Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

GE2020 Hot Spots: Traditionally a PAP stronghold, Bukit Panjang abuzz with election fever as SDP mounts stiff challenge

SINGAPORE — Tucked away in the north-western part of Singapore, the usually quiet neighbourhood of Bukit Panjang is now buzzing with election fever — more so than in the past few General Elections (GEs) where the hustings largely came and went.

Bukit Panjang Single Member Constituency has been a traditional stronghold for the ruling People’s Action Party, with incumbent Member of Parliament Teo Ho Pin, 60, racking up handsome wins in the 2006, 2011 and 2015 polls. But residents said they expect a keener contest this time, following Dr Teo’s retirement from politics and the Singapore Democratic Party’s decision to field a senior leader in the single seat ward.

Bukit Panjang Single Member Constituency has been a traditional stronghold for the ruling People’s Action Party, with incumbent Member of Parliament Teo Ho Pin, 60, racking up handsome wins in the 2006, 2011 and 2015 polls. But residents said they expect a keener contest this time, following Dr Teo’s retirement from politics and the Singapore Democratic Party’s decision to field a senior leader in the single seat ward.

Follow us on Instagram and Tiktok, and join our Telegram channel for the latest updates.

  • Incumbent MP Teo Ho Pin, 60, won handsomely in the 2006, 2011 and 2015 polls
  • Residents expect a keener contest this time, following Dr Teo’s retirement from politics 
  • In Dr Teo’s place, PAP’s Liang Eng Hwa, 56, will go up against SDP chairman Paul Tambyah, 55
  • Residents interviewed were generally satisfied with how the estate is being run
  • But their bugbears included a shortage of parking lots and the LRT system

 

SINGAPORE — Tucked away in the north-western part of Singapore, the usually quiet neighbourhood of Bukit Panjang is now buzzing with election fever — more so than in the past few General Elections (GEs) where the hustings largely came and went.

Bukit Panjang Single Member Constituency (SMC) has been a traditional stronghold for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), with incumbent Member of Parliament Teo Ho Pin, 60, racking up handsome wins in the 2006, 2011 and 2015 polls.

But residents said they expect a keener contest this time, following Dr Teo’s retirement from politics and the Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) decision to field a senior leader in the single seat ward. 

Mdm Sophia Pang, 51, a Bukit Panjang resident of over 25 years, noted that Dr Teo had enjoyed strong support because of his work in the constituency and rapport with the residents.

Dr Samuel Chng, 31, who has lived in the estate since he was born, observed that both PAP and SDP are campaigning harder in this GE, compared with the past two elections that he had been eligible to vote in.

“I think it's great that we are being contested by two credible candidates. The last time round the (SDP) candidate was lesser known to residents,” he said.

In Dr Teo’s place, PAP’s Liang Eng Hwa, 56, will defend the SMC against SDP chairman Paul Tambyah, 55. In the last GE in 2015, the pair had faced off against each other as part of their respective parties’ teams in Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency (GRC). 

PAP’s Liang Eng Hwa, 56, will defend the Bukit Panjang SMC against SDP chairman Paul Tambyah, 55. In the last GE in 2015, the pair had faced off against each other as part of their respective parties’ teams in Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency. Photo: Ili Nadhirah Mansor

Mr Liang, who is a managing director at DBS bank, entered politics in 2006 after the PAP won Holland-Bukit Timah GRC uncontested.

Dr Tambyah, a senior infectious diseases consultant at the National University Hospital, made his electoral debut in the 2015 GE, where he was part of SDP’s Holland-Bukit Timah GRC team led by party chief Chee Soon Juan. In that election, the SDP team received 33.4 per cent of the vote, losing to the PAP team which was helmed by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and included Mr Liang.

Following Nomination Day on June 30, political analysts had singled out Bukit Panjang SMC as among the key electoral battlegrounds to watch.

ABOUT THE CONSTITUENCY

  • There are 35,497 voters in the constituency, about 1,200 more than the last GE in 2015. The SMC’s electoral boundaries were unchanged from the previous polls

  • Bukit Panjang New Town was initially known as Zhenghua. The first batch of Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats in Bukit Panjang New Town was completed in 1986

  • The area has a significant proportion of elderly residents, according to Dr Teo

  • Several blocks of flats are more than 30 years old, with Fajar Hills being the only Build-To-Order project completed in Bukit Panjang in the last five years

  • There are four private residential developments in Bukit Panjang. The latest condominium built was Eco Sanctuary in 2016

  • Among the amenities which are popular with residents — as well as people living in nearby housing estates — is the Bangkit Art Street located near Block 258

PAST POLLS

  • Bukit Panjang had been a single seat ward up till 1991, when it was subsumed into Sembawang GRC. In 2001, it became part of Holland-Bukit Panjang GRC

  • The constituency was carved out of the GRC as an SMC in 2006. Since then, Dr Teo has won three successive elections for Bukit Panjang SMC, getting at least two thirds of the vote each time. All three contests were against opponents from the SDP. His biggest win was in GE2006, when he received 77.18 per cent of the vote

  • Dr Teo stood against Mr Ling How Doong (who received 22.82 per cent of the vote) in 2006, Mr Alec Tok (33.73 per cent) in 2011 and Mr Khung Wai Yeen (31.62 per cent) in 2015

RESIDENTS GENERALLY SATISFIED

The electoral success enjoyed by Dr Teo and the PAP in Bukit Panjang was reflected in the residents’ general satisfaction in how the estate is being run, based on TODAY’s interviews with more than 20 residents.

Madam Susan Tan, 70, a retired teacher who has been living in Bukit Panjang for close to four decades, said that she has seen new improvements being made every year.

“I'm most glad about our Bukit Panjang bus interchange, which has direct buses to town. Previously, we had to head over to Chua Chu Kang to take buses,” she said.

