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Sengkang GRC Victory: How The Workers' Party Won And What Went Wrong For The PAP

Following the General Election 2020’s results on Saturday morning (July 11), the People’s Action Party (PAP) has lost another Group Representation Constituency (GRC) in a “tough fight” against the Workers’ Party (WP).

Sengkang GRC fell to the WP with 52.13 per cent of the vote against 47.87 per cent by the PAP.

On top of that, The Workers’ Party has maintained its stronghold on Aljunied GRC since the 2011 General Election.

How did four relatively fresh faces from WP win against a PAP team consisting of three political office-holders?

Who Was In The PAP Team?

(From left to right) Raymond Lye, Amrin Amin, Ng Chee Meng and Lam Pin Min / Image Credit: Ng Chee Meng’s Facebook page

The PAP team was led by Ng Chee Meng, and consisted of Dr Lam Pin Min, Amrin Amin and new face Raymond Lye.

Ng Chee Meng

Ng Chee Meng is the Secretary-General of National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and had contested in Pasir Ris–Punggol GRC in the 2015 general election. The PAP team won, clinching 72.89 per cent of the vote.

Following the 2015 general election, Ng was appointed acting Minister of Education (Schools). Subsequently, Ng was the Second Minister for Transport and Minister of Education (Schools) from 1 November 2016 – 30 April 2018.

He was also conferred an incumbent minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in 2018.

In light of losing to the WP team in the 2020 General Election, he has since lost his ministerial post.

For the record, this is the first time he has ever led a General Election and he has less than 5 years of office-holder appointments.

While he will remain secretary- general of the NTUC, people may have been unhappy with the job losses during the pandemic, though he has said that NTUC “will continue preserving and creating jobs”.

Lam Pin Min

Dr Lam was first elected to parliament at the 2006 general election as a member of the PAP team led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Ang Mo Kio GRC. The team defeated Workers’ Party with 66.1 per cent of the votes.

He then stood at the 2011 general election in the single-member Sengkang West SMC and won 58.1 per cent of the votes against Koh Choong Yong of the Workers’ Party.

At the 2015 general election, Lam defeated Koh again in Sengkang West SMC after scoring 62.1 per cent of the vote. Sengkang West SMC, in light of the 2020 General Election, would later on be dissolved and split between Ang Mo Kio GRC and the new Sengkang GRC.

Lam also served as the Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health from 2009 to 2014 (having previously been the Deputy Chairman from 2006 to 2008).

In August 2014, Lam was appointed a Minister of State in the Ministry of Health.

Subsequently in May 2017, Lam was appointed Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Transport.

In November 2019, Dr Lam had announced the ban of e-scooters on footpaths. Food delivery riders then turned up in droves at various meet-the-people sessions in different constituencies, to voice out their frustrations against the ban.

Apparently, the meet-the-people session with Dr Lam was the most heated session as several participants suggested to reverse the ban and criticised the decision behind it. Many depended on food delivery as their livelihoods.

Many were also not receptive towards the S$7 million trade-in assistance programme, which allow riders to switch their devices to power-assisted bicycles or e-bikes without any added cost to themselves.

Amrin Amin

Amrin Amin was Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health and previously served at Sembawang GRC for Woodlands from September 2015 to June 2020.

Amrin had became a prominent grassroots activist in Sembawang GRC soon after the General Elections of 2011. Subsequently in 2015, Amrin was also elected as an MP for Sembawang GRC.

He was then fielded as a candidate of Sengkang GRC for GE 2020. With that, it is safe to say that he was a new, unfamiliar face in the Sengkang space.

Raymond Lye

Lye is a Managing Partner of Union Law LLP and previously served as a Magistrate and Deputy Registrar of the State Courts, before joining private practice, and founding his own law firm in 2014.

He has more than 20 years of town council experience and is the chairman of the Punggol East Citizens’ Consultative Committee.

He was also conferred the Public Service Star (BBM) and Public Service Medal (PBM) in 2008 and 1998 respectively.

Despite that, he may have been a relatively new face in the Sengkang GRC.

Who Was In The WP Team?

(Clockwise) He Ting Ru, Jamus Lim, Louis Chua and Raeesah Khan / Image Credit: WP

The WP team is led by lawyer He Ting Ru, and also consists of associate professor Jamus Lim, social activist Raeesah Khan and equity research analyst Louis Chua.

He Ting Ru

He Ting Ru had made her debut in the 2015 General Election, garnering 35.93 per cent of the vote in Marine Parade GRC against the PAP team led by then Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. 

Among the opposition candidates who made their debut at the 2015 General Election, she arguably rose to prominence the fastest.

The Cambridge-educated corporate lawyer was quickly heralded as the new Nicole Seah, after the former National Solidarity Party candidate who made such a splash in the 2011 General Election.

The similarities between He and Seah were uncanny — young, articulate, well-educated and easy on the eye.

Jamus Lim

There was nothing quite like the rousing speech WP’s Jamus Lim gave, which shook up the entire nation.

During a live debate broadcast on TV on 1 July, Associate Professor Lim who represented the WP, had become the party’s star candidate as he held his own against Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

The WP is not trying to deny the ruling PAP a strong mandate, he had said.

“What we’re trying to deny them is a blank cheque,” added Lim, an economist at Essec Business School.

“I call on voters: If you believe in having all voices heard, if you believe that we succeed only when we have sound and rational debate about what matters, if you believe in the essence of a democratic, modern society for the 21st century, then we ask that you make your vote count, and that you will vote for the Workers’ Party.”

Prof Lim, in his closing statement, said it was clear from the debate, which he said he had enjoyed, that the PAP “does not have a monopoly on the best ideas on how we should bring society forward”.

