Tuesday 22 May 2012

Hougang By-election: On The Campaign Trail, Day 6

I took my name out of the ballot for NCMP post: WP's Png
By Saifulbahri Ismail, The Straits Times, 21 May 2012

The Workers' Party's candidate for Hougang, Mr Png Eng Huat, said he had decided not to be considered for the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) post after last year's General Election (GE).

In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia on Monday, Mr Png revealed he was against the NCMP scheme.

He said this stand goes back to the time when the NCMP scheme was introduced.

He did not wish for a government to dictate on the number and type of opposition members in Parliament.

Mr Png added that before the GE, he had made the position clear to The Workers' Party's Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang and the party.

At a rally on Sunday night, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean had asked the Workers' Party why it didn't send Mr Png to parliament as an NCMP when it had a chance to do so.

Mr Png said: "I actually took my name out of the ballot for the NCMP post. Because I have a personal stand against the NCMP scheme, so that's why my name wasn't in the ballot. So I don't think DPM knows all of these."

Mr Png was part of the Workers' Party team for East Coast GRC in last year's GE.

The Elections Department had offered three NCMP seats to the best losing opposition candidates in last year's GE.

One of the seats was offered to the Workers' Party's East Coast GRC team, which was taken up by Mr Gerald Giam.

Mr Png also commented on DPM Teo's suggestion that the Workers' Party had taken the Hougang residents for granted.

Mr Teo had said that the manner in which the Workers' Party handled Mr Yaw Shin Leong's expulsion from the party, which had led to the by-election, was the issue.

Mr Png said Mr Teo has not visited nor talked to the residents as intensely as he had.

Mr Png also pointed out the issue of Mr Yaw's expulsion was brought up by residents a few times during his home visits.

Choose your MP who can take care of residents in the long term, says PAP's candidate
By Sharon See, Channel NewsAsia, 21 May 2012 

People's Action Party (PAP) candidate Desmond Choo maintains that the Hougang by-election is a local contest.

He said it's about choosing a Member of Parliament (MP) who can take care of the residents in the long term.

"I still aspire to be an MP that will take care of the local issues first. Let's take care of the basic needs. At the same time, let's not forget that we have a responsibility towards Hougang residents at the national level, but push for things that can be realised," he said.

Mr Choo made these points in response to questions from reporters about the national issues that have been highlighted by The Workers' Party.

He said he also addressed national issues which he feels strongly about at his rally on Sunday night.

But he can't be an MP for all issues as it would cause him to spread himself too thin and lose focus.

Mr Choo was also asked about a comment by The Workers' Party's Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang - that he is riding on government welfare schemes in his campaign.

Mr Choo replied that an MP needs to apply pressure on the authorities to hasten certain national projects, such as the Lift Upgrading Programme.

He said if Hougang's development was ideal, he would not need to actively pressure the Ministry of National Development to move faster.

Mr Choo also refuted rumours online that he had asked residents to vote for him 'in return for gifts'.

Mr Choo said he is a man of integrity and he does not want that to be challenged.

He said he has developed schemes for Hougang residents, even after he lost in the last General Election, and that the allegation is not consistent with what he has been doing.

The allegation first appeared on a Facebook page registered as "Temasek Review" on Monday morning, but the post has since been taken down.

The person who posted the allegation said a police report may be made.

Mr Choo said he will address it seriously if a police report is made, because it will be a challenge to his integrity, as well as the integrity of the campaign team and the PAP.

Sparks fly but no fire at mid-point of campaign
By Robin Chan and Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 22 May 2012

AT THE mid-point of the Hougang campaign, the keenly watched contest remains a low-key and carefully controlled affair.

The Workers' Party and People's Action Party have focused their efforts on a ground campaign of house-to-house visits, and meet-and-greet sessions at MRT stations and markets.

And while they have traded jabs in two rallies over government policies and choice of candidates, neither seems to have delivered a knock-out blow yet.

The PAP most recently questioned why Mr Png Eng Huat was not the first choice from his East Coast GRC team to be sent to Parliament as a Non-Constituency MP.

Yesterday, Mr Png said in reply that he had told WP chief Low Thia Khiang that he did not want to be considered for the seat as he was against the NCMP scheme.

Former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin observed: 'What's quite clear is that both the WP and PAP are taking the Hougang voters very seriously.

'They don't want to do anything that will offend them. That's because they know many of the voters are still undecided. The voters want to see a better candidate from last year.'

At its first rally over the weekend, the WP said there can be no divorcing of national issues from local ones, and that the PAP is concerned that many citizens are not happy with its performance over the past year.

The PAP has in turn countered that the WP has not come up with specific solutions to national problems, and accused the opposition party of changing its stand on issues such as ministerial salaries and foreign workers.

