SINGAPORE – The largest single-member constituency of Bukit Panjang will remain in the hands of the People’s Action Party (PAP).
The ruling party’s Mr Liang Eng Hwa has won 53.74 per cent of all valid votes, and the Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) Professor Paul Tambyah, 46.26 per cent.
The contest between Mr Liang and the SDP chairman – an infectious diseases expert who has criticised the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic – had been closely watched and the constituency touted as a hot seat.
Comprising about 160 Housing Board blocks and three condominiums, Bukit Panjang has 35,497 registered voters.
Since the SMC was created in 2006, the PAP and SDP have faced off in four elections, with the SDP fielding a different candidate each time.
In 2015, the PAP’s Dr Teo Ho Pin won 68.38 per cent of the valid votes and in 2011, 66.27 per cent. In the 2006 General Election, the ruling party took home 77.18 per cent of the votes.
Mr Liang, 56, became the PAP candidate after Dr Teo, who held the SMC for three terms, announced he was stepping down.
His opponent was revealed only on Nomination Day when Prof Tambyah, a professor of medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS), made an unexpected switch from Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, which he had contested in 2015, in what Prof Tambyah described as a “strategic decision” by the SDP.
Mr Liang had also contested as part of the PAP team in the same GRC in 2015.
Prof Tambyah said then: “You know Mr Liang also moved across from Holland-Bukit Timah. So, in a way, you could say I followed him.”
A managing director at DBS Bank, Mr Liang on Wednesday (July 8) described his campaign as “going to the people, the household, the bus stop, the neighbourhood locations to hear first-hand what people are saying and to deal with their issues”.
He emphasised that the projects he had pushed for over the years – including the addition of bus services and the upgrading of the Bukit Panjang LRT – as three-term MP for Zhenghua ward in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC have also benefited residents in neighbouring Bukit Panjang SMC.
As the hustings progressed however, victory looked uncertain, especially when Prof Tambyah, 56, started grabbing headlines with his Covid-19 remarks.
Throwing their weight behind Mr Liang, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Culture, Community and Youth, joined him in Bukit Panjang for two walkabouts over the weekend, touting his ability to helm town council matters.
They tipped Mr Liang to be the chairman of the Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council if elected and declared there would be differences “residents can feel” if the joint town council were to be split, should either constituency fall to the SDP.
Away from municipal issues, Mr Liang pledged to also speak up on national issues like manpower and foreign workers.
He told The Straits Times on Wednesday that he could be as rigorous a check on the Government as an opposition MP, citing his past questions in Parliament about bread-and-butter issues like the cost of living.
Other priorities set out in his manifesto include institutionalising flexible work arrangements, improving health insurance plans for locals, pushing for the wider use of electric vehicles, and job creation.
Prof Tambyah, meanwhile, had focused mainly on the SDP’s campaign slogan of “Four Yes, One No”. Yes, to suspending the goods and services tax until the end of next year, retrenchment benefits for workers laid off owing to the economic impact of Covid-19, a $500 monthly payment for 80 per cent of retirees and putting the people’s interest first.
The one thing they do not want: Raising Singapore’s population, fuelled by immigration, to 10 million people.
During the campaign, the SDP became embroiled in a dispute over a 10 million population target it accused the PAP of “toying with”.
The PAP, however, rejected this suggestion as a falsehood aimed at misleading and frightening voters.
Chief of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Tan Cheng Bok, showed his support for the SDP candidate when he accompanied Prof Tambyah on a Bukit Panjang walkabout on Tuesday.
The two also challenged the PAP to a debate on the Covid-19 pandemic, although this never materialised.
Despite the hot contest and media attention, the two have refrained from personal attacks.
Throughout the hustings, Prof Tambyah said that Mr Liang and he had always been on friendly terms, describing his rival as a “very nice guy”.
Mr Liang, meanwhile, had declined to comment on the controversy surrounding Prof Tambyah’s Covid-19 remarks and said he wanted to “focus on my residents”.