Tackling the question on improving the lives of Singaporeans despite the economic outlook regionally and internationally, Lim pointed out that Singapore should not “hamper the economy” by “raising taxes” and that the idea of “raising taxes at this time is counterproductive and cyclical”.

Lim also addressed social issues, pointing out that it is “a crime” to have the elderly work “in order to make ends meet”.

With that, Lim had received a lot of praise from many Singaporeans for his ability to address all the issues that Singaporeans are facing.

Raeesah Khan

Just five days before Polling Day, two police reports were lodged against Khan regarding comments she made online in 2018 on race and religion. She immediately apologised publicly and confirmed that she would fully cooperate with police investigations.

A day later, the leader of the Workers’ Party, Pritam Singh, had stood forward and expressed his support for his member.

With that, Singaporeans had widely praised WP’s timely leadership, saying that this is how a leader should be like.

Facebook screengrab from NUS – No Use Singapore

In contrast, PAP’s response towards the earlier scandal of candidate Ivan Lim received a lot of flak and criticism. Lim was left to fend on his own, fielded questions from the media and eventually pulled out from the contesting team for Jurong GRC.

The police investigation did not stop Raeesah Khan from campaigning and running in the election. Young people look to these kinds of leaders.

Younger voters and minorities were quite upset at how she was treated. Hashtags such as #IStandWithRaeesah began trending on Twitter and a public group page called We Stand Behind Raeesah! was started on Facebook.

Louis Chua

A political newcomer, Chua is an equity research analyst with a global investment bank.

Though less well-known than the other members on his team, he has spoken persuasively about building a more resilient society with a greater diversity of voices in Parliament.

A Younger Demographic Favoured WP

Both PAP and WP teams had competent candidates but there was one main factor that made residents feel more connected to WP.

The WP’s Sengkang team consists of young parents with children under the age of four. As a result, they had positioned themselves as young parents who could identify with the aspirations and challenges of the residents they wanted to serve.

Image Credit: He Ting Ru/Facebook

According to data from the Singapore Department of Statistics, Sengkang’s residents are younger than the national average: More than 65 per cent of residents are aged below 45 and less than 10 per cent are aged above 65. 

Furthermore, the WP displayed a strong use of social media — through the Hammer Show and Instagram stories — to approach younger voters.

This was a smart move from the WP as they fielded a team of candidates who were able to relate to and win over the younger residents in Sengkang.

In comparison, the PAP fielded an older, all-male and high-powered slate, who could have appeared a bit remote to the residents.

Did WP’s Policies Appeal More To The Residents?

In the constituency political broadcast on 7 July, WP’s Jamus Lim had explained to Sengkang residents what their plans are for the newly-created GRC.

He said that the new Town Council in the Sengkang GRC would draw on the party’s experience in Punggol East and it would be “just as good, if not better, than those run by the PAP.”

Minister and labour chief Ng Chee Meng had said, “We want you and your children to have a good future, to have good opportunities to progress, and live a good life in Sengkang. We hear also your desire to build Sengkang into a better home for ourselves. If we are elected, the first thing we will do is to form the Sengkang Together movement, to co-develop our Sengkang town together. As part of this we will set up a new Sengkang Town Council to better serve your municipal needs.”

On his part, Lim said, “Let me remind you of what we offer. We don’t just want more of the same, more covered walkways, more lift upgrades. We also want to tackle issues that truly matter to the people in Sengkang—relieving bottlenecks in childcare centers, dedicated paths for bicycles and PMDs, and more neighborhood spaces.

Image Credit: He Ting Ru/Facebook

“We will do so with a new Town Council and the system will draw on the experience of our history in Punggol East and our management of other Worker Party wards, which are just as good, if not better, than those run by the PAP.”

He Ting Ru also brought up issues in Singapore’s educational system, reiterating the opposition party’s call for smaller classes, more inclusion, and better funding schemes for less popular schools.

Whereas for Raeesah Khan and Louis Chua, they had discussed the quality of life in Singapore.

Khan tackled the “deep-rooted inequality” in Singapore, saying, “Today, people trapped in misfortune and want to speak up are excluded.”

Image Credit: He Ting Ru/Facebook

She added that “Singapore needs to be a fair and just country. The election is an election for all — the people who work hard for the country.” 

Chua had expressed the lack of improvement of the quality of life in Singapore and said that the WP is endeavouring to decrease cost of living pressures and to make sure Singaporeans can adequately support themselves.

It was clear that the WP acknowledged the policies that PAP has put forward but also identified the gaps and aimed to fill up those gaps to improve residents’ livelihoods.

Should PAP Have Sent Out A More Experienced Team For Sengkang?

This is the first time Ng Chee Meng (previously from Pasir Ris- Punggol GRC) has led a General Election, and only the second term that Amrin Amin (previously from Sembawang GRC) and Lam Pin Min (Sengkang West SMC) have participated in a General Election.

Looking at how PAP had fielded seasoned Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat to East Coast GRC at the last minute, we wonder if they should have done the same for Sengkang GRC since they had anticipated a “tough fight” with WP.

Even then, Heng’s team had only won by a small margin of 3.41 per cent against the WP team of Nicole Seah, Terence Tan, Dylan Ng, Kenneth Foo and Abdul Shariff Bin Aboo Kassim.

This showed that fielding the future PM to “save” East Coast GRC may not have been as strong a move as we thought.

In fact, the WP’s Sengkang team clearly has less political experience than their PAP counterparts but that did not stop them from winning the votes.

This is because they were able to position themselves as fitting representatives of the Sengkang residents by identifying with the aspirations and challenges of the residents they wanted to serve.

Featured Image Credit: WP/PAP

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