Mdm Diana Koh, 71, cited the ample sheltered walkways as a welcome addition to the estate.

Apart from the infrastructure, several residents pointed to the strong community ties and the kampung spirit.

“Unlike their neighbourhoods, my friends said that the residents here seem very bonded,” Mdm Koh, who is a dance instructor, said. 

She said that whenever she invites her friends from other constituencies to the activities organised by the community clubs, they will comment about the positive environment in Bukit Panjang.

In 2017, the Bangkit Market was renovated and became what is now known as the Bangkit Art Street. While the market has always been teeming with people, it now has a bazaar-like atmosphere, with a high ceiling reminiscent of tentages at night markets. Stalls there sell items ranging from fruits and vegetables to hardware tools and beauty products.

Mdm Pang said: “The market here is very unique. There are very few estates with a market (like this)... People living far away will also make a trip (to come here)."

THE BUGBEARS   

However, the popularity of the Bangkit Art Street has resulted in insufficient car-park lots for residents living in nearby blocks.

About four years ago, a mechanised car park was piloted beside Block 259A Bangkit Road, to ease the car park crunch. It was one of three sites that were part of the HDB pilot programme. The others were along Yishun Avenue 4 and Changi Village Road.

HDB said in 2013 that the three sites identified had very high demand for parking and a shortage of lots. However, due to site constraints, it was not possible for HDB to add more lots by building more surface car parks or constructing multi-storey car parks.

Dr Teo had said then: “Over the weekend, we can see a lot of cars coming over here. I won’t say it is very, very chronic, but yes, there is a shortage of car parks over here.”

He had added that the demand for parking lots was expected to grow, with the hawker centre being ready by 2015 and because the town centre “serves the whole of Bukit Panjang and many residents of Chua Chu Kang and Bukit Timah come here”.

Several years on, Dr Chng noted that in spite of Dr Teo’s efforts, the car-park crunch has persisted with visitors competing with residents for parking lots.

Mrs Amy Low, 57, an oil and gas piping designer, said that she was “very unhappy” with the issue because she ends up having to park her car a few blocks away from her home. “I just had surgery and I can't walk very far,” she said.

Acknowledging the issue, Mr Liang, the PAP candidate for the constituency, told TODAY that the estate was attracting visitors who live in places such as Bukit Batok and even Woodlands.

Mr Liang, who had spent 14 years as an MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, added that he has not had the opportunity to look into the issue deeply, having heard about it from residents during his walkabouts for this GE. 

Nevertheless, for a start, if he is elected, he would try to get more visitors from nearby areas to take public transport instead of driving to Bukit Panjang.

His opponent, Dr Tambyah, also said that this issue has been raised to him by residents. The shortage has even led to fights over parking lots, he noted. 

Speaking to TODAY, he said he would address the parking crunch if he were to be elected, alongside other issues such as the lack of lifts at some older HDB flats as well as noise from trucks delivering goods to coffee shops.

“When we sit down and listen to residents, get them to talk to us, we will find a solution. I've got confidence,” said Dr Tambyah.

Another issue raised by residents is the Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit (LRT) system, which has been operating since 1999. Since December last year, the LRT trains only operate in one direction during off-peak hours.

One resident, Ms Fiona Loh, 27, said she was very pleased with the LRT system because of the convenience it brought until it was turned into a one-way service. 

“They also made weekends non-peak, so we have to squeeze in with all the residents to go on a loop,” she said.

While feeder bus services have been added to the estate, she said that the waiting time is too long.

Another resident, Mr J M Aw, 25, who stays in Pending Road, said his parents travel to Fajar to work using the LRT. “There is no straight bus to Fajar from my house. During non-peak hours, my parents are affected (by the one-way service),” he said.

In March 2018, then Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan announced that the ageing Bukit Panjang LRT system will undergo a S$344 million overhaul to replace its existing signalling system and to install new and improved vehicles.

Over the decades, the Bukit Panjang LRT system has been plagued by several issues. In September 2017, Mr Khaw described it as an “afterthought” that was built under “political pressure”, resulting in a design that makes for uncomfortable rides.

He later said that the authorities were mulling over whether or not to shut the network down for major upgrading works. But he would be “hard put” to take this decision, because it could mean residents going without the LRT service for three years.

Another issue raised by residents is the Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit (LRT) system, which has been operating since 1999. Since December last year, the LRT trains only operate in one direction during off-peak hours. Photo: Ngau Kai Yan/TODAY

Mr Liang noted that the frequent breakdowns of the LRT trains was a legacy issue caused by the power system, and this was not fixed earlier despite interim upgrades previously. The overhaul, which is on track for completion by 2024, would fix the problem “once and for all”, he said.

He also explained that having the LRT service run only in one direction during off-peak hours was necessary to prevent more stress to the system while the engineers are progressively fixing the power system.

He hopes that the two-way service would resume soon, though he was unable to give a definite timeline.

Overall, despite the existing transportation issues, the residents noted the estate’s rapid development over the years.

Mdm Tan said: “Forty years ago when we moved here, we had nothing. The transport was inaccessible and there were barely any amenities. Now I feel very proud of this place.”

Nevertheless, the residents said they were looking forward to the electoral contest, which has generated excitement in the sleepy estate for the first time in many years.

Despite Dr Teo’s strong track record and rapport with the residents, they noted that Mr Liang is new to the estate and could face a bigger challenge from the opposition compared with his predecessor.

“Dr Paul Tambyah is a strong contender given his background as an infectious disease expert and his role as the chairman of SDP. He can speak Mandarin very well, too,” said Mdm Pang.  

Related topics

Singapore General Election SGVotes2020 Bukit Panjang SMC Paul Tambyah Liang Eng Hwa

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.