Saturday 26 May 2012

Hougang By-election: On The Campaign Trail, Day 9

PAP: Chance to start afresh in Hougang
PM Lee, Khaw Boon Wan urge residents to back young candidate
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

THE People's Action Party (PAP) ended its campaign in Hougang yesterday with a call for change in the ward, urging voters to start afresh with its young candidate.

'Hougang, let's turn over a new page and start again,' declared party chairman Khaw Boon Wan at the PAP's final rally of the by-election last night.

With the ward in opposition hands since 1991, Hougang residents had been adversely affected, said Mr Khaw.

'This is a good chance for a fresh start.'

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong struck the same note in remarks to the media yesterday.

'Now the people of Hougang have a chance to make a fresh start, to vote in a PAP candidate who will work with the Government to improve their lives,' he wrote.

'I hope Hougang voters seize this chance.'

PAP candidate Desmond Choo, 34, described Hougang's 23,368 voters as standing at a crossroads.

In an impassioned rally speech, he said voters could either stick with the status quo in Hougang, or make a change now.

Sticking with the status quo would mean four more years of the same thing, he said. 'And that is four years too long.'

Mr Choo, who has run a dogged campaign centred on door-to-door outreach, was repeatedly described by PAP leaders as 'sincere, idealistic and hard-working' last night.

They noted that despite having lost the general election last year with 35.2 per cent of the vote, Mr Choo stayed in Hougang - unlike the man who was elected, former Workers' Party (WP) MP Yaw Shin Leong.

Pressing this point, Mr Khaw said voters should be sceptical about the WP's new candidate since the previous one had 'sold them lemons'.

Responding to criticisms from Workers' Party leaders on various national policies, he noted that Singapore's economic growth and low unemployment were not due to good luck, but because the Government had not done too bad a job.

It had mostly made good decisions and was working hard to address the concerns raised, he said.

Mr Choo wrapped up his campaign last night, acknowledging that it would be difficult for some Hougang voters to switch from the WP to him, but urged them to give him a chance to serve them.

'Vote for a new beginning,'' he said.

WP keeps up First World Parliament aim
Losing Hougang would be step back in realising this vision: Low

By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

THE Workers' Party (WP), led by party chief Low Thia Khiang, yesterday told voters that retaining Hougang represents the continuation of their journey towards a First World Parliament.

Losing Hougang would be a step backwards in realising this vision, the party said in its final rally, ending a campaign marked by its candidate coming under repeated attack, and questions raised over party unity.

Mr Low, who rose to speak three times and got the loudest cheers, said: 'Hougang has been a beacon of hope for Singapore in the last 21 years, through its unwavering support for the WP.'

The People's Action Party (PAP), he said, 'had cast Hougang aside', including residents who had voted for it, depriving them of estate upgrading.

'Our National Pledge says to build a democratic society based on justice and equality,' he said.

'But where is the justice and equality for all the voters of Hougang, including those who have voted for the PAP in the last 21 years?' he asked.

Hougang candidate Png Eng Huat repeated the message. 'A vote for the PAP will be a vote in the wrong direction in our march towards a First World Parliament,' he said.

'A vote for the PAP will be a giant step backwards for justice, equality and democracy.'

The WP members who took to the stage also argued that the WP has successfully influenced policy changes that were in line with their own manifesto.

Holding up the WP manifesto, Mr Low said in the last year, the Government had done three things it asked for, including removing discriminatory housing policies against single parents, having more build-to-order flats, and improving health care.

The WP chief, who left Hougang after 20 years to stand in Aljunied GRC last year, then turned his sights on the PAP candidate Desmond Choo.

Lobbing back the PAP's own question on whether Mr Png was the WP's best choice, Mr Low asked if Mr Choo was the best man the PAP could field. Unlike former Aljunied candidate Ong Ye Kung, Mr Choo was not touted as a future minister, said Mr Low.

'So is Desmond Choo their best man? I think DPM Teo and the PAP need to explain to voters about this,' he said to applause.

'In the WP... there is no need to say who is the best. What is important is this: Png Eng Huat is the better man for Hougang.'

Khaw points to PAP Govt's track record
He says WP's criticism was expected but his party has led country well

By Rachel Chang and Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

NATIONAL Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan spoke up for the People's Action Party (PAP) Government's track record last night, saying it 'has done not too bad a job in running this country'.

The Workers' Party's (WP) lambasting of government policies during the by-election campaign was to be expected, he said, adding that 'we accept that this is politics'.

But while the PAP has its shortcomings, he said he hoped Singaporeans would at least acknowledge what it had got right.

Mr Khaw, who delivered the keynote address at the PAP's final rally in Hougang last night, contrasted the high unemployment rate in many countries with the situation in Singapore, where unemployment is at 2 per cent.

'It is not because of good luck,' said the PAP party chairman.

'It is only possible because the PAP Government has made mostly the correct decisions and had the support of the people.'

He noted that seizing new investment opportunities in the past created jobs, but strained public infrastructure.

Emphasising that the Government is 'attending to' these issues by ramping up the building of infrastructure and slowing the growth of the foreign population, he said that 'we are confident that within four or five years, the situation should improve significantly'.

Mr Khaw also contrasted the hard work of governance with the ease of criticism.

'The rhetoric of the WP is effective in arousing anger, but are they fair?' he asked.

'It is easy to criticise but it is hard work to come up with solutions. And there are no solutions which can satisfy all,' he added.

In his rally speech, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat also stressed that democratic politics is not 'a war of words'.

Rather, he said democracy should be constructive. 'After all that is said, we still need to have concrete actions to realise the plans,' he said in Mandarin.

These principles apply nationally and even more so locally, he noted. Democracy means choosing the best candidate who can look after residents' needs, foster social cohesion and realise plans to develop the ward, he said.

The two PAP heavyweights anchored the party's rally last night, which was attended by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching. At least 13 PAP MPs were in the audience, including Cabinet ministers Lim Swee Say and Vivian Balakrishnan.

Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob and former PAP MP Yu-Foo Yee Shoon spoke at the rally.

Both saw Mr Desmond Choo in action at the National Trades Union Congress where he is a deputy director, and spoke of how he had fought for low-wage workers.

Mr Khaw and Mr Heng stressed that Hougang voters would see their lives improve much more with a PAP MP as their representative.

Like 'two good hands working in harmony', a PAP MP fits with the Government, said Mr Khaw.

But if one hand is down, one becomes clumsy and slow; it is even more difficult when one hand gets in the way of the other, he said as he lifted his left arm, which was covered in a brace for a fracture he sustained last month, to drive home the point.

Ultimately, when an MP does not agree with the Government's policies or its key projects, 'the people in the constituency suffer', he said.

Mr Khaw ended off by leading the crowd in reciting the lyrics of National Day song Home. He asked voters to use Cooling-Off Day to 'pause and reflect on our achievements, despite the odds'.

'We can make a better future together,' he urged voters.

'If we stay united, focused on the longer term, the larger good of the majority, and make the right choices.'

My fruit seller has no plans to expand his business and to move out of the market. But if he does, we will wish him well. And if he recommends that we continue to buy from his stall where his cousin has taken over, we will follow his advice.

However, if his cousin turns out to be a fraud and tries to sell us 'lemons', we will take offence. We will not buy from him again. And worse, if his cousin simply disappears without a word, we will be very upset. And if another cousin now appears, to take his place, we will be sceptical.

As the proverb says, 'Once bitten, twice shy.'
- PAP chairman Khaw Boon Wan, on why Hougang?s voters should be sceptical of the WP

PM on PAP's chances in Hougang and NCMP issue
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday gave the media written answers to several questions on the Hougang by-election. These are his replies:
- This is the second time that PAP candidate Desmond Choo is being fielded for Hougang. How different is the contest this time?

The PAP takes Hougang seriously. In the last GE, we fielded a strong and promising candidate - Desmond Choo. Desmond is young, energetic and passionate about helping people.

He agreed to go to Hougang, knowing that it would not be easy. But he only had a few months to prepare before the GE. In the year since then, Desmond has been working hard on the ground. The residents have got to know him better too. That makes a difference.

I hope Hougang voters give Desmond a chance to show what he can do for them.
- When you visited Hougang last Saturday, you said the by-election is an uphill battle for the PAP. Do you think the PAP's chances have improved?

Desmond and his team have done their utmost during this campaign.

I am confident that they have made progress winning over some of the swing voters, through their commitment and sincerity to serve. But I expect it will still be a tough fight.
- The Workers' Party has stressed the significance of Hougang as the beacon of democracy. What is the significance of Hougang in the eyes of the PAP?

Hougang has been an opposition ward for 20 years. Mr Low Thia Khiang left Hougang to contest in Aljunied GRC last year, and put Mr Yaw Shin Leong in charge. A year later, the seat is unexpectedly vacant.

Now the people of Hougang have a chance to make a fresh start, to vote in a PAP candidate who will work with the government to improve their lives. I hope Hougang voters seize this chance.
- While the PAP has wanted to focus on local issues, the WP has raised national issues. What is your response to WP's criticisms of government policies?

The government is working hard on these national issues. Singaporeans can see this, and I think they understand that progress takes time.

At election rallies, the WP make a big show of how they will make the government do this or that. But in Parliament, their MPs voted 'Aye' to this year's inclusive Budget.
- Questions over the integrity of the Workers' Party and its candidate over the NCMP post have been raised. How significant is this issue?

This is an issue for voters to decide.

The facts are clear: Mr Png Eng Huat had first denied that he had been passed over by the party when it chose an NCMP to send to Parliament, but then it emerged that this was untrue.

DPM Teo had simply laid out these facts before the public. It is for the Hougang voters to reflect on what happened, and decide which candidate is better for Hougang.

You have said that should the WP lose a seat, it doesn't change the basic picture in Parliament. But the WP has said that for them, it means a 20 per cent increase in representation.
- How would you address the desire of some Singaporeans to have more opposition MPs in Parliament?

I fully understand the desire for alternative voices in Parliament. But the quality of the voices counts, and not just the quantity.

Whether one more MP, PAP or opposition, makes a difference depends not on the percentage increase that he represents to his side, but on his integrity, commitment and ability.

I hope when Hougang voters go to the polls on Saturday, they will assess both Mr Desmond Choo and Mr Png Eng Huat on that basis, and choose the one they consider more able to represent and look after them.

Voters urged to rethink loyalties
By Elgin Toh and Teo Wan Gek, The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

PEOPLE'S Action Party (PAP) candidate Desmond Choo reached out to Hougang voters who find it difficult to make a switch from the Workers' Party (WP) to the PAP.

He said he admired their independent streak but it was time to re-evaluate their loyalties.

Making a heartfelt plea to opposition supporters who gave the WP 65 per cent of votes at last year's general election, Mr Choo said he had deep respect for the constituency's history of standing by their 'values and principles'.

As a teenager in 1991, when Mr Low Thia Khiang first won Hougang, he did not understand the voters' decision at the time, he said. But today, he does. And he respects 'the spirit in Hougang'.

'That's something precious and priceless which no one can ever take away from you,' he said.

However, urging them to consider charting a new direction for Hougang, he noted that they had already given the WP a chance a year ago. If they gave him the chance instead in this by-election, he would be a fierce advocate, making sure 'the Government hears you', he promised.

'I will defend your interests... I will speak up to get the Government to take action,' said an impassioned Mr Choo, who was moved to tears by the end of his 30-minute rally speech in English, Mandarin and Teochew.

Earlier in the day, he repeated at a doorstop interview with reporters his message that this was a local election about selecting the best man to serve the long-term interest of Hougang's residents.

He expanded on this theme at the rally last night, noting that as a PAP candidate, he had lived up to the party's name with his concrete actions. Even though he was not a Member of Parliament, he secured benefits for residents such as transport concessions and upgraded toilets in the flats of the elderly, he said.

He concluded that Hougang, a ward in need of investment and infrastructural upgrade, was at a critical juncture - and called on voters to show courage by opting for change.

'I know it is hard for some of you to take this step and vote for me after so many years,' he said, but added that they were free to make the best choice for their families and their community.

'Vote for a new beginning,' he urged. 'You can do better. Why settle for second-best?'

Low sets out WP's impact in ParliamentHe lists policy changes that are in line with party manifesto

By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

THE Workers' Party (WP) does not have the resources to challenge policies but it has made an impact in Parliament in the past year, said its chief Low Thia Khiang last night.

Waving the WP manifesto in his right hand, he listed three policy changes the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has implemented that corresponded to items in the document.

These include removing discriminatory policies against single parents in housing, increasing the supply of build-to-order (BTO) flats to meet demand, and ensuring affordability in key health-care areas. The WP, Mr Low added, is clear its core mission is the 'welfare and well-being of the people'.

'We are a rational and responsible party, we do not oppose for the sake of opposing,' said the Aljunied GRC MP, who was the MP for the single-seat of Hougang from 1991 to last year.

In contrast, he charged that PAP MPs, instead of focusing on policy discussion in Parliament, spend 'more time launching personal attacks' on his party.

He recalled how Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair, during the Budget debate in March, compared a call by the WP's Chen Show Mao for the Government to invest more in vulnerable groups to a Nigerian e-mail scam.

'And when Chen Show Mao suggested that foreign worker quotas be revised, Vikram Nair attacked him, saying such a proposal is ironic for the man who spent more than half of his life abroad,' said Mr Low.

'Instead of raising points relevant to the policy at hand, the PAP MPs concentrated on attacking the Workers' Party and our MPs.'

Mr Chen also addressed Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean's point that the WP criticised government policies, yet voted to pass this year's Budget.

He said: 'The WP MPs voted to pass this year's Budget because we believe the Government has taken a good first step towards forging an inclusive society which has always been WP's platform.'

Mr Low then threw down the gauntlet to MPs from the ruling party, challenging them to propose alternative policies to solve problems like the high certificate of entitlement prices and high water and electricity charges.

The PAP, he charged, has always asked what the opposition has achieved. Summing up what they tended to say, he said: ''The opposition has many complaints on policies. But what solutions do they have, or the opposition can only talk in Parliament?''

He said: 'But I'd like to ask the PAP MPs, besides talking in Parliament, what else do you do?'

To laughter from the crowd, he asked: 'Dance hip hop?' He was referring to a much-reported activity of its rookie MPs in 2006.

On a serious note, he pointed out that policies are not always perfect and may adversely affect segments of society.

And this is where the WP, even though it does not have teams of full-time researchers and analysts across various civil service sectors, comes in, he said.

'We can provide feedback from the ground and make recommendations. But it is almost impossible to challenge the technicality of these policies, without the resources that a ministry has.'

Urging the Hougang residents to cast their votes for the WP and extend the party's 21-year tenure in the ward, Mr Low added: 'The WP will make sure that your feedback is louder than ever.'

Mr Low also took aim at the mainstream media, saying it is imperative that they are independent from 'the strong influence of government'.

'Only then can they be an effective check on all political parties, including the PAP. We must not allow the media to be used by the Government as a political tool.'

My conscience is clear, says Png of NCMP saga
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

MR PNG Eng Huat yesterday defended his integrity over the Non-Constituency MP saga, saying his conscience was clear.

While the Workers' Party candidate did not go into the details of what had happened, he stressed that he had not wavered in his opposition to the scheme, reiterating a point he made earlier.

'My stand on NCMP is clear,' he declared.

His comments were clearly directed at Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who had criticised Mr Png twice in recent days for appearing to change his stance on whether his name was in the running when the WP picked an NCMP from his East Coast GRC team last year.

Last night, Mr Png accused DPM Teo of trying to hint that he had 'an integrity problem'.

Mr Png had clarified earlier that even though his name was on the ballot slip when the WP's central executive council voted on its choice of NCMP, he had already told his team-mates and some members of the council that he did not want to be considered for the post.

Mr Png cited a Lianhe Wanbao interview with East Coast team leader Eric Tan, 56, who left the WP after last year's general election.

Mr Tan had said the WP initially planned to field Mr Png in Joo Chiat as there was a high chance of him doing well and earning an NCMP seat. But Mr Png declined to stand in Joo Chiat as he did not want to be an NCMP.

In the end, Mr Yee Jenn Jong contested in Joo Chiat and became an NCMP.

'This is my stand and my conscience is clear,' repeated Mr Png.

He said DPM Teo was 'hijacking' the Hougang campaign from his PAP opponent, Mr Desmond Choo, a charge that Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh also echoed last night.

Mr Singh also accused the PAP of trying to focus the election on Mr Png's integrity instead of important national issues.

Fellow speakers, meanwhile, took turns to praise Mr Png's strength of character.

Aljunied GRC MP Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap said he did not 'even have the slightest doubt about Png's integrity'.

And WP chairman Sylvia Lim lauded him for working quietly but hard on welfare schemes in Hougang since 2006 without any thought of reward or being fielded.

'That did not matter to him because he just wanted to help people,' said Ms Lim.

Call for switch by PAP voters
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

WORKERS' Party (WP) speakers homed in on Hougang voters who had previously voted against the opposition party last night, urging them to reconsider.

Residents who had voted for the People's Action Party (PAP) had missed out on upgrading and other benefits too, they pointed out.

Their calls came as speaker after speaker took the PAP to task for its pledge to be 'inclusive', and accused the ruling party of casting Hougang aside.

Leading the charge was WP candidate Png Eng Huat. He recalled a conversation he had with three primary school pupils in Hougang during the campaign. One told him his entire class of 44 supported the WP, 'except one fat boy'.

'It is not easy to be that boy, just like it's not easy for those who voted the PAP in Hougang since 1991,' said Mr Png.

Yet the PAP had 'penalised' its supporters along with other residents when it denied Hougang upgrading, he charged.

Last year, the PAP's Mr Desmond Choo had won about 35 per cent of the vote. Mr Png urged this group to change their support to send a clear signal to the PAP that 'political discrimination has no place in an inclusive society'.

The theme was picked up by WP chief Low Thia Khiang in his Mandarin, English and Teochew speeches. Quoting the National Pledge, he called for the PAP to treat all Singaporeans with 'justice and equality', regardless of which constituency they lived in or how they voted.

'For 21 years, the PAP has cast Hougang aside,' he said, noting how the Government had denied Hougang residents access to national upgrading programmes.

It even stopped Hougang Town Council's proposals to carry out lift upgrading using its own funds, said the former long-time MP of Hougang.

'What is this inclusiveness? I hope it doesn't only include the 60 per cent who supported the PAP,' said Mr Low, referring to the PAP's overall vote share at last year's general election.

However, Mr Png promised to keep trying to improve Hougang, adding that the town council had nominated several clusters for national upgrading schemes.

But Mr Low fired a final shot across the PAP's bow, saying that it remained to be seen if it would continue to 'use national resources to play political games'.

He said in Mandarin: 'Will our country become united or divided? That will depend on the Government's policies.'

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