Sunday 20 May 2012

Hougang By-election: On The Campaign Trail, Day 4

Parties ramp up battle for Hougang
PM says result will not alter Parliament much; WP appeals for vote to check the ruling party
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 20 May 2012

The Hougang by-election campaign revved up yesterday, with leaders of the Workers' Party (WP) and the People's Action Party (PAP) spelling out what is at stake on May 26.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, making his first public appearance in support of the PAP's candidate Desmond Choo, said that the outcome of the vote would not change the composition of Parliament significantly, as there were already several opposition voices in the House.

'Whether you have one extra in Hougang, or one less in Hougang, it doesn't change the basic picture in Parliament,' he said, urging voters to think carefully instead about who could serve them best.

WP MPs, led by Mr Low Thia Khiang, however, rejected this view, urging voters to back the party to ensure that the opposition could continue to be a check against the ruling party.

They invoked the 'spirit of Hougang' and pointed to the role that Hougang voters had played since 1991 in supporting the opposition cause. They alluded to how the ward might be wiped off the electoral map if the PAP were to retake the single seat.

Mr Low took centre stage at the party's first election rally last night, speaking twice to make the party's pitch in Mandarin and Teochew, the dialect of many older residents who voted him in as their MP in 1991 and backed him for 20 years.

Addressing a crowd in an open field in Hougang Central, he observed that Singapore politics had taken a new turn after Aljunied GRC fell to his WP team last year.

He urged voters to support WP candidate Png Eng Huat in Hougang so that 'Singapore's democracy can continue to develop'.

The WP rally saw the party leadership coming out in full force, with speeches from its five Aljunied GRC MPs and two Non-Constituency MPs.

They took aim at several national issues, from the MRT disruptions to redrawing of electoral boundaries, and argued that these issues should feature in the by-election, contrary to the PAP line that the contest turned on local issues.

Earlier in the day, PM Lee went for a walkabout in the ward with Mr Choo, visiting residents in several HDB blocks. Noting that the WP stronghold would be a 'tough fight' for the PAP, he said the party would give it its best shot.

The PAP will hold its first rally tonight at Hougang Stadium, also seizing the opportunity to reach as many residents as possible on the only weekend before Polling Day on Saturday.

PM: Pick man who will serve you better
Voters urged to consider carefully which candidate would work hard and has strongest backing to serve them
By Teo Wan Gek, The Straits Times, 20 May 2012

The Prime Minister yesterday urged Hougang voters to elect the candidate who could best serve them, saying that was what democracy was about.

He urged voters to consider carefully whether PAP candidate Desmond Choo, 34, or Workers' Party candidate Png Eng Huat, 50, would work hard for them and had the strongest backing to look after them.

'I think that is the way democracy is meant to work... Democracy means thinking carefully, and choosing each time for the party and the candidate who can serve you the best,' Mr Lee Hsien Loong said during a visit to Hougang ward.

Even though the WP has fielded Mr Png, some Hougang residents said they would cast their votes for WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang, to show him their support.

Mr Low was the MP for Hougang for 20 years, until he left for Aljunied GRC in last May's general election.

Yesterday, Mr Lee also stressed that the WP's candidate for the Hougang by-election is not Mr Low but Mr Png.

He rebutted a WP call to voters to keep Hougang a bastion of democracy, saying that the outcome of the Hougang by-election will not change the picture in Parliament.

He observed that there are currently five WP MPs for Aljunied GRC in the House, along with three Non-Constituency MPs from opposition parties and another nine Nominated MPs.

'Whether you have one extra in Hougang, or one less in Hougang, it doesn't change the basic picture in Parliament,' he said.

Mr Lee also took aim at the WP for triggering the by-election by sacking its former MP for Hougang Yaw Shin Leong for failing to account to the party leadership concerning his alleged extramarital affairs.

Mr Lee said it showed 'a malfunction inside the WP'.

When asked about the WP's assertion that Hougang is serious business for them, Mr Lee shot back: 'Well, if it is serious business for them, they should have put a good candidate here in the first place, in the General Election. But it turned out badly, that's why we are having a by-election now.'

When asked if the PAP will be able to do better this time round, as compared to the polls last May, Mr Lee acknowledged it would still be an uphill battle.

'It is not going to be easy for the PAP to win Hougang. After all, it is the WP's stronghold,' he said in Mandarin.

'But compared to last year, our edge this year is that Desmond has had one more year's worth of work here, got to know more residents, and residents have also got to know him better.

'We hope to get more votes this way, and of course we hope to win. We will give it our best shot.'

