A top neighbourhood in the HDB resale market, Sengkang is a good indicator of the changing mood and aspirations of young Singaporeans.
By Khalil Adis
Having a newly carved GRC and heavy weight political office holders are generally the necessary ingredients to ensure a clean sweep during Singapore's General Election.
However, that does not appear to be the case in 2020.
As seen during the recently concluded election, even having the labour chief and a Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Transport could not save Sengkang GRC from its electoral defeat.
Helmed by Ng Chee Meng together with Dr. Lam Pin Min, Amrin Amin and Raymond Lye, the election witnessed Sengkang GRC falling into the hands of the relatively young and inexperienced team from The Workers' Party.
Comprising He Ting Ru, Jamus Lim, Raeesah Khan and Louis Chua, The Workers' Party emerged victorious with a 52.13 per cent win against the PAP's 47.87 per cent.
The rejection of both the NTUC chief and transport minister speaks volume on how the electorate feels about employment and transportation issues.
In Sengkang GRC's case, they are both intertwined.
Last November, Dr. Lam announced in Parliament the banning e-scooters which saw the livelihoods of many food delivery drivers affected overnight.
The ban appeared to be the last straw that broke the camel's back.
Despite a closed-door session at Sengkang West constituency with Dr. Lam himself and a S$7 million assistance package, the session was reportedly a tense one.
Elsewhere in other constituencies, many PMD riders had also expressed their disappointment with their respective MPs.
Meanwhile, the younger team from The Workers’ Party was a breath of fresh air and appeared closer to the ground.
They were humble and earnest yet are backed with a strong track record in their respective fields.
Jamus Lim, in particular, won over many Singaporeans’ heart during his live televised debate.
Even the police report filed against Raeesah Khan could not sway voters' opinion.
So what gives?
As a district, Sengkang has a relatively young population.
According to data from SingStats, the total population of Sengkang was 244,600 in 2019.
Of this, 159,840 or 65.34 per cent were aged 45 and below.
If we were to break this down further, 213,380 or 87.23 per cent live in HDB flats.
Of this, the majority of them (99,640 or 46.69 per cent) live in four-room flats.
The young population is worried about bread-and-butter issues such as jobs and social mobility.
A segment of these HDB dwellers were food delivery drivers trying to supplement their incomes.
That is until the ban of e-scooters affected their livelihoods.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, this has helped further exacerbate the unhappiness on the ground which has perhaps translated to protest votes on the ballot box.
The 'Jamus Lim' effect
Then, there is also the 'Jamus Lim' effect.
A newcomer to the political arena, he mesmerised Singaporeans by being able to hold his own when pitted against the more experienced and senior politician, Dr. Vivian Balakrishan.
His message of not wanting to give the PAP "a blank cheque", seemed to resonate with many Singaporeans.
He subsequently became a trending topic on social media - a medium that is highly popular among young voters .
This, plus the rejection of gutter politics, as seen in the Raeesah Khan case, suggests that young and educated voters appreciate a clean fight and want checks and balances.
It also suggests that they are looking beyond municipal issues such as social inequality.
Clearly, character assasination and dangling carrots no longer work.
Sengkang is the most popular estate for HDB resale flats
Politics aside, Sengkang is the most popular HDB estate where 1,795 resale flats changed hands in 2019, according to data from the HDB.
This was followed by Woodlands and Yishun at 1,794 and 1,791 transactions respectively.
According to HDB's first quarter of 2020 data, resale HDB flats in Sengkang were transacted at a median resale price of S$340,000, S$425,000, S$480,000 and S$565,000 for three-, four- and five-room flats respectively.
While there are other attractive mature estates with better amenities such as Toa Payoh and Ang Mo Kio, their resale value have nose-dived in recent years due to their diminishing number of leases left.
Meanwhile, the resale value of homes in newer estates like Sengkang appear to be better protected.
This has perhaps explained why Sengkang is a popular neighbourhood among young families.
The lure of living in Sengkang
One such person who is currently looking for a home here is property agent Ady Ahmari.
“The flats in Sengkang are younger but cheaper, especially in Anchorvale,” he said.
Another reason is their generous sizes which is something he can attest to.
The property agent sold a 1,130 sq ft four-room flat in the area two months ago for S$350,000.
“The units are very big and comparable to five-room Built-To-Order (BTO) flats which are around 1,184 sq ft,” he said.
Perhaps one surprising intangible reason that he is lured to looking for a home here is the parks.
“Sengkang has a big garden where my family can enjoy the outdoors,” he said.
Indeed, Sengkang Riverside Park is popular among residents here featuring a constructed wetland and is rich in biodiversity.
In fact, the Sengkang ActiveSG Gym which is located within Anchorvale Community Club is the only such gym of its kind in Singapore offering a scenic river view of the Sengkang Riverside Park.
Amenities aside, Ahmari said having an opposition party there has also influenced his decision.
“I need an alternative voice,” he said.
Swing towards opposition could be due to declining resale value of HDB homes
Homeownership and their property value are closely tied to voters sentiment.
Let's look into the case of Toa Payoh HDB estate which falls under the Bishan - Toa Payoh GRC.
In the 2015 General Election, the PAP scored a victory with 73.59 per cent of the vote share against the Singapore People's Party (SPP).
However, the recently concluded election saw a vote swing of 6.33 per cent towards the SPP at 32.74 per cent.
While the PAP won by 67.27 per cent, its support saw a decline of 6.33 per cent.
Likewise, in other mature estates such as Ang Mo Kio GRC and Tanjong Pagar GRC, the PAP witnessed a vote swing towards the opposition at 6.72 per cent and 14.58 per cent respectively.
The endorsement of Sengkang GRC of The Workers' Party is reflective of the changing mood and aspirations of young Singaporeans.
Yes, they want a strong and capable government.
However, they also want a government who listens to them and not one who bulldozes through policies.
Some of these policies include the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) which they believe have contributed to social inequalities (CECA became a hot-button national topic last year when Erramalli Ramesh was caught on video verbally abusing a Singaporean security guard at a condominium).
They also want a government that does not resort to hitting below-the-belt when it comes to their political opponents.
While the PAP has retained power in many estates, the vote swing towards the opposition could also suggest that older voters want the diminishing value of their homes addressed.
As one elderly person that I spoke to puts it: “This is not what was promised by Lee Kuan Yew”.
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