Time for Tin Pei Ling to 'silence her critics'
In the fourth of our six-part series on the hottest contests in GE 2015, we check out MacPherson
When she was first introduced as a candidate for Marine Parade group representation constituency (GRC) in 2011, some residents were surprised.
Ms Tin Pei Ling, then 27, was fielded in MacPherson, one of the oldest constituencies, and was seen as too young and inexperienced.
Four years after that "baptism of fire", things are quite different for the new mother.
It seems that the first-term MP, now 31, has proven her mettle. She also earned the praise of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
At the re-opening of the upgraded MacPherson Community Centre in her ward last year, Mr Lee said she has shown that "the aunties and uncles understand her, support her and know that she is working well for them".
On Nomination Day, she addressed her supporters at Kong Hwa School confidently: "Today is the day. We will put up a tough fight. We will put up our best and 101 per cent. Thank you for fighting this with me. Every vote counts, we are the best party to do this."
A resident who wanted to be known as Madam Ng, 78, said she had her misgivings about her MP at first.
"I thought she wouldn't be able to help because she lacked experience and was too young to relate to our problems.
"But she showed that she treats the elderly like us with respect and makes an effort to communicate with us," the retiree said in Mandarin.
Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a political analyst, said Ms Tin has a strong presence in the ward, which is newly carved out from Marine Parade GRC.
"It's a remarkable turnaround for her. She's pretty strong. She's walked the ground and related to the residents, in particular the elderly, who have also taken to her quite fondly," the research fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak said.
He added that bread-and-butter issues like the cost of living will persist, given the demographics of the MacPherson voters.
Singapore Management University's Associate Professor Eugene Tan said the electorate is older and has a "strong working class air to it" in MacPherson.
And these characteristics will certainly feature in the coming general election, said Assoc Prof Tan.
"The PAP government has, since GE 2011, been reaching out to the older Singaporeans (through the Pioneer Generation Package and MediShield Life), and the sandwiched middle class and the less well-off Singaporeans through the enhancement of the social safety nets," he said.
There was nary a murmur or complaint among residents when it came to municipal issues.
The SMC has two wet markets, three hawker centres, open-air badminton courts and other facilities. There are also childcare and eldercare centres.
Mr Eugene Chow, a MacPherson resident of four years, said the neighbourhood used to be stricken with problems like broken pipes and old paint for HDB blocks.
"I heard from my mother-in-law, who lives nearby, that the cleaning service last time was lousy. Now, it's much cleaner," the 35-year-old said.
Ms Tin will be in a three-way fight with Workers' Party's (WP) Bernard Chen and National Solidarity Party's (NSP) Cheo Chai Chen. The opposition members were confirmed as candidates in the ward, which has a history of PAP support.
In 2001 and 2006, when MacPherson was an SMC, former PAP MP Matthias Yao won 83.7 per cent of the vote against the Democratic Progressive Party and 68.5 per cent against the Singapore Democratic Alliance.
On Thursday, NSP's Mr Cheo fired the first salvo at Ms Tin, calling her newly-minted mother status her weakness.
He said: "In general, mothers love their children, so they spend a lot of time with them. If voters choose her, she might focus more on her child than on her voters. This is her weakness."
Ms Tin promptly rebutted Mr Cheo the next day in a Facebook post: "I am committed to MacPherson. I returned to work soon after delivery (two weeks to be more exact) because I want to continue to serve. I am confident that even as a mum I can continue to focus on my work in MacPherson.
"Many mums face pressures to choose between motherhood and career. They should not have to."
Mr Cheo later claimed his comments were meant to be a joke.
Assessing how the three-cornered fight will play out, Assoc Prof Tan said: "This is an SMC where candidates will be assessed on their individual attributes. Much is at stake.
"The PAP's Tin Pei Ling is relishing this opportunity to silence her critics and the GE will be a referendum of sorts on her party but, more pointedly, on how she has earned the trust and confidence of the voters in MacPherson since she was elected under a cloud of controversy," said Assoc Prof Tan.
"This is an SMC where candidates will be assessed on their individual attributes. Much is at stake. The PAP's Tin Pei Ling is relishing this opportunity to silence her critics and the GE will be a referendum of sorts on her party but, more pointedly, on how she has earned the trust and confidence of the voters in MacPherson since she was elected under a cloud of controversy."
- SMU law don Eugene Tan
Issues at a glance
Since the last general election in 2011, residents The New Paper spoke to in the MacPherson ward, then a part of Marine Parade GRC, have been concerned about bread-and-butter issues.
The estate is mature and the electorate is made up largely of senior citizens and the less privileged.
In her four years looking after the ward, Ms Tin Pei Ling has rolled out various programmes like the MacPherson Care Fund, to help elderly residents cope with medical bills, and a milk powder scheme for low-income families with young children.
MacPherson is now an SMC, but the rising cost of living and the affordability of healthcare will continue to feature high on residents' list of concerns.
MacPherson by the numbers
Number of voters: 28,511
Types of homes: 90.7% public housing, 9.3% private housing
Breakdown of flats: 61.8% are three-room or smaller, 28.9% are four-room or larger
People's Action Party
Ms Tin Pei Ling
Mr Bernard Chen
National Solidarity Party
Mr Cheo Chai Chen
Number of voters:
People's Action Party
(68.48%) Mr Matthias Yao
Singapore Democratic Alliance
(31.52%) Mr Sin Kek Tong