Singapore

Workers' Party takes Sengkang GRC in biggest upset of GE2020

In the largest upset of the election, the Workers’ Party won the new Sengkang GRC, garnering 52.13 per cent of the vote against a 47.87 per cent share for the People’s Action Party.

The WP took 60,136 votes, while the PAP got 55,214 votes of 115,350 valid votes. This victory sees the fresh-faced WP team break new ground and claim the opposition party’s second GRC, following a tough fight in a constituency with many younger voters.

The WP’s team was led by lawyer He Ting Ru, 37, alongside economics professor Jamus Lim, 44, social enterprise founder Raeesah Khan, 26, and equity research analyst Louis Chua Kheng Wee, 33.

The PAP team consisted of labour chief Ng Chee Meng, 51, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health Lam Pin Min, 50, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health Amrin Amin, 41, and lawyer Raymond Lye, 54.

Ms He last night thanked the people of Sengkang GRC and pledged to work hard in the constituency.

“Thank you so much for the trust and leap of faith you have taken in our team here today. We will work hard to make sure that this trust is not misplaced.”

Later, WP chief Pritam Singh, appearing on a livestream from party headquarters, said: “Today’s results are positive but we have to hit the ground running. We should not get over our heads with the results. There’s much work to do and I can assure you this Workers’ Party team is committed to serve Singapore, to serve the voters who voted for us and those who chose to vote for our opponents, equally and faithfully.”

As former WP chief Low Thia Khiang did in 2011 when the WP first won Aljunied GRC, Mr Singh delivered his remarks seriously, stressing he was feeling “humbled” rather than “euphoric”.

Sengkang GRC had absorbed Punggol East SMC and part of Sengkang West SMC, traditional stomping grounds for the WP. The battle in north-east Singapore was among the most closely-watched contests in this general election.

Pundits had expected this fight in Sengkang to be intense for several reasons: the WP’s history and presence in the area, the “unpredictability factor” of a new GRC, and the performance of Associate Professor Jamus Lim, who won praise for how he handled himself in a televised debate during the campaign.

At the live debate, Prof Lim urged Singaporeans to vote for the WP and deny the PAP “a blank cheque”.

The PAP’s surprise decision to move Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat from Tampines GRC to East Coast GRC – thereby reducing the WP’s chances in East Coast – also shifted public attention to the WP’s “next-strongest” team, analysts said.

Besides Punggol East and part of Sengkang West, the four-member group representation constituency that was created after electoral boundaries were redrawn in March also took in the Sengkang Central ward of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

The GRC has a younger, more middle class demographic than the national average.

In 2015, PAP stalwart Charles Chong won Punggol East SMC by a slim 51.77 per cent of the vote, against WP incumbent Lee Li Lian. Ms Lee had won the single seat in a 2013 by-election. That same election saw the PAP’s Dr Lam win Sengkang West SMC, with 62.13 per cent of the vote against WP opponent Koh Choong Yong.

PAP insiders told The Straits Times that the party did better among older residents, especially in the former Punggol East SMC, which is the older part of Sengkang.

By comparison, Anchorvale and Sengkang Central consist mainly of young families in the HDB estates.

During the nine-day campaign, the PAP team had an inkling the contest could be harder than originally thought, said one party insider. The team met with some hostility among some younger voters.

It did not help that the two PAP candidates that were to take over in Sengkang Central – Mr Ng and Mr Amrin – were new to the area and unfamiliar to the residents, he said.

“It rang alarm bells, but it was too late (in the campaign),” he added.

The new GRC also had its fair share of drama during the campaign. On the weekend before Polling Day, two police reports were filed against the WP’s Ms Raeesah for remarks she had made in two Facebook posts in February 2018 and May this year.

Ms Raeesah apologised that same weekend, and was joined by WP leaders Pritam Singh and Sylvia Lim, who expressed their support, as well as her Sengkang teammates.

Asked by ST why he thought the vote had swung in WP’s favour, Mr Ng said: “Let us take some time to regroup and evaulate the different factors... Let us discuss with colleagues and get a thorough understanding of the ground, and we can plot our way forward.”

Residents in neighbourhoods like Anchorvale greeted the history-making results with cheers, when the sample count earlier in the night indicated the new GRC was likely to go the Workers’ Party’s way.

Said Sengkang resident and hotel manager Akmal Yusoff, 30: “With change comes a bit of uncertainty. I do hope this will be a positive one for my family and our estate, and I look forward to see good things in our neighbourhood.

“I look forward to seeing how this team can share a fresh voice in our government policies.”

GENERAL ELECTION 2020