DPM Heng in surprise switch as battle lines are drawn for all 93 seats

Pasir Ris-Punggol is the first GRC to host a three-cornered fight in a GE; two PAP first-time candidates are fielded in single seats as 9-day campaign begins


A CHANGE in scene for Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and a historic three-cornered fight in a group representation constituency (GRC) were among the surprises on Nomination Day, as contests were confirmed for all 93 seats in 31 constituencies for the July 10 General Election (GE).

Formerly the anchor minister for Tampines GRC, Mr Heng will lead the People's Action Party (PAP) team against the Workers' Party (WP) in East Coast GRC, which was where the two parties fought a close fight in the last polls five years ago.

In speeches on Tuesday, he and other political office-holders called on voters to give a strong mandate to the PAP teams to lead Singapore through the Covid-19 crisis.

In a letter to voters, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong repeated this message, writing: "The next months and years will be make or break for Singapore. We need the most capable team in charge, and a government which has your strong mandate."

With a total of 192 candidates filing their papers at nine nomination centres, 11 parties - and one independent candidate - are in the race.

For the first time, a GRC will experience a three-way battle. In Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, the PAP team led by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean faces the Singapore Democratic Alliance, which has contested there since 2006, and the Peoples Voice party.

Pioneer SMC also has three candidates jostling for the seat - former West Coast GRC PAP backbencher Patrick Tay, Progress Singapore Party (PSP) candidate Lim Cher Hong, and independent Cheang Peng Wah.

One burning question before Nomination Day was finally put to rest as PM Lee's younger brother Lee Hsien Yang, a card-carrying member of the PSP, did not contest in the end.

On Facebook, Mr Lee Hsien Yang wrote that political involvement can take many forms, such as contributing to public discourse and supporting parties.

The PSP - taking part in its first GE - is fielding the largest opposition slate of 24 candidates in this election, followed by the WP with 21, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) with 11, and the National Solidarity Party (NSP) and Peoples Voice with 10 each.

Mr Heng was not the only minister to switch constituencies on Nomination Day. In what Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) senior research fellow Natalie Pang called a "telling" move, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, formerly from Jurong GRC, is being fielded in West Coast GRC to face PSP chief Tan Cheng Bock's team.

"The PAP is clearly not taking the challenge posed by WP and PSP lightly," said Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan.

"PSP's pointed election message of the PAP being a different and poorer party compared to the past can be a potent narrative that the PAP is determined should not gain appeal among voters," he said.

For the WP, the only opposition party with elected MPs in the previous parliament, this is the first GE with Pritam Singh at the helm. Former party chief Low Thia Khiang announced last week that he is not contesting, after 29 years as an MP.

Mr Singh has the task of retaining WP's prized Aljunied GRC, the first and only opposition-held GRC, with fellow incumbents Sylvia Lim and Faisal Manap, and former Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs) Gerald Giam and Leon Perera.

They face a PAP team of three returning candidates, and two new faces in Chan Hui Yuh and Alex Yeo.

On Tuesday, Mr Singh reiterated the WP's warning about the risk of an opposition "wipeout", with the PAP making a clean sweep of all 93 seats.

But in a separate press conference, PM Lee said that there will be a "significant opposition presence" in Parliament regardless of results, as the NCMP scheme guarantees the presence of at least 12 opposition members in the House.

East Coast GRC is seen as one of the main contests to watch, with the WP team including Nicole Seah, who made ripples in 2011 as the star candidate of the NSP.

Online sentiment about her has been positive, with younger voters in particular seeming "excited about her return to electoral politics", said the IPS' Dr Pang.

Mr Heng is taking over as anchor minister of East Coast GRC from retiring former minister Lim Swee Say.

Taking Mr Heng's place in Tampines GRC is Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon, formerly from Ang Mo Kio GRC.

Unlike the PSP and WP, the SDP's top leaders chose to go solo in single-seat wards.

SDP chairman Paul Tambyah faces former Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa in Bukit Panjang SMC; the party's secretary-general Chee Soon Juan faces incumbent Murali Pillai in Bukit Batok SMC, in a repeat of their duel in the 2016 by-election there.

The SDP also did some shuffling, after Singaporeans First founder Tan Jee Say dissolved his party and joined them earlier this week.

Mr Tan is part of the SDP's Holland-Bukit Timah GRC team. Robin Low, who was expected to be in that team, is instead standing in Yuhua SMC. Benjamin Pwee, who was seen doing walkabouts in Yuhua, is part of the Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC team.

Two first-time PAP candidates are waging solo battles in single member constituencies. Singapore's first female brigadier-general Gan Siow Huang is running in Marymount SMC against the PSP's Ang Yong Guan, who is taking part in his third GE.

Former civil servant Yip Hon Weng is the PAP's representative in Yio Chu Kang SMC, where a three-way fight was eventually dodged as the Reform Party gave way to the PSP's candidate Kayla Low.

Meanwhile, one of WP's new candidates, Tan Chen Chen, is taking on PAP incumbent Sun Xueling in the new Punggol West SMC, which was carved out of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

With the close of nomination proceedings and the issuing of the notice of a contested election, the nine-day campaign began on Tuesday afternoon. Posters went up, candidates hit the ground on foot and in vehicles, and some parties held online rallies in the evening.

With physical rallies banned due to Covid-19 safe-distancing restrictions, candidates in this GE will get special airtime on national TV and radio. They will also rely on various online channels to get their messages out to as many of the 2.65 million voters as possible.

But the amount of time the voters actually have to go through the deluge of content put out by the parties ahead of Polling Day on July 10 is another question, said Dr Pang.

"What's really crucial is that every message that they put out is intentional and well thought out," she said.