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Potong Pasir, the People’s town – Part 2

Howard Lee & Benjamin Cheah /

"Hi, are you a resident of Potong Pasir?"

"No no no..."

You would be surprised at the number of people who are not Potong Pasir residents, but happen to be in Potong Pasir, when we dropped in for this article on a rainy Sunday morning.

Or perhaps we looked like a couple of sneaky insurance salesmen. But giving away that we were from TOC did get us a few smiles and some answers to two questions that we had: "What changes do residents of Potong Pasir wish to see in their town?" and "What do they hope that their new Member of Parliament can do for them?"

The questions were the result of a nagging suspicion that, for all that the candidates have promised Potong Pasir residents during the recent general elections, they might not really have got to the root of their interests and wishes. And judging from the responses we received from our quick ground poll, in some ways, we may be right.

Fix it where it is worth

If there was one common theme that ran through the responses of all the people who responded to our questions, it was a strong desire for the town council to get the basics right. The key area of contention: installing lifts on every floor of the public housing blocks.

"(We want) lifts on every floor," said Mr Tai, 19. "If you look around this area, most of the residents are quite old."

His brother, 17, also agreed, and was disappointed that the Singapore People's Party, which held the town council seat for the past 27 years, could not accomplish this; a "five-year promise" that was not fulfilled.

It was apparent that the Tai brothers, while not of voting age, have strong views on what needs to be done for the less fortunate in this town, which might be a reflection of a growing desire for physical change among the residents.

But we may be wrong to think that residents want an overhaul of Potong Pasir. "I hope that things will not change that much," opined Fazli, 30. "This place is peaceful, happy. We don't want places that attract attention."

He was referring to plans by the People's Action Party’s Sitoh Yih Pin to build shopping centres and a waterfront recreational area at the nearby Kallang River. "I just hope (Sitoh) can maintain the area, make it better for the elderly."

Promises made, promises kept?

If anything, it might seem that the PAP was voted in as a test to see if it can really fulfill what the SPP had promised but, according to some residents, had fallen short.

Ms Chua, 53, replied tersely to our questions: "If Sitoh Yih Pin delivers, then it is okay."

Others were less optimistic. Albeit being in a position of bias, Mr Ramesh, 48 and an SPP grassroots member, had difficulties trusting Sitoh to do the job right. "All the town council staff were fired," he said, referring to the recent incident where Sitoh allegedly went back on his word to the Chiams. "I have no confidence in him. Mr Chiam, what he has promised, he (has done his best to) deliver."

Somewhere among the sentiments, we sensed a certain tiredness among the residents; it has been a long 27 years being this model of holding out against the temptations of upgrading for the vague honour of being the cornerstone of Singapore democracy.

One resident, perhaps in his late forties, who did not want to be named, offered a glimpse into this psyche: “The rest is up to Aljunied – we have done our part.”

Was there a spirit of resilience among the residents to defend the fierce democratic reputation of Potong Pasir? Is it still there? Wilfred Leung, in our earlier interview leading up to the general elections, said that Potong Pasir residents were voters who were beyond their time.

Our sense is that there is still a certain spark, but pragmatism could have taken over many, and the decision to turn their neighbourhood for the better was not an easy one to make.

We can’t blame them for taking a calculated risk. Neither should we see it as a failure of SPP, nor the confident success of PAP in recapturing the seat. The truth is, there is still some misinterpretation of what Potong Pasir residents really want to make it their kind of town, and a forward-looking one at that. By all counts, both parties still have a long way to go.

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Read Part 1 HERE.