A number of residents also asked for more lifestyle amenities near their estates.

Mr Ng Kai Cong, 25, a National University of Singapore undergraduate, requested that space be set aside for a shopping centre near Tanah Merah MRT Station along New Upper Changi Road.

He said that the mall should have a good mix of retail shops, similar to that of Tampines Mall, as well as a supermarket and cinema.

Right now, the nearest mall is East Village in Simpang Bedok, about 700m away, but it does not have a cinema or large retailers.

The biggest shopping complex in the area is Bedok Mall, which is about 2km from the Tanah Merah MRT stop. Bedok has two other smaller shopping centres, Bedok Point and Djitsun Mall.

Some Simei residents also asked for more amenities at their doorstep.

Retiree Richard Chia, 68, would like to have a wet market in Simei. At present, he has to travel to the one in neighbouring Tampines town to do his marketing.

His wife Janet Chia, a 59-year-old retiree, said a library should be built in Simei. The nearest library is in the community and lifestyle complex Our Tampines Hub.

Mr Andrew Kong, 24, a National University of Singapore undergraduate, said that he would welcome an ActiveSG public gym and swimming pool in Simei. The closest ones are also in Our Tampines Hub.

When TODAY asked the PAP and WP teams in East Coast GRC how they plan to handle these concerns from residents, both teams did not return requests for comment.

In PAP’s manifesto for the GRC, it stated that there will be continuing efforts to improve the beauty, connectivity, sustainability and “special character” of the constituency, including the building of covered linkways, bicycle paths and wheelchair-friendly transport facilities.

In a televised political broadcast last Saturday, Mr Tan Kiat How said that if the PAP team were elected, programmes for elders, such as befriending seniors, and functional screening and exercises at Heartbeat@Bedok, would be enhanced.

Mr Tan Kiat How (standing) from People’s Action Party talking to residents during a walkabout at Block 216 Bedok Food Centre and Market on July 3, 2020. Photo: Ili Nadhirah Mansor/TODAY

Asked about WP’s plan for East Coast GRC in an interview last week, Mr Terence Tan said that his team was aware of the municipal issues, including the presence of somewhat dated amenities and estates that are not as clean as residents might like. Further improvements to infrastructure could also be made.

The Workers' Party team for East Coast GRC. (Front row, right to left) Mr Terence Tan and Ms Nicole Seah. (Second row, right to left) Mr Dylan Ng, Mr Kenneth Foo and Mr Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

When asked to specify which are the dated amenities and estates that needed sprucing up, Mr Tan said there was “a reasonably long list”, but did not elaborate.

He also said that the team would set up a town council as quickly as possible if elected.

His teammate, Mr Dylan Ng, has also said that if WP takes over the management of the town council, it would prioritise solving problems for residents. 

Related topics

East Coast GRC SGVotes2020 Singapore General Election Heng Swee Keat Nicole Seah

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