GE2020: Senior office-holders who previously won SMCs likely to defend their seats, say observers
SINGAPORE: As the People’s Action Party (PAP) gears up to defend its Single Member Constituencies (SMCs), senior political office-holders in some are likely to remain in their constituencies, said political observers.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who had represented Marymount as a ward in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC could instead be moved to a Group Representation Constituency (GRC), after the single-member seat was carved out of the GRC.
Senior political office-holders who helmed SMCs in the last parliament include Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State Amy Khor and Minister of State Sam Tan, who represented Yuhua, Hong Kah North and Radin Mas respectively.
Dr Khor represented Hong Kah North GRC in the 2001 and 2006 General Elections, and continued to represent the SMC after it was carved out as a single seat in 2011.
If she remains in Hong Kah North for the 2020 General Election, she is likely to face the Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) Gigene Wong.
Mr Tan was elected to represent Radin Mas in 2011 when the district was carved out from Tanjong Pagar GRC as a single seat. The Reform Party announced on Wednesday that it would contest in Radin Mas in 2020, but has yet to reveal which candidate will be fielded there.
Ms Fu has represented Yuhua at every General Election since 2006, when it was still part of Jurong GRC. The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) said in August last year that it intends to contest the single-seat constituency, along with the four other constituencies it contested in the 2015 General Election.
With SMCs being the “easiest targets” for the opposition, former PAP Member of Parliament (MP) and political observer Inderjit Singh believes that there will be “minimal movement” from the PAP.
A new candidate or an existing MP from another constituency may not have the same level of support as the incumbent MP, he added.
Keeping senior political office-holders in SMCs would help the PAP to win those seats, said Associate Professor Eugene Tan from the Singapore Management University.
However, associate lecturer at SIM Global Education Felix Tan said that the PAP could send these office-holders to replace retiring anchor ministers in GRCs instead.
“Some of these senior political office-holders do stand a chance to be moved to a GRC if they are deemed to be able to garner a huge following and support within that constituency,” he said.
With senior political office-holders leading a GRC, the PAP could also bring in potential leaders they would like to groom for leadership through the GRC system, he said, adding that the PAP would likely field a “heavyweight” PAP candidate in an SMC only if the constituency is deemed to be “hotly contested”.
FIELDING NEW CANDIDATES IN SMCS?
While there is precedent for the PAP to field newer faces with “very strong credentials” in SMCs, it would be an “uphill task” for new candidates in SMCs with three- or multi-cornered fights, said Dr Tan.
Mr Singh felt it would be “risky” for the PAP to field new candidates, especially with the opposition sending “good quality” candidates who can “(match) the standards” of the PAP candidates.
“The opposition candidates may garner support over an unknown new PAP candidate, especially if the PAP candidate is not seen as a potential office-holder,” he said.
If the new candidates achieve a significant vote share for the PAP in SMCs, the PAP would consider these candidates to have “undergone a ‘trial by fire’”, said Dr Tan.
But Assoc Prof Tan disagreed, noting that Dr Khor, Mr Tan and Ms Fu had polled above the PAP’s national average in 2015, making Radin Mas, Yuhua and Hong Kah North SMCs “safe seats” for the PAP.
Dr Khor won 74.76 per cent of votes in Hong Kah North during the 2015 General Election, a large margin ahead of Singapore People’s Party candidate Ravi Philemon.
Ms Fu won 73.46 per cent of the vote in Yuhua in 2015, beating SDP’s Jaslyn Go. In Radin Mas, Mr Tan went up against Reform Party candidate Kumar Appavoo and independent Han Hui Hui and securely held on to his seat with 77.25 per cent of the vote.
“Even if a new face is fielded in any of the three SMCs, it should not stand in the way of the PAP retaining the seat unless the PAP candidate makes an utter mess of his or her campaign,” said Assoc Prof Tan.
Speaking on whether Mrs Teo might move to another constituency, Mr Singh said: "It will be safer for Josephine to be moved to a GRC. She is at risk in a single seat, after how she has been perceived to have handled the (COVID-19 in dormitories) issue. I see her moving to Jalan Besar."
READ: Who will helm PAP's Jalan Besar team at GE2020? Ex-anchor minister Yaacob hints at new-look team
Experts have pointed to Mrs Teo as one possible replacement for former Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, who has all but announced his retirement from politics after having represented Jalan Besar since 1997.
In turn, a member of the current Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC team could replace Mrs Teo, which would allow a new candidate to run in the PAP “stronghold” of Bishan-Toa Payoh, said Dr Tan.