At the PAP's rally on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean asked if the WP was 'speaking honestly for the good of Singaporeans'.

'Are they changing their tune again?' he asked.

But veteran opposition watcher Wong Wee Nam said voters may find it hard to get interested either way the debate swings.

'It is not a GE, so it is very hard to fight on national issues. Yet, if they try to keep it local, there is nothing really to excite.'

He added that a by-election in one ward coming so soon after the GE, may have contributed to a 'lacklustre atmosphere'.

Both sides have preferred to campaign out of the media glare, with the WP being very disciplined and sparing with its media appearances.

Both parties have given the media few details about their candidates' movements around the ward, and generally tried to limit media access to predetermined doorstop interviews or fixed events.

Political observers said it could be that both parties want a low-risk campaign. A campaign with a higher profile carries the risk of drawing stronger responses from the other side, they said.

Mr Zulkifli described it as 'a battle of sincerity'.

'The candidates want to appear as sincere, honest and credible as possible, and are keeping away from rhetoric and big speeches,' he said.

Yesterday, as both sides took stock of their campaigns, the WP closed ranks around Mr Png and planned their counter-punches for the rally tonight.

PAP candidate Desmond Choo continued to receive support from his party's ministers and MPs, who have distributed fliers, gone door-to-door and helped him with his rally speeches. Former Aljunied GRC candidate Ong Ye Kung also dropped by the Hougang PAP branch yesterday.

Still, the battle for Hougang remains an uphill one for the PAP, which has failed to take Hougang for the last 20 years. The Straits Times understands from some party sources that it is hoping to breach the 40 per cent mark, after the PAP won just 35.2 per cent last year.

Yesterday, Mr Choo said of his chances: 'I'm realistic. It has only been a year since GE. I'm confident that we are making inroads... There is a firm show of support, but it is going to be a very tough contest.'

Online debate more even-handed than during GE
By Teo Wan Gek, The Straits Times, 22 May 2012

THE online debate on the Hougang campaign is more even-handed compared to the overwhelmingly negative slant against the ruling party during last year's general election, say observers.

A year ago, nearly every act or comment by the People's Action Party (PAP) came under attack, while the Workers' Party (WP) was largely unscathed.

But a year on, political watchers notice a shift in cyberspace. While the PAP continues to be fair game, the WP has also garnered its share of critics.

They say the change is due to two main factors.

Firstly, many from the PAP camp are more organised about defending the party, with the setting-up of online sites such as 'Fabrications about the PAP'.

Secondly, netizens are beginning to demand more from the WP following its historic breakthrough of garnering a GRC and winning six seats in all.

Socio-political blogger Siew Kum Hong said: 'The WP has grown and bears the weight of increased expectations, so naturally criticism of the WP has increased.'

On the PAP mobilising more effectively online, most watchers cite the Fabrications page as one that has gained traction and also the role played by politicians themselves to be online.

Said Mr Siew: 'I would attribute the new partisan pro-PAP voices to their activists and supporters.'

Fabrications went online last September, and is now endorsing the PAP's candidate for Hougang, Mr Desmond Choo. Its posts include photo collages of him on the campaign trail and anti-WP posts.

Another website, SG Hard Truth, claims to give a balanced and fair view countering the anti-establishment movement, but most posts hit out hard at WP, blaming it for triggering the by-election.

Even anti-establishment website Temasek Times has joined the fray. Recent posts on the by-election display uncharacteristic sympathy and support for the PAP's Mr Choo.

The emergence of these anti-WP posts is a marked departure from last year, when online vitriol was reserved mostly for the PAP.

National University of Singapore political science lecturer Reuben Wong said the stakes have gone up for the WP as it now has the biggest opposition presence in Parliament.

And some supporters are unhappy over its recent missteps such as in the handling of the Yaw Shin Leong saga. The former Hougang MP had refused to come clean on allegations of extramarital affairs.

Noting that more pro-establishment voices were being heard online, Mr Andrew Loh, editor of Publichouse.sg, said: 'People realise that social media is here to stay, and whether they like it or not, they have to get on it.'

In the past, misinformation about the party may have circulated freely in cyberspace, but these days, PAP MPs and activists do their part to counter them. An example is the recent storm that erupted over a photograph showing Mr Choo seemingly snubbing WP's Png Eng Huat's handshake at the Nomination Centre.

Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin was quick to post on Facebook another picture of the moment showing Mr Choo clasping Mr Png's hands, noting that the encounter was the complete opposite of the first picture.

Dr Wong said, however, that being active was not the same as being effective: 'It remains to be seen if the PAP's countermeasures gain traction among netizens.'

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