Monday 21 May 2012

Hougang By-election: WP Rally, May 19

National issues affect residents too: WP
Voting for its candidate would help opposition keep ruling party accountable, say Workers' Party MPs
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 20 May 2012

There can be no divorcing of national issues from local ones in the Hougang by-election, said Workers' Party (WP) MPs who spoke at last night's rally in support of their endorsed candidate Png Eng Huat.
A common thread that emerged from speeches made by Aljunied GRC MPs Low Thia Khiang and Chen Show Mao, as well as Non-Constituency MPs Yee Jenn Jong and Gerald Giam, was how nationally debated topics affected Hougang residents too.

'The elderly's retirement security, the widening income gap... your job prospects, rising housing prices, rising cost of living - these are national issues as well as Hougang issues,' said Mr Chen.

Voting for Mr Png over the People's Action Party (PAP) candidate Desmond Choo, the MPs proclaimed, would ensure that the opposition continues to speak up for Hougang residents and keep the ruling party accountable.

Mr Giam, saying he found it 'very odd' that the PAP had said this was a 'local election', added that as Singapore was a small city-state, issues like the affordability of living and train breakdowns would also affect people living in Hougang.

Repeating Mr Chen's point that these are national issues which affect all Singaporeans, he then asked: 'So why is the PAP so reluctant to talk about national issues in this by-election?'

Mr Giam's view: The PAP is concerned that many citizens are 'not happy' with its performance over the past year since the general election.

Devoting more than half of the rest of his speech to a topic he has spoken about in the press and in Parliament extensively, Mr Giam painted a picture of how the public transport infrastructure is blighted by overcrowding and frequent disruptions.

'The Workers' Party is very concerned about the quality and affordability of our bus and MRT system,' he said.

Taking a dig at Mr Choo's campaign slogan, Mr Giam said: 'We used to believe the SMRT slogan, 'Always There For You'.

'That sounds very similar to the election slogan of the other candidate in this by-election, doesn't it?'

Mr Yee, meanwhile, questioned the effectiveness of giving scholarships to foreign students, a topic he has touched on in Parliament as well.

There are more than 2,000 foreign scholarship-holders each year, he learnt, after tabling parliamentary questions on the issue.

The Government allocates a total of about $144 million a year on such foreign student scholarships, he estimates, based on how much it spends on each student.

He said: 'I don't understand why we need to give so many scholarships to attract foreigners to study here, since we have world-class universities.'

Turning to Mr Png, he said he is certain the 50-year-old, if elected, would be a voice to check the PAP.

'The WP will continue to question the PAP and hold it accountable for the policies it has put in place... to ensure that Singaporeans must benefit,' said Mr Yee.

Expelling Yaw 'took courage'
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 20 May 2012

Hougang needs an MP who can bear responsibility and be bold, said Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang yesterday.

That was why the party expelled former Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong when he fell short of these expectations, even though it was risky and took 'political courage'.

Speaking in Mandarin in the final speech of the night, Mr Low, who was Hougang MP for 20 years until last year, said the party had to be responsible to voters even if it meant sacking his former protege.

The WP expelled Mr Yaw on Feb 14 for refusing to come clean on his alleged extramarital affairs.

In a veiled criticism of Mr Yaw's actions, Mr Low said: 'Hougang needs an MP who dares to say, dares to act, dares to bear responsibility. Only then can he match up to Hougang residents' spirit.'

'This is why when problems happened with former MP Yaw Shin Leong, regardless of anything, the WP had to summon political courage and expel him from the party,' he added to applause.

Mr Low praised his former constituents for helping to build a healthy political system in Singapore. They 'bravely held on' even in the face of threats and enticement from the People's Action Party, he said. 'This spirit is special to Hougang, and is something Hougang can be proud of,' said Mr Low, touching on the evening's common theme of Hougang voters' spirit.

Mr Low was not the only speaker to tackle the sensitive topic of Mr Yaw. Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh reminded younger voters that the PAP had its share of MPs who ran afoul of the law or were found wanting.

He was responding to PAP chairman Khaw Boon Wan, who had questioned the WP's ability to lead Singapore if it formed the government, as it might lead to ministers resigning or being sacked.

Mr Singh named five former PAP men - including office-holders - who fell from grace for various reasons: Mr Wee Toon Boon, Mr Phey Yew Kok, Mr Devan Nair, Mr Teh Cheang Wan and Mr Choo Wee Khiang.

'No amount of background checks can guarantee 100 per cent that a politician is fit for public service,' said Mr Singh, adding that even the PAP could not ensure a fully foolproof system.

He also responded to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comments that the WP and Mr Yaw had let voters down: 'If we follow the PM's logic, Phey Yew Kok and the PAP let down all Singaporeans as well.' In 1979, Mr Phey, a former NTUC president, absconded while facing corruption charges.

Noting that PAP leaders had taken the 'low road', Mr Singh said they had forgotten the saying: 'If you stay in a glass house, better don't throw stones.'

Hougang is 'cradle' of S'pore's democracy
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 20 May 2012

Politics in Singapore took a new direction after the Workers' Party won Aljunied GRC from the ruling People's Action Party last year, said WP chief Low Thia Khiang.

'Younger Singaporeans have been freed from political fear,' he declared in a Mandarin speech wrapping up the WP's first by-election rally last night.

This 'breakthrough' was possible because Hougang voters first resisted the PAP and chose him as their MP in 1991, he noted.

The ward that he helmed for 20 years provided the base from which he could 'walk out of Hougang' to take the five-member GRC, the first time the opposition secured a GRC.

'Hougang is the cradle of Singapore's democratic politics,' he said, rejecting the PAP's position that the by-election is about local, and not national or ideological issues.

He added: 'If you want the Government to take care of the people properly, then you must vote WP.'

Mr Low took a shot at Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean's argument that if PAP candidate Desmond Choo got voted in, Mr Low would still visit Hougang residents.

He said in his Teochew speech: 'Do you mean buy one Desmond Choo get one Low Thia Khiang free? I want to tell DPM, if you want to sell your candidate, it's your own business. But it has got nothing to do with us.'

Mr Low also took a dig at Mr Choo's promises, including one to be an 'independent and objective voice' for residents in Parliament.

Mr Low was sceptical, arguing that PAP MPs ultimately have to toe the party line, and suggested that Mr Choo would have to be an independent candidate if he wanted to do otherwise.

He also questioned the source of funding for Mr Choo's schemes for residents. Whipping out a copy of the candidate's manifesto and a booklet on Budget measures sent to households by the Government, he suggested that the funding for the PAP candidate's programmes came from the people ultimately.

And on the promise of the 34-year-old candidate to fight for young voters, Mr Low said the WP's candidate, Mr Png Eng Huat, 50, could represent older voters.

Noting that Parliament had quite a few old people, he said: 'Lee Kuan Yew is old but his brain is still very clear. He is sharp when scolding people. I want to tell the PAP, don't look down on old people.'

Hougang is not for sale, says Png
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 20 May 2012

Hougang is not for sale and can never be enticed by inducements such as estate upgrading, Workers' Party (WP) candidate Png Eng Huat told a boisterous rally crowd last night.

Apart from a $100 million upgrading carrot dangled by the PAP in the 2006 general election, there have been scoldings, threats and intimidation, he said.

But refusing to be 'bullied', residents 'stood their ground' and voted for the WP at every general election since 1991.

The ward, he said, held a special place in Singapore history, just like Potong Pasir and Anson - other past opposition wards.

'It is the people of Anson, Potong Pasir and Hougang who made our journey towards a First World Parliament possible. We salute you.'

The north-eastern constituency, whose electoral boundaries have hardly been changed since 1991, must remain the 'beacon of democracy', he added.

He went on to hint that there was a danger the boundaries might be redrawn if the ward fell to the PAP.

He charged that the ruling party had resorted to gerrymandering to wipe out wards like the Cheng San and Eunos GRCs, which the opposition had come very close to winning in the past.

Come the next general election, he said, the same thing might happen to Potong Pasir, which was won by the PAP last year after 27 years of being with opposition veteran Chiam See Tong.

'The PAP has mastered the art of moving house for you at every election,' said Mr Png.

'Because of the way electoral boundaries are redrawn, you can actually move from East Coast, to Marine Parade, to Aljunied and even Ang Mo Kio without even moving a single piece of your furniture.'

The children of Anson no longer remember anything about the ward, he said, and those in Potong Pasir might suffer the same fate.

But Hougang, said the 50-year-old, must continue to be defended at all costