The Straits Times reported on Monday (15 June) that incumbent ruling party parliamentarians Lim Swee Say and Lee Yi Shyan will leave East Coast GRC and will not contest the ward in the coming election.
A former public servant, Mr Lim entered politics in 1997 and was elected in a walkover at late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s Tanjong Pagar ward. He subsequently contested Holland-Bukit Timah GRC in the 2001 and 2006 elections, before anchoring the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) East Coast GRC team in the 2011 and 2015 elections.
In the two decades since he entered politics, Mr Lim rose up the ranks of the PAP and became a prominent member of the cabinet and the PAP’s Central Executive Committee. He served as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and secretary-general of the government-linked labour movement, NTUC, before he was appointed Minister for Manpower in 2015.
Mr Lee Yi Shyan, another former public servant, has been at East Coast GRC since he joined politics at the 2006 general election. He has served as the minister of state at the ministries of manpower, national development, and trade and industry before he was promoted to Senior Minister of State (SMS) in 2012.
Mr Lim retired from the cabinet on 1 May 2018 and handed over his Manpower portfolio to Josephine Teo, as part of the ruling party’s leadership renewal process. Mr Lee had already stepped down from his post by that time – he gave up his role as SMS after suffering a mini stroke in May 2015.
Mr Lim and Mr Lee’s departure from East Coast GRC would leave the ward with just two incumbents in the next General Election – Maliki Osman and Jessica Tan Soon Neo.
The Electoral Boundaries Review Committee, which alters the borders of Singapore’s electoral divisions ahead of each election, made East Coast GRC into a five-member ward from its current status as a four-member ward for the next election by making the GRC absorb the Fengshan single member ward.
Both East Coast GRC and Fengshan SMC – which was just carved out of East Coast GRC in 2015 before being returned to the group ward in the coming election – were hotly contested by the Workers’ Party (WP) in past elections.
The WP first contested East Coast GRC in the 2006 General Election, where it received 36.1 per cent of the vote. In the 2011 GE, it won a much better margin of 45.2 per cent of the vote and came closer to beating the incumbent. The WP did not fare as well in the 2015 GE, receiving 39.3 per cent of the vote.
Fengshan, which has been an SMC in just one election cycle in almost three decades, was contested by the WP’s Dennis Tan Lip Fong in that year’s General Election. Although the PAP retained the ward, Mr Tan did so well with a vote share of 42.5 per cent that he was appointed Non-Constituency Member of Parliament.
Earlier, speculation was rife that veteran opposition politician Low Thia Khiang may lead a WP team to contest East Coast GRC in the next election, like he led the team contesting Aljunied GRC in 2011.
A longtime parliamentarian, Mr Low left his Hougang SMC base after a decade and led a team to contest Aljunied GRC. That year, the WP candidate fielded in Hougang SMC retained Mr Low’s former seat and Mr Low’s team also won Aljunied GRC. The WP continued to hold on to both Hougang SMC and Aljunied GRC in the 2015 GE.
The WP’s electoral victory in 2011 was historical since it marked the first time an opposition party had ever won a GRC, since Singapore attained independence. Under Mr Low’s leadership, the WP managed to beat all the odds and emerged as the victor, ousting then-Foreign Minister and Aljunied incumbent George Yeo from Parliament and the cabinet.
The rumours that Mr Low may repeat what he did in 2011 at East Coast GRC have, however, been made more uncertain by Mr Low’s recent health issues. The 63-year-old suffered a fall earlier this year and was warded in an intensive care unit. He has since been discharged and is recuperating at home.
Some have forecast that the ruling party may field an anchor minister to take Lim Swee Say’s place while fielding new faces to round out the East Coast GRC team.
Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) chief executive Tan Kiat How’s recent resignation and participation in East Coast GRC’s online forums have fuelled speculation that he may be one of the fresh faces standing in the hotly contested ward.