Thursday 24 May 2012

Hougang By-election: On The Campaign Trail, Day 8

Png's integrity in question: DPM Teo
WP candidate 'not truthful' about why he was not picked as NCMP
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 24 May 2012

DEPUTY Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday fired a third salvo at Mr Png Eng Huat - this time charging that the Workers' Party (WP) candidate 'was not truthful' about why he was not selected for a Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) spot.

A 'new and serious question' about Mr Png's integrity has been raised by events over the last three days, said Mr Teo in a statement released yesterday.

Mr Png said he was not chosen for the 'best loser' spot because he did not want it, recounted Mr Teo. Mr Gerald Giam, Mr Png's teammate on the WP's East Coast GRC slate, took the post instead.

But Mr Png's account was contradicted by WP chief Low Thia Khiang at the WP's rally on Tuesday night, said Mr Teo.

Then, Mr Low said that 'the selection of NCMP lies solely with the CEC (central executive council)... therefore whether a candidate wanted to be an NCMP or not, the decision is not his'.

'This is the opposite of the picture Mr Png first tried to paint - that he had taken his name off the ballot, and that he was not considered for the NCMP post because he did not want it,' Mr Teo said.

'Thus, Mr Low confirmed that Mr Png had not been telling the truth, and had indeed been rejected by the WP central executive council as an NCMP. This is the real damage to the WP and Mr Png's reputations,' he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Teo's original question has still not been answered, he emphasised.

This question, posed at the PAP rally on Sunday, triggered events of the last three days. If Hougang is so important to the WP, Mr Teo asked at the rally, why did they expect voters to elect a man they themselves did not see fit to send to Parliament?

Yesterday, Mr Teo said in his statement: 'Voters should reconsider whether the WP is just tugging at their emotions, but actually taking voters for granted.'

In reference to the WP's slogan for the general election last year, he concluded: 'For a First World Parliament, the basic prerequisite is that parliamentarians must be honest and truthful.'

The WP did not respond to Mr Teo's comments last night.

'Png-gate' or 'NCMP-gate', as it has been dubbed online, has dominated the second half of the Hougang by-election campaign.

Mr Png said he had misspoken when he said in an interview on Monday that his name had been taken off the NCMP ballot when the WP was choosing who to fill the post. 'When I used the word 'ballot', for me at the time... it's a voting process,' he said. While all five candidates in the WP East Coast GRC team had their names on the ballot, he said he had informed Mr Low and his teammates that he was not interested in the seat.

Yesterday, Mr Teo cast doubt on this account: 'It is not unusual for WP candidates to say that they are personally opposed to the NCMP scheme, but then accept the NCMP position later, when the WP decides to appoint them.

'There have been and are several WP NCMPs in Parliament.'

Up for a good, clean fight
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 24 May 2012

IT IS still a 'good, clean fight' between him and Workers' Party (WP) candidate Png Eng Huat, insisted People's Action Party (PAP) man Desmond Choo yesterday.

Despite the questioning of Mr Png's personal integrity by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean regarding a Non-Constituency MP post, Mr Choo told reporters yesterday that he and Mr Png 'still have mutual respect for each other'. 'During times that we meet on the campaign trail, we still exchange warm greetings. I hope it stays this way and I am quite confident it will remain so.'

But he did hit out at charges from the WP that he is not really 'his own man', as he has strove to show during this campaign. He would have to toe the party line in Parliament, they pointed out, because of the party whip.

Mr Png, on the other hand, could vote against the Government's policies, they said.

Mr Choo countered that he would be willing to 'advocate on behalf of Singaporeans' even if it contradicts the party line. That he is independent from the party machinery has been an important plank in his campaign for the opposition ward. 'I walk the ground alone,' he emphasised. When other PAP MPs have visited the ward to help in his campaign, they have gone around distributing fliers and visiting residents on their own, not by his side.

'I want residents to see that this is me running the campaign,' said Mr Choo.

'Mr Png also has to vote according to his own WP party lines,' he said. 'So, that says it.'

Png's comments won't hurt party for now: Observers
By Leonard Lim, Robin Chan and Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 24 May 2012

HOUGANG residents yesterday appeared unfazed by the swirl of controversy over the Workers' Party (WP) candidate's comments on the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme.

Many who were interviewed by The Straits Times said that what mattered was still how well their MP could serve them and meet their municipal concerns - and this will decide how they vote come Saturday.

One of them, a 62-year-old driver who gave only his surname, Mr Poh, spoke for this group when he said: 'It's up to others how they want to cook up a controversy.

'It's not important. Can Png Eng Huat look after the people? That's the most important question.'

Political observers weighing in over the spat between the WP and the People's Action Party (PAP) over Mr Png's remarks on whether he had been in the running for an NCMP post also felt that it was unlikely to be a 'game changer' in this by-election.

Rather, any impact on the WP, a party reputed for its tight discipline and organisation in recent years, is likely to be felt in the long run, they said.

The saga centres on Mr Png's comments on Monday to Channel NewsAsia that he took his name out of the ballot for the NCMP post - a position for the 'best loser' candidates.

But late on Monday night, an anonymous source e-mailed to the media minutes of a WP central executive council (CEC) meeting after last year's general election that contradicted Mr Png's comments.

On Tuesday morning, Mr Png apologised for the 'confusion', saying that he had used the word 'ballot' to mean the 'voting process' and not the voting slip.

However, many Hougang voters The Straits Times spoke to yesterday either did not know of the controversy, or were willing to put it aside.

Housewife Kathryn Chiam, 47, said Mr Png may not have phrased his initial comments carefully, but 'the important thing is he has clarified and rectified the statement'.

Electrical shop owner H. C. Koh said that there are allegations spreading around about candidates from both parties, and some people might be swayed by them.

'But based on what I know of Hougang voters, they will choose their MP based on who can be their champion and supporter,' said the 75-year-old, an Hougang resident of nearly 30 years.

He cautioned the PAP against coming down too hard against Mr Png. It might make him the true underdog in the campaign, he said, and not Mr Png's opponent, the ruling party's Desmond Choo who had cast himself as the underdog.

However, residents like technician Mohd Anwar Nasir, 32, said that their trust in the WP was wavering.

He said: 'I have had confidence in the WP, but after the recent news about Png, it does not quite tally.

'What he has been saying is confusing while the PAP has seemed more straightforward.'

The twists and turns over the past week have left some residents such as Mr Koh Cheng Quan at a lost.

Like many of those interviewed, the 68-year-old retiree said that party chief Low Thia Khiang's backing of Mr Png mattered more.

'At the end of the day, as long as Low is still helping out and walking about, that's what is important,' Mr Koh said of the former Hougang MP who served the ward for 20 years until last year.

While they were not perturbed about Mr Png's comments, some residents did have questions over what appeared to be a rift within the WP, given the leak of the CEC meeting minutes.

Even so, they said it should not matter in this by-election.

Engineer Chen Yu Luen, 28, said: 'When a party gets bigger and has more members, there are bound to be more problems.'

Several political watchers also felt that any setback would have little impact on the by-election, given that the WP had a healthy 30 percentage point victory margin over the PAP last year.

Dr Reuben Wong from the National University of Singapore felt the incident was a 'big distraction away from who's best placed to serve the Hougang voters', as the focus should be on the candidates and their parties' programmes.

He added: 'The PAP seems to be splitting hairs and will have to watch that they don't overdo things. If they overdo it, public opinion will shift against them.'

But Nominated MP Eugene Tan felt that the episode might lead to some erosion of support.

How such an outcome would impact the WP in the longer term is less clear.

Observers noted that the leaking of the CEC minutes comes a week after WP veteran Poh Lee Guan caused a stir when he obtained paperwork to become a by-election candidate, without informing party leaders.

The incidents have fuelled speculation that all may not be well within the WP.

Opposition watcher Wong Wee Nam noted: 'The evidence points to not just petty quarrels within the party, but something more deep seated.'

Choo's toilet upgrade project gets $100,000 donation
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 24 May 2012

THE Rotary Club is pledging a $100,000 gift to PAP candidate Desmond Choo's initiative to retrofit ageing toilets in Hougang.

