The WP’s Sengkang GRC candidates (from left) Raeesah Khan, Louis Chua, He Ting Ru and Jamus Lim.
SINGAPORE – In the largest upset of the election, the Workers’ Party has won the new Sengkang GRC, garnering 52.13 per cent of the vote against a 47.87 per cent share for the People’s Action Party.
The WP took 60,136 votes, while the PAP got 55,214 votes. This would mean that the fresh-faced WP team has claimed the opposition party’s second GRC, following a tough fight for the new constituency.
Anchorvale residents greeted the history-making results with cheers when the sample count earlier in the night had indicated the new GRC would likely change hands.
Said Sengkang resident and hotel manager Akmal Yusoff, 30: “With change comes a bit of uncertainty. I do hope this will be a positive one for my family and our estate, and I look forward to see good things in our neighbourhood.
“I look forward to seeing how this team can share a fresh voice in our government policies.”
The WP’s team was led by lawyer He Ting Ru, 37, alongside economics professor Jamus Lim, 44, social enterprise founder Raeesah Khan, 26, and equity research analyst Louis Chua Kheng Wee, 33.
The PAP team consisted of labour chief Ng Chee Meng, 51, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health Lam Pin Min, 50, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health Amrin Amin, 41, and lawyer Raymond Lye, 54.
The mood was somber among PAP’s Sengkang team members in the early hours of the morning on Saturday.
Mr Ng, addressing the media in Anchorvale shortly before 4am, said: “Obviously the results didn’t quite go the way we had wanted, but we want to thank the different activists, volunteers, sisters and brothers that have stepped up to help in our campaign and serve our residents.
“In the last few weeks, it has been a wonderful journey in Sengkang, walking the town, talking to different residents, the smiles, the welcoming hellos, and especially the kids that I’ve met really warmed our hearts.
He added: “But unfortunately, given the results tonight, I can only say say thank you for voting for us, for supporting the PAP team.”
Asked by ST why he thought the vote swung in WP’s favour, Mr Ng said: “Let us take some time to regroup and evaluate the different factors. It probably would be multifaceted issues that the team will have to deal with. Let us discuss with colleagues and get a thorough understanding of the ground again, in the Sengkang area especially, and then we can plot our way forward.”
Sengkang GRC had absorbed Punggol East SMC and part of Sengkang West SMC, traditional stomping grounds for the WP that were contested by the party in the last election.
The battle in north-east Singapore was among the most closely watched contests in this general election.
Pundits had expected this fight in Sengkang to be intense for several reasons: the WP’s history and presence in the area, the “unpredictability factor” of a new GRC, and the performance of Associate Professor Jamus Lim, who won praise for how he handled himself against foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan in a televised debate during the campaign.
At the live debate, Prof Lim urged Singaporeans to vote for the WP and deny the PAP “a blank cheque”.
The PAP’s surprise decision to move Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat from Tampines GRC to East Coast GRC – thereby reducing the WP’s chances in East Coast – also shifted public attention to the WP’s “next-strongest” team, analysts said.
Besides Punggol East and part of Sengkang West, the four-member group representation constituency that was created after electoral boundaries were redrawn in March also takes in the Sengkang Central ward of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.
The GRC thus covers the Anchorvale, Compassvale and Rivervale neighbourhoods, and a younger, more middle-class demographic than the national average. Part of Sengkang had leaned towards the opposition previously.
In 2015, PAP stalwart Charles Chong won Punggol East SMC by a slim 51.77 per cent of the vote, against WP incumbent Lee Li Lian. Ms Lee had won the single seat in a 2013 by-election.
That 2015 election saw the PAP’s Dr Lam win Sengkang West SMC, with 62.13 per cent of the vote against WP opponent Koh Choong Yong. The PAP’s national vote share was 69.9 per cent that year.
PAP activists told ST that the party did better among older residents, especially in the former Punggol East SMC, which is the older part of Sengkang.
By comparison, Anchorvale and Sengkang Central consisted mainly of young HDB families.
During the nine-day campaign, the PAP team had a whiff that the contest could be harder than originally thought, said one activist. The team met with some hostility among some younger voters, who appeared to have found an opposition hero in the WP’s Prof Lim, an economist at Essec Business School.
It did not help that the two PAP candidates that were to take over in Sengkang Central – Mr Ng and Mr Amrin – were new to the area and unfamiliar to the residents, he said.
“It rang alarm bells, but it was too late (in the campaign),” said one party insider.
The new GRC also had its fair share of drama during the campaign. On the weekend before Polling Day, two police reports were filed against the WP’s Ms Raeesah for remarks she had made in two Facebook posts in February 2018 and May this year.
The posts suggested that police officers discriminated against citizens, that rich Chinese and white people were treated differently under the law, and that minorities and mosque leaders were given different treatment compared with church leaders. Ms Raeesah apologised that same weekend, joined by WP leaders Pritam Singh and Sylvia Lim as well as her Sengkang teammates.
Marketing executive Annabel Lim, 32, said it felt like a close fight from the start of hustings, “like it was 50-50 and could swing either way”.
“As a new GRC, nobody knows who the vote will go to, and WP winning marks new beginnings for a new GRC,” said Ms Lim, who became a Sengkang resident three years ago.
“I believe the policies they were pushing resonated with residents, and I hope WP will do a good job and keep their promises in making this a better neighbourhood.”