PM: PAP leaders are rearguard to Desmond
By Teo Wan Gek, The Straits Times, 20 May 2012

Mr Desmond Choo may assert himself as his own man but yesterday he welcomed the help of the Prime Minister, who went campaigning with him for more than two hours.

Mr Lee Hsien Loong, who is the People's Action Party's secretary-general, spent the afternoon visiting three different parts of the opposition stronghold with him.

Asked later about the visit - as Mr Choo had earlier said he had told party bigwigs he could cope on his own - Mr Lee described Mr Choo as the vanguard of the campaign and he and other PAP leaders as the rearguard supporting him.

'Desmond is his own man, but he is also the PAP candidate, and we chose Desmond to come here,' he said.

Mr Lee revealed that during an interview with Mr Choo, when he was still in the civil service, the party found him to be 'a person who had very warm interest in people, who liked working with people and wanted to do good with people'.

In looking for a good candidate for Hougang after his predecessor Eric Low's retirement, the PAP decided on Mr Choo as he is young and energetic and has a natural warmth with people.

Mr Choo was a little taken aback at first, Mr Lee said, as he was not expecting to stand, but he took up the challenge and continued to soldier on in Hougang even after his defeat last year.

The party decided to field him again now as he was better known after one year and would stand a stronger chance.

Said Mr Lee: 'So I think that, having committed him, it is my responsibility to come and give him the backing and support and encouragement, and to show residents in Hougang, and more generally Singaporeans, that he has our full support.'

Mr Lee's visit showed Hougang's importance to the PAP and that his team has the party's full support, said Mr Choo.

He stressed though that he would make the final decision for the campaign, even as he seeks the advice of party veterans.

As the vanguard, he has to break new ground, he said, adding: 'I will continue to walk my own path.'

Yesterday, Mr Lee's first visit was to the one-room rental home of Madam Selvarani Maruthan, 38, in Hougang Avenue 7.

The single parent with three young children had asked Mr Choo for help to reduce her monthly rent of $99. She does not work as her youngest daughter, aged six, has cerebral palsy. She gets by on $400 a month disbursed by the North East Community Development Council.

She said: 'I am very grateful for the help and very happy the Prime Minister visited my home.'
Mr Lee also visited Madam Ong Geok Huay, 68, whose toilet had been refurbished with funds raised by Mr Choo, from a squatting toilet to a pedestal one and with handrails and non-slip flooring.

He also dropped in at Sunlove Seniors Activities Centre and the void deck in Hougang Avenue 3, where elderly residents were collecting food rations prepared by voluntary welfare organisation Happy Angel Seniors.

Residents surged forward to shake his hands and share their woes. Some invited him to visit their homes.

Speaking to reporters later, Mr Lee said residents had a range of needs. Elderly folk like Madam Ong, for example, needed help to refurbish parts of their home. 'These are small gestures that we can make, but it shows that we do care, and where we can we do want to help in very practical ways to make things better,' he said.

Choo to lobby for more facilities
By Teo Wan Gek, The Straits Times, 20 May 2012

The lack of covered linkways and drop-off points is a source of major inconvenience to Hougang residents and PAP candidate Desmond Choo intends to 'fight very hard' to secure these facilities for them.

Mr Choo, 34, said residents' feedback on the lack of such facilities struck a chord with him.

'If you walk the ground, you will find that a lot of residents are hampered by the fact that there are no linkways, no sheltered drop-off points, really insufficient coverage, causing inconvenience not only to the elderly but young families with kids. 'Try pushing a pram and carrying an umbrella at the same time. It is not easy,' he said.

Mr Choo is also lobbying for a new market to be built in Hougang Avenue 3, to replace the one torn down five years ago. Yesterday, he said he was waiting to hear from the Ministry of National Development on the matter.

'You see me continuing on that path forward, being out there to sense the ground, what they need and fight for them,' he told the media.

Mr Choo began and ended his day with block visits. In the afternoon, he played host to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who came to show his support for Mr Choo.

Acknowledging that it has been a 'tough fight so far', Mr Choo said all his supporters were energised by PM Lee's visit.

'It shows that Hougang is important to the PAP, and that PM himself pays special attention to Hougang. It has always been the case, and today shows that we are very serious about this fight,' he said.
Another PAP office holder also made his way to Hougang yesterday. Minister of State (Trade and Industry) Teo Ser Luck was at Hougang Avenue 5 in the morning to distribute fliers and urge residents to vote for Mr Choo.

Mr Teo, who like Mr Choo is Teochew, lived in Hougang for 20 years. He called Mr Choo his 'brother'.

'I'm impressed by him. He will rebut even a minister when he disagrees with certain policies. He works hard and never gives up,' Mr Teo said of Mr Choo.

'I will fight alongside him if he needs me to,' Mr Teo added.

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