Battle heats up in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC

Straits Times
26 April 2011

Battle heats up in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC
By Yasmine Yahya , Amanda Tan , Amresh Gunasingham and Judith Tan

HOLLAND-BUKIT Timah GRC is in the shape of an upward tick. Nestled in its curved hook are Singapore’s affluent. It starts from Sunset Way on the left, then veers down and across to Sixth Avenue. As the tick extends upwards along Upper Bukit Timah, sprawling bungalows yield to smaller houses and condominiums. Perched at its apex are the modest flats of Bukit Panjang.

Different lifestyles, but one similarity: Most of the 91,607 voters here have not voted in at least two decades.

But the GRC may be waking up to the prospect of an electoral battle that is fast heating up – one that pits a young People’s Action Party (PAP) team against the Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) ‘A’ team.

Already thrown into the heady mix are accusations of ministerial ineptness over the busted Youth Olympic Games budget; of irresponsible proposals for Singapore’s economic strategy; and now, a video clip that shows SDP candidate Vincent Wijeysingha participating in a gay rights forum.

In a statement yesterday, the PAP team led by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said: ‘The video raises the question on whether Wijeysingha will now pursue this cause in the political arena and what is the SDP’s position on the matter.’

Will the issue catch fire? What matters to Holland-Bukit Timah GRC voters?

It is the most ‘upper-class’ of Singapore’s constituencies. Its residents are somewhat older than the national population, with just a third aged below 40.

Its ethnic mix follows the national breakdown, say the area’s PAP activists. The religious breakdown is not available but is a ‘diverse mix’, given the plethora of places of worship.

A look back in history suggests that the SDP previously had a narrow toehold in the GRC. The GRC was created in 2001, and has never seen a contest.

Two of its divisions – Zhenghua and Cashew – sprang from the old single-seat ward of Bukit Panjang, last contested in 1988 in a three-cornered fight. The PAP won with 57.3 per cent of votes while the SDP snared 30.9 per cent.

The narrow margin, says veteran PAP activist Chai Chon Fah, was due to anger over forced resettlement from Lim Chu Kang and Chua Chu Kang kampungs.

Meanwhile, their more affluent neighbours from Ulu Pandan last went to the ballot box in 1991. The PAP’s Lim Boon Heng won 56.4 per cent of votes against the SDP’s Ashleigh Seow, who campaigned on the need for more opposition.

The last division in the GRC jigsaw is Bukit Timah, a PAP stronghold under its previous veteran MP, Dr Wang Kai Yuen.

But what about now?

The Straits Times spoke to about 50 residents living in the GRC.

For the majority of the heartlanders, livelihood issues remain their top concern.

One PAP supporter, Madam Yasma Chomel, 60, a retiree, said: ‘I know what it’s like to have a hard life. I don’t see why I should take a risk when the PAP has done a good job.’

But property consultant Ben Lim, 39, who is worried about higher property prices, is less certain. ‘I think the opposition has improved a lot and there are a lot of potential candidates. (But) the PAP is good. So I might destroy my vote to be fair.’

A different set of issues tugs at the heartstrings of those who live in more well-to-do neighbourhoods. Few spoke of the cost of living, but many appear to hark back to the same ideals that led a significant number to support Mr Seow in 1991.

But as for how many would actually put their money where their mouth is, only two have made the commitment so far.

Mr Teo G.S., 58, a retiree, said: ‘I’ve already decided who to vote for.

‘I want change. I want more transparency and accountability.’

Others are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Mr Casper Yap, 28, a systems analyst, said: ‘When I heard the SDP was contesting here, I was initially a bit disappointed. But based on their qualifications, this SDP team looks good on paper, so I will do a bit more research before making a choice.’

As for the latest issue – Dr Wijeysingha’s sexuality and whether it means that he will promote gay causes if elected – few of those interviewed yesterday were aware that it was brewing.

When asked, an overwhelming majority said they do not consider it to be a factor in how they vote.

The only dissenting voice is Mr Lim C.S., 59, who is self-employed.

‘As a Christian, I’m totally against any kind of gay agenda. If it is really true that he is gay and has a gay agenda, then definitely I won’t vote for him.’

But he adds that if Dr Wijeysingha’s colleagues can ‘vouch for the fact that he doesn’t have a gay agenda, then I would consider’.

A few, meanwhile, expressed unease that the PAP had raised the issue.

Ms S. A. Kadir, 24, a student, calls it a ‘cheap shot from the PAP’, while Madam Lynn Cheah, 48, a housewife, says: ‘The PAP is childish to use this tactic to discredit the opposition.’

A tick here for the PAP, a tick there for the SDP – it remains to be seen who will prevail.

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