SINGAPORE: The People’s Action Party (PAP) has named lawyer K Muralidharan Pillai as its candidate for the Bukit Batok by-election. This was announced at a press conference held at the PAP Bukit Batok branch on Monday (Mar 21).
The 48-year-old contested the General Election in 2015, as part of the PAP team challenging the incumbent Worker’s Party team (WP) in Aljunied GRC. PAP garnered 49.05 per cent of the vote, losing narrowly to WP's 50.95 per cent.
Mr Murali is the head of commercial litigation at Rajah and Tann. Before embarking on a legal career, he was Assistant Superintendent in the Singapore Police Force. He said on Monday that he does not plan to step down from his job if elected.
A long-time PAP activist, he is married with four children. He is also the son of PK Pillai, a unionist detained under Operation Coldstore in 1963.
Mr Murali is currently the branch chairman of PAP Paya Lebar branch, a post he has held since May 2012, and will hold until the appointment of a new branch chairman there.
As PAP's intended candidate for Bukit Batok, Mr Murali has been re-appointed as the branch chairman of PAP Bukit Batok branch. He was formerly the Branch Secretary of PAP Bukit Batok under the late Dr Ong Chit Chung. Dr Ong was MP for the Bukit Batok ward under Jurong Group Representation Constituency (GRC) from 2001 until his death in 2008.
MURALI KNOWS BUKIT BATOK "EXTREMELY WELL": DPM THARMAN
DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who introduced Mr Murali as the party's candidate for the by-election, said on Monday that Mr Murali was chosen as he knows Bukit Batok "extremely well".
"He's been serving here personally for over 16 years in various capacities. He knows the volunteers, the residents, and they know him," Mr Tharman said.
(Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)
"When people look at Murali, they see Singapore in him. They see someone who is with them, someone who listens to their needs, they see someone who represents our multiracialism," he added.
Mr Tharman also spoke about Mr Murali's performance in the last General Election, when he was part of the party's team in Aljunied GRC.
"Murali frankly proved his worth in Aljunied as well. He worked very hard, got to know people on the ground, and he swung the vote. So Murali, because of his personal character and his knowledge and relationships in Bukit Batok, gave us confidence," DPM Tharman said.
(Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)
If elected, Mr Murali said he would focus on the needs of the elderly and needy, as Bukit Batok is a mature town.
"I'm honoured the PAP has confidence in me. I've pledged to serve the residents with all my heart," Mr Murali said.
Following his years of serving residents in Bukit Batok, Mr Murali recounted an incident where a resident had approached him to ask if her debts would be passed on to her children if she dies. Mr Murali said with some probing, he realised she had been saddled with debt due to her husband's medical condition, and was thinking of ending her life. Mr Murali said he sought to get this resident financial help, as well as counselling, and she is now "enjoying family life".
"This incident taught me the lesson of listening closely to our residents. Recognising this is so very important," Mr Murali said.
A STRAIGHT FIGHT BETWEEN THE PAP AND SDP?
So far, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) is the only opposition party that has confirmed it will contest the Bukit Batok by-election. SDP chief Chee Soon Juan will be the party’s candidate.
At a walkabout with party members on Sunday (Mar 20), Dr Chee told the media that if elected, he will put in place local elections for town council leaders, as well as hold quarterly townhall meetings.
Responding to a question about the party's opponent in the by-election, DPM Tharman said the party would frame this by-election "in a way that makes sense for Bukit Batok voters".
"We are not responding to either the SDP or anyone else's framing of elections. Local issues count, the needs of residents count, that's the first and foremost for any MP," Mr Tharman said on Monday. "Our first priority is to serve the residents well, make sure the town council is run well, but also raise the interest of residents as a microcosm of Singapore, which also raises national issues."
(Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)
Mr Murali said on Monday he was not worried about going up against Dr Chee. "As far as I'm concerned, politics is only about serving residents and I consider myself seasoned because I have put in quite a bit of time serving residents' needs, and that's really the focus. I'm also confident that if elected, I'll continue to be able to support their needs with the support of grassroots activists."
DPM Tharman added that if Mr Murali is elected as Bukit Batok SMC's Member of Parliament, the party will run the Town Council as-is, combined with Jurong and Clementi.
"If elected, Bukit Batok residents will continue to enjoy the economies of scale in Town Council facilities and services with Jurong GRC," Mr Murali said, adding that this is important in order to keep costs down.
Following the announcement, Mr Murali hit the ground running, meeting residents who were at the PAP branch for their weekly Meet-the-People's session on Mondays. Mr Pillai, who was accompanied by party activists, also visited residents at their homes.
(Photo: Linette Lim)
"DEMOGRAPHICS MAY BE FAVOURABLE TO RULING PARTY'S CANDIDATE"
According to the Electoral Boundaries Committee, there are 27,068 eligible voters in Bukit Batok Single Member Constituency.
Dr Gillian Koh, deputy director at the Institute of Policy Studies, has suggested that Bukit Batok’s demographics – with 95 per cent living in public housing – may be favourable to the ruling party’s candidate.
“In our surveys, this is the demographic that rallies around the People’s Action Party,” she wrote in a note dated Mar 14.
Another political analyst, Associate Professor Eugene Tan said the contest will be an "intense one". "We will certainly see both local municipal issues at play, as well as national issues," said the Singapore Management University professor. "Because it’s a Single Member Constituency, the issue of the town council will be prominent and Dr Chee recognised that. So when he went on his walkabout yesterday, he gave his 100-day plan underlining his commitment to transparency, openness and accountability. Voters will also be looking at whether they believe the SDP will have the capacity to run a town council given that it has been almost 20 years since they last ran a town council."
Dr Chee would likely play up the national angle to his advantage, he added. "He'll probably try to argue there is more to be gained by having an additional opposition MP than a replacement ruling party MP. I think we can expect the tone of the contest, the campaign to be an intense one. There is quite a lot at stake, not withstanding that this is a by-election and both parties are determined to do well."
The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Bukit Batok MP David Ong on Mar 12. Mr Ong left his post after an extramarital affair with a grassroots activist came to light. Both have resigned from the party.
Mr Ong entered Parliament in 2011, representing the Bukit Batok ward when it was under the Jurong GRC. It was carved out as a single-seat ward in 2015.