SINGAPORE: The People's Action Party (PAP) has deployed Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in East Coast GRC based on where its best and "most important" contests could be, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters on Tuesday (Jun 30).
Mr Lee, who is also the PAP's secretary-general, was asked why the party had fielded Mr Heng in East Coast and Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee in West Coast.
"We try to make an assessment of where our best, our most important contests may be, and where we can best deploy our chess pieces," he said.
"So that in every constituency, we have a team which fits the needs of that constituency, and will be able to give good service to its residents and put up a good fight in the campaign.
"And I think that is the reason for all of our deployments, including the ones that you asked about."
Mr Heng's inclusion in PAP's East Coast line-up was a surprise revelation during Nomination Day earlier on Tuesday.
After PAP announced its first group of potential new candidates last Wednesday, Mr Heng, the party's first assistant secretary-general, was spotted greeting residents in East Coast.
But no one knew for certain if he would be taking over former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, who has retired after five terms in office.
Rumours persisted that his replacement could be a heavyweight minister, as political observers offered Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean or Tharman Shanmugaratnam as possible candidates.
PAP EXPECTS TOUGH FIGHT
While Mr Lee acknowledged that during a crisis there could be a "flight to safety", he said the PAP still expects a tough fight this election.
"We also know that this is not the happiest of times. People are feeling the pain and the uncertainty, because of the crisis, some acutely," he said.
"The opposition is making the most of that; they're well-organised and prepared, and will not roll over, or go away."
The PAP's team in East Coast GRC comprises Mr Heng; Maliki Osman and Jessica Tan, both of whom contested the 2015 General Election; new candidate Tan Kiat How, who replaces the retiring Lee Yi Shyan; and former Fenghsan Member of Parliament Cheryl Chan, whose Fengshan ward has been re-absorbed into East Coast.
It will be up against the Workers' Party's Nicole Seah, Kenneth Foo, Dylan Ng, Terence Tan and Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim.
Ms Seah put up a good fight in the 2011 election, when she contested Marine Parade GRC as part of a National Solidarity Party team. It lost with 43.4 per cent of the vote against a PAP team led by then-Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.
Mr Lee said the opposition deployments in this round were not a surprise, especially as it became clear which areas they campaigned harder and were more interested in.
"What they have done is generally in line with what the tea leaves have shown," he said.
But Mr Lee said the PAP did not reveal its East Coast line-up before Nomination Day - the party did so for a few constituencies - as a strategic decision.
"These are tactical deployments which we do have to keep to ourselves, until we judge the moment is right," he said.
"I mean, it does not make it more difficult for people to assess our team, because the team members are all known. It's just which piece goes where."
A TEST OR RISKY STRATEGY?
Mr Lee refuted suggestions that Mr Heng was being deployed in a potentially fierce contest so he could prove his worth, saying that it was not a "manhood thing".
"He doesn't have to go there and prove that he's in the fiercest battle," he said. "It helps to have won a good fight, but he goes where it makes the most contribution to the overall campaign."
When asked if it was risky to deploy the deputy prime minister in a potentially fierce battle, Mr Lee said "in an election you fight to win, but you are never absolutely certain that you would win".
"We send somebody where we think he has a good chance of winning, and I'm quite sure that Swee Keat will put his all to make sure that he gets a good outcome in East Coast," he said.
Mr Heng said Mr Lim and his team had done a good job in East Coast, and that it was important for the PAP to continue working with residents there.
"When I discussed this with the Prime Minister, I said I'm prepared to go anywhere where I can be of value," he said.
"Because I want to be able to mobilise all Singaporeans, wherever they may be, to work together. We were already in the midst of a very serious global pandemic, with serious repercussions for years to come, and therefore it is important for us to bring all Singaporeans together to combat this."
Mr Heng also praised his team in Tampines, especially Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, and said he trusts them to take over after they've proved that they can deliver.
WEST COAST GRC
Moving on to Mr Desmond Lee's move to West Coast GRC, which will now have two ministers after the PAP again fielded Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran there, Mr Lee said it was "not a totally surprising thing".
Observes expect a tough fight in West Coast, which will see the PAP go up against a Progress Singapore Party team led by its former Ayer Rajah MP Tan Cheng Bock.
READ: GE2020: PSP team led by Tan Cheng Bock to contest West Coast GRC against PAP team with S Iswaran, Desmond Lee
Mr Lee said the PAP has fielded two ministers in other constituencies as well, including in 2015 when Mr Goh and now Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin contested Marine Parade.
"We try to spread out our ministers but sometimes we have two in one place, it so turns out," he said.
NO NEW INDIAN CANDIDATE
Mr Lee also addressed PAP's absence of a new Indian candidate, stating that the party presents a balanced slate each time. "But at the margins, variations from year to year cannot be entirely precluded," he said.
PAP's second assistant secretary-general Chan Chun Sing had said its Indian members who were in the previous term of Government were not stepping down, meaning this year's slate would still be balanced.
Mr Lee said the PAP looked at several hundred candidates before winnowing it down to the final 27, and that the new and existing slate was the strongest it could field.
"We were not leaving out any candidate because of racial considerations," he said.
"Nor should we have specifically said: 'Well, not quite, but we will do it because I want to meet a presentation and, well, it shows that I've ticked the box.'"
Mr Lee said the PAP also did not reveal its overall slate of candidates early as it took "some time" to finalise the slate, and that its members in Government were busy leading the fight against COVID-19.
"If we had gone ahead and announced candidates formally in the middle of COVID-19 while we are doing a 'circuit breaker' and other very major policy measures to get Singaporeans safe, people will misunderstand and will accuse us of politicking away and not keeping our eyes on the ball," he added.
"So, what we did do early was when we did have the potential candidates identified, we put them out to gain experience on the ground and various constituencies."