With the donation, funds for the programme, which has upgraded 11 squat toilets to sitting ones and with 19 more in the pipeline, will more than double.

Another 50 toilets can then be retrofitted, said Mr Choo's campaign team yesterday. Non-slip tiles and grab bars are also included in the upgrading, based on residents' needs.

President of the Rotary Club, Mr Kumar Tapan Rao, said that he was shown a video on YouTube of a resident who had benefited from the retrofitting by a fellow Rotarian last week.

The video was produced by a group named 'The People for Desmond Choo'.

'We realised that there is this problem we were not aware of out there. But it's hard to address it logistically. Will people let us into their homes to see their toilets? So we thought, let's ask the person who has already been doing this to help us,' he said.

He insisted that the political dimension of the donation - coming in the middle of a by-election for the Workers' Party-held Hougang ward - did not cross their minds.

'It is not that we are wanting to promote a political cause. We are looking for a human story. If it was brought forward by an individual who has political affiliations, then we can't help that.'

Dos and don'ts
THE Elections Department yesterday reminded Hougang candidates and their supporters not to campaign or canvass for votes on Cooling-off Day and Polling Day.

Cooling-off Day is tomorrow, and is meant to give voters time to reflect rationally on the issues raised during campaigning before they vote on Polling Day on Saturday.

The following campaign and election advertising activities are banned on those two days:
- Publishing and displaying election advertising, including on the Internet, that was not already displayed or published before the start of Cooling-off Day; 
- Canvassing, visiting homes and workplaces of voters in connection with the election; 
- Wearing, carrying and displaying political insignia or propaganda; and 
- Holding rallies. 
However, the following are allowed: 
- News relating to elections published in newspapers or broadcast on radio or TV; 
- Approved posters and banners that were lawfully displayed before the start of Cooling-off Day; 
Other election advertising, including that on the Internet, that was displayed or published before Cooling-off Day; 
- Distributing or promoting the sale of any book if its publication was scheduled independent of the election and it is not sold at less than its commercial value; 
Transmitting personal political views by any individual to another using the telephone, Internet or other electronic means; and 
Wearing of party badges or symbols by candidates.
On Polling Day, polling stations will be open from 8am to 8pm. Voters are reminded to bring along their original NRIC or passport and poll card to the polling station to cast their vote.

WP should match performance with ideals
THE Workers' Party's (WP) recent record of leadership does not appear to match its lofty ideals such as a First World Parliament, which it trumpeted in last year's General Election.

Such ideals should not be merely aimed at vote-getting, but must be proven in its parliamentary performance and work on the ground.

Thus far, the WP leadership has been less than gracious, with every party mis-step being explained away because of political expediency.

For instance, the Yaw Shin Leong saga, which triggered the need for Saturday's by-election, saw the WP offering various reasons for sacking Mr Yaw: It was his indiscretion, his refusal to come clean on his alleged extramarital affairs, and the need to ensure that Parliament is represented by honourable MPs.

It would have been better if the WP leaders had taken the honest route of admitting they were wrong to pick Mr Yaw, and apologised.

Now, leaked internal party leadership minutes raise more questions about the WP's honesty and transparency involving Mr Yaw's replacement and current candidate for Hougang, Mr Png Eng Huat (''WP hasn't been upfront or honest''; yesterday).

Prior to the leaked document, Mr Png claimed he did not want the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) nomination when, in fact, he was not chosen (''I meant voting process, not voting slip''; yesterday).

The WP's actions following the leaked minutes raise more critical questions about leadership.

How could the minutes of a highly confidential central executive council meeting find its way to the media? Where are the party's internal controls?

Its serial refusal to accept responsibility and placing the blame for its shortcomings on others are amazing.

Instead of acknowledging its weaknesses, the party calls the leaked minutes an attempt to weaken it ('Executive council decides on NCMP'; yesterday).

If Mr Png had refused the NCMP nomination, the party should have respected his decision, or risk sending a reluctant participant to Parliament, which would then raise the question of the WP's sincerity in wanting to create a First World Parliament.
Stephen Chia Keow Chin
ST Forum, 24 May 2012

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