While the sudden positioning of former Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in East Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC) may have served as a “strategic surprise” from the People’s Action Party (PAP), the Workers’ Party (WP) will approach it as a “strong challenge”, said WP secretary-general Pritam Singh on Wednesday (1 July).
Singapore Cancer Society deputy director Kenneth Foo Seck Guan, one of the candidates for WP East Coast GRC, said that it will not be his first time going against a PAP cadre who has held a ministerial position, referencing former Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam in Nee Soon GRC in 2015.
Mr Foo added that the WP team had been walking the ground in the past five years in East Coast.
“Although we are new here, the work has been consistently done. And that is what we should continue to do for the way forward,” he added.
Part of the PAP’s top brass, Mr Heng is PAP’s first assistant secretary-general and was the anchor minister in his previously held ward Tampines GRC.
He will be running alongside former Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, three-term backbencher Jessica Tan, former Infocomm Media Development Authority CEO Tan Kiat How, and one-term Fengshan MP Cheryl Chan.
Fengshan SMC has been incorporated into East Coast GRC for this election.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Singh said that Mr Heng’s presence in East Coast GRC “sends an important signal” that PAP considers WP as a serious opponent.
Speaking to the media near a coffee shop at Block 322 Hougang Avenue 5, Mr Singh said that its decision to “put a strong slate of candidates” in East Coast GRC is a way of demonstrating that the party is also taking PAP’s challenge seriously.
Separately on Nomination Day yesterday, party chair Sylvia Lim said that WP is honoured that PAP “has seen fit” to send Mr Heng to helm its team in East Coast GRC.
However, she said that WP is “quietly confident” that the candidates it has fielded in the ward and the five other constituencies it is contesting this year are “strong and diverse” who will be able to represent the residents well in Parliament.
Other than Mr Foo, WP’s East Coast GRC team comprises wealth advisory firm director Dylan Ng Foo Eng, lawyer Terence Tan Li-Chern, former researcher Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim and advertising executive Seah Xue Ling Nicole Rebecca — known more popularly as Nicole Seah.
Posters of the WP East Coast GRC team have been spotted in the ward following their official nomination on Tuesday, as captured by a TOC correspondent along Bedok North Ave 2/3 and New Upper Changi Road on Tuesday.
WP volunteers were also seen going on house visits the same day in the area while wearing masks and complying with safe distancing measures.
Get to know WP’s GE2020 East Coast GRC team of candidates
Terence Tan Li-Chern
Mr Tan, 49, led the WP candidate team in the Marine Parade GRC last election.
He owns a law firm specialising in litigation commercial disputes, and is frequently involved with legal aid initiatives such as the Hougang Community Legal Clinic.
A central executive committee member in WP, Mr Tan began volunteering with WP in 2011 and has assisted previous Aljunied GRC MP Faisal Manap in Meet-the-People Sessions.
The interest of Singaporeans, he said, should be at the “very forefront of government policies”.
This is why the function of Parliament, he said, is “not to rubber-stamp Government bills”, but to have “rigorous debates” on whether its policies will benefit Singaporeans.
Singaporeans need more constructive alternative voices in Parliament to call out instances “where the emperor may not wear clothes” in terms of putting forth policies for the people and the nation, said Mr Tan.
Seah Xue Ling, Nicole Rebecca
Ms Seah, 33, is an associate director at a multinational marketing company who began volunteering with WP after the end of the 2015 GE. She has been seen walking the ground in East Coast GRC.
Touching on why she joined WP after her previous stint in politics with the National Solidarity Party — contesting in Marine Parade GRC in GE 2011 — Ms Seah said that she was drawn to WP’s “ethos” as a rational and “reasonable opposition that contributes to our political landscape in Singapore in a constructive manner”.
“It’s a party that does not oppose for the sake of opposing,” she said.
To be a truly progressive society, said Ms Seah, Singapore politicians need to move towards “debating in the spirit of the argument” and away from “character assassination, astroturfing and gutter politics”.
A key issue she aims to bring to Parliament is the issue of youth employability.
Drawing from her experience as a part of management in a multinational company, Ms Seah said she saw firsthand that certain youths are being hired based on greater life experience or having “more global exposure”.
Such exposure, she said, is “not available to everyone”, and hiring based on such a criterion places many other youths “at a disadvantage when they come out into the workforce”.
Dylan Ng Foo Eng
Mr Ng, 45, was a candidate for Marine Parade GRC in GE 2015. He has 20 years’ of experience in banking and finance including business compliance, and has been heavily involved in WP’s grassroots work since eight years ago.
He hopes to see a more balanced Parliament with “diverse” views and where critics or alternative voices are not marginalised.
Kenneth Foo Seck Guan
Mr Guan, 43, deputy director of Singapore Cancer Society, contested in Nee Soon GRC in GE 2015.
He has been shouldering the roles of WP’s deputy organising secretary and a legislative assistant to party chair Sylvia Lim, and has been greatly involved in the party’s outreach programmes.
Citing values such as accountability, responsibility, transparency, Mr Foo highlighted how WP has voted in Parliament against the GST hike due to a lack of concrete details behind the move.
A “strong opposition” party, he said, will hold the government accountable for questions that are “half-answered” or unanswered.
Former researcher Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim
New candidate Mr Abdul Shariff, 54, left his job as a researcher due to his previous workplace’s “non-partisanship” policy, which he describes as a “small sacrifice” to make for the betterment of Singapore and Singaporeans.
However, he said that his former employers and colleagues, as well as his friends, have congratulated him and wished him well on his political endeavour.
Mr Abdul Shariff’s journey prior to politics was not one without obstacles, as he recalled working what he described as “menial jobs” such as security personnel, despatch rider, bus driver, and general worker well into his 30s to put himself through his Economics degree at Singapore Management University.
What sparked his desire to enter politics was observing — as a volunteer in the Aljunied GRC — how a Meet-the-People session with WP chief Pritam Singh was conducted at housing estates’ void deck “out in the open” on humid evenings.
Despite Mr Singh’s makeshift desk and the lack of facilities, said Mr Abdul Shariff, the former “attended to every resident without fail”, and WP volunteers “diligently” carried out their responsibilities despite an uneven playing field in terms of resources compared to the People’s Action Party.
“To me, it reflected the difficulties and obstacles confronting those who dare to disagree with the ruling party,” he said.
Mr Abdul Shariff also challenged elitist mindsets that blame the economically and socially disadvantaged in Singapore.
“When you believe that you have succeeded purely on individual merits, you may hold the view that those who are not successful have only themselves to blame,” he said.
Such a view, said Mr Abdul Shariff, feeds the “mistaken perception that the vulnerable are only waiting for handouts” and that they will not feel incentivised to work hard.
A truly compassionate leadership, he said, should instead be asking if such groups are receiving sufficient help.
Citing a nationwide study conducted by the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy which found that around 100,000 persons in Singapore have been sleeping rough on the streets, Mr Abdul Shariff said — if elected to Parliament — that he would like to dedicate his candidacy to helping such vulnerable persons.