Friday 18 May 2012

Hougang By-election: On The Campaign Trail

Media? No. Rallies? Not yet.
Both candidates keep campaigning low-key with door-to-door outreach
By RACHEL CHANG and ROBIN CHAN, The Straits Times, 18 May 2012

THE first full day of campaigning started on a low-key note yesterday, as the two Hougang candidates eschewed high-profile activities, opting instead for an intense door-to-door outreach to voters.

Not only did they put rallies on hold until the weekend, but both Mr Png Eng Huat of the Workers' Party (WP) and Mr Desmond Choo of the People's Action Party (PAP) also tried to shake off reporters.

Both men seemed determined to win the ground game, starting early in the morning in an effort to meet and greet as many of Hougang's 23,368 voters as possible.

Mr Choo began his day at 6.30am, visiting several coffee shops before heading to the bus interchange to greet residents leaving for work.

Mr Png started an hour later, beginning at Block 308 and ending at Hougang MRT station, where he pressed palms for 40 minutes.

Both men spent the rest of the day going house-to-house visiting at some of the 97 Housing Board (HDB) blocks in the ward.
Their parties took care to keep netizens updated. The WP uploaded pictures of Mr Png doing his rounds on its Facebook page, while the PAP's leadership, like Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, lent Mr Choo encouragement in Facebook postings.

On the campaign trail, Mr Png was flanked by the WP's big guns - party chief Low Thia Khiang and three other MPs from Aljunied GRC - party chairman Sylvia Lim, Mr Chen Show Mao and Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap.

Mr Choo did his rounds of the constituency, flanked by party supporters, but there was no sign of any PAP heavyweights joining him on the campaign trail.

The two candidates' messages differed accordingly: Mr Png told reporters that his rally speeches will dwell on the theme of 'why it is so important to keep Hougang'.

In a letter distributed to residents on Wednesday, he described the ward as a 'bastion of unwavering courage' that had kept democracy alive since 1991.

Mr Choo urged residents to cast their votes based on local concerns. 'Do not mix up 'democracy and providing alternative voices' with the purpose of this by-election,' he told reporters.

'(The purpose) is that Hougang residents need somebody to take care of them. Somebody to provide that change for a fresh, new and vibrant environment.'

The WP, he pointed out, already has five MPs and two Non- Constituency MPs in Parliament.

Both candidates, who had on Nomination Day agreed on a 'clean fight', studiously avoided the topic of WP veteran Poh Lee Guan. Dr Poh had sparked talk he would contest the by-election when he was issued a political donation certificate, but did not show up for nomination in the end, insisting afterwards that he was an 'unofficial back-up'.

Hit by a barrage of questions about the issue, Mr Png would only say that he had not been in contact with Dr Poh.

He added: 'It is better to direct (the questions) to him because he is the one who made all these statements. For me, I'm just very focused on the campaign. I'm not distracted by any of the things.'
Mr Choo, too, said he has not discussed the matter with Hougang residents.

Both sides are due to hold their first rallies this weekend. The WP has earmarked Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday as rally nights.

Don't confuse issues in by-election: Desmond Choo
By Sharon See, Channel NewsAsia, 17 May 2012

The People's Action Party's Hougang by-election candidate Desmond Choo on Thursday asked voters not to mix up the democratic process with the need for alternative voices in Parliament.

Mr Choo said that the by-election itself shows that Singapore's democracy was working.

He added that there were already five alternative voices in Parliament.

"This by-election is really about selecting a candidate that can best serve the long-term interests of the residents," he said.

"So do not mix up the democracy part with providing alternative voices and the real purpose of this by-election, which is that Hougang residents need somebody to take care of them."

Mr Choo was speaking to reporters during his house visits on Wednesday.

He stressed that he too, could be an alternative voice in Parliament who would bring up both local and national issues.

Since he is a unionist, he said he would raise issues such as education and the plight of low wage workers.

In a mailer distributed to residents, Mr Choo said his vision for Hougang is one where everyone shares a brighter future.

This includes making preschools more affordable and creating more family-friendly spaces, as well as improving job conditions for low and middle-income workers.

Mr Choo has not confirmed a date for his rally. 

WP's Png to champion transport, education & wage issues
By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 18 May 2012

The Workers' Party (WP) candidate for the Hougang by-election, Mr Png Eng Huat, wants to champion issues on transport, education and low-wage workers at the national level.

The 50-year-old businessman highlighted these issues after a walkabout on Thursday morning in the single seat ward.

Together with him was the Workers' Party chief, Low Thia Khiang, who was Hougang's MP for 20 years.

In a mailer distributed to residents, Mr Low had apologised for the need to have this by-election.

Mr Low described Hougang as the bastion of democracy in Singapore.

Mr Low said that without Hougang's determination in rejecting a single party rule for the past 20 years, Singapore's democratic system wouldn't have progressed the way it has today.

The Workers' Party said this will be the focus of rally speeches during its campaign.

Mr Png will hold his first rally on either Friday or Saturday.

"We are going to protect... in the sense that we are going to keep Hougang. We'd probably talk about... why it is so important to keep Hougang," said Mr Png.

Mr Png said since it is a by-election, the party will not be holding rallies daily.

He also said he would welcome Dr Poh Lee Guan to join in his campaign.

Dr Poh had caused a stir when he tried to be an unofficial back-up candidate for the Workers' Party in the by-election.

Veteran Poh back to toeing WP line
By TESSA WONG & ANDREA ONG, The Straits Times, 18 May 2012

A DAY after he raised the hackles of Workers' Party (WP) leaders by threatening to be a spoiler in the Hougang battle, Dr Poh Lee Guan appears to want to toe the line.

The WP veteran yesterday declined to comment on the criticisms levelled against him when contacted by The Straits Times.

He said party rules require him to get permission from secretary-general Low Thia Khiang or chairman Sylvia Lim before speaking to the media.

It was a turnaround from Wednesday morning, when speculation was rife that he might contest the Hougang by-election, even though the WP was fielding Mr Png Eng Huat.

The possibility arose after the Elections Department (ELD) announced on Tuesday that the private school lecturer had been granted a political donations certificate, a prerequisite for standing in an election.

But while Dr Poh, 50, showed up at a coffee shop near the Nomination Centre, he told reporters all he wanted to do was to be the 'unofficial back-up' candidate.

He had wanted to keep it under wraps as it was never his objective to contest. 'I wanted it to be a non-event. I wanted to be like the spare tyre that's put inside the boot, just in case we need it.'

Mr Low said on Wednesday that Dr Poh had not told the party of his intentions.

Meanwhile, Dr Poh has denied his maverick move was to show his unhappiness with the party.

He was first assistant secretary-general of WP from 2001 to 2006. But in 2010, he was not voted into the central executive council. He had also contested three general elections under the WP banner, including last year's polls.

Yesterday, sources close to Dr Poh said that he remained loyal to the WP. For instance, he donated part of the benefits he received after getting laid off in 2001 to the party.

They also said he may have wanted to prevent a repeat of 2001, when a WP team was disqualified from contesting in Aljunied GRC because its nomination forms were incomplete.

Dr Poh had earlier said he was surprised the ELD had released the names of those who received the political donations certificate.

Yesterday, the ELD clarified that it had issued the names in response to media queries. 'There were no similar queries in previous elections,' it said. In the past three general elections, the ELD had announced the number of certificates given out, and it was more than 100 in each election.

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