So there was Mr Heng Swee Keat, looking quite sweaty, next to a very cool and composed Cheryl Chan. The other PAP candidates have been there at least an hour before, chatting up anyone and everyone at Fengshan hawker centre and wet market. Actually, it was just the hawker centre and the surrounding shops, because of safe entry restrictions into the market.
There wasn’t an immediate chorus of greetings from residents. There were some who wanted pictures or him and wefies. But it seemed to me at the time I was there, that it was mainly the aunties who wanted his attention.
Ms Chan, former MP for Fengshan, acted as the dutiful host, pointing out people and places to Mr Heng, who had moved over from Tampines GRC. He is taking over from Mr Lim Swee Say, that is, taking care of the Bedok South area. The new guy on the slate, Mr Tan Kiat How, is supposed to care for Mr Li Yi Shyan’s territory near Chai Chee.
I first spotted Mr Maliki Osman, PAP veteran standing for re-election, at the hawker centre and asked him unashamedly for the fan he had promised me when he saw me on Nomination Day. Actually, I asked for two. One for my mother, I said.
I love election time. It’s about the only time you can ask for anything and if possible, it will be given. But when Mr Heng asked me what I wanted for East Coast GRC, I was a little floored. I told him that the Fengshan area was getting too crowded especially with new residents flooding the BTO blocks near the market. I waved to the brown and beige blocks nearby. Crowds at the market quite jialat, I said. “Jialat ah,’’ he repeated. Ms Chen chipped in: “She wants a bigger market.’’ That was true. I have said that Ms Chen often enough.
Then Mr Heng started talking about hawker centres that draw people from as far from Jurong. I suppose what he meant was that a crowded centre at least meant some guarantee of good food. He wanted to have a picture taken with me . I declined, pointing to my tee-shirt, shorts and red flip flops. But he said I was being “authentic’’. So, yes, the picture was taken and when I showed it to my mother, she flipped at my state of sloppiness.
Of course, I also asked about the East Coast plan he promised. He said the team would be talking about it. Ms Chan asked if I had received the East Coast PAP manifesto. I said not yet and she assured me that it would be delivered to all homes today. Two hours later, a woman in white was at my door passing me the manifesto and putting up a spiel about voting the PAP and calling them about any questions. I asked if the East Coast “plan’’ was in the manifesto – and she didn’t quite know what I was referring to.
Anyway, the manifesto is a glossy brochure with pictures of activities. I believe all the constituencies have something similar. It has always amused me that every candidate or slate of candidates will promise the “best’’ town, as if there was some kind of competition going on.
As Mr Heng and Ms Chan weaved their way around hawker centre tables, I saw that the woman who runs the chicken wing stall was in their train. “Wah, you with PAP ah,’’ I said to her. “Ya, I help out,’’ she said. The other three candidates moved out on their own, practising social distance. Mr Tan Kiat How engaged an 80 year old man in a pretty lengthy conversation, in front of a makeshift stall selling women’s underwear. He seemed amazed that the man looked much younger than his age.
Were there surly looks? After all, the area is well known as a Workers’ Party stomping ground. The WP team had made its rounds in the same place yesterday. I didn’t see anything untoward but I did hear an elderly woman yell out in Hokkien that “they all bluff people’’. It was a one-liner thrown from a distance. I am not sure if PAP candidates Jessica Tan, mask right way up, or Maliki heard it – or if they pretended not to hear.
There were some journalists around which made me suddenly realise that I should change my hat from voter to nosey parker. The journalists told me that they had no word of a doorstop interview and that it was not Mr Heng’s habit to take questions. It wasn’t my habit to roll over either, so as the man was sitting on a hawker centre stool, facing a wall fan, I took the chance to plonk myself on a stool near him – of course 1m away.
I asked him why Dr Vivian Balakrishnan was assigned by the PAP to join the English debate last night and not a member of the 4G. I thought he would say that the PAP would send its best debater, no matter what generation. Imagine my surprise when he replied that as far as he was concerned, the Foreign minister was a 4G minister. “He’s around my age,’’ he said. Both of them are 59. “But he came in earlier than you,’’ I replied. Dr Balakrishnan entered politics in 2001, while Mr Heng got in 10 years later. “He’s in all my meetings,’’ he replied.
Then he proceeded to speak about continuity and how we should all not get too bogged down with the idea of 3G and 4G. Any government which plans for the long term needs of a country had to have experienced hands to help newer ones along. Elsewhere, the newly elected would demolish foundations built by their predecessors to start anew. But not the PAP. When he was Education minister, he had help from the former education ministers. I suppose he was referring to Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Dr Ng Eng Hen who had held the education portfolio in the past. It was the same for Education minister Ong Ye Kung now, he said.
Now, I couldn’t let that pass, so I said that the 4G term was used by the Government to define the newer leadership. Then I recalled that he had actually used the phrase “so-called 4G leaders’’ a few days ago. Never mind what I said, he continued to talk about, well, continuity.
It seems clear that the PAP doesn’t want a 3G/4G dichotomy during this election. The PAP is entering the election as a party, with the Prime Minister at the helm. I guess that’s why PM Lee Hsien Loong’s poster is so prominent all around the island. I had thought that this general election would be a mandate for the 4G leadership, a way for voters to signal that they approve of the new PAP leaders. But no, the PAP has crafted it as a “jobs’’ GE.
Anyway, I left for home after hanging around for an hour eavesdropping on their conversations with residents. PAP flags were handed out and a stall holder I know waved it merrily. Evidently a PAP supporter.
I told her to go get the fan instead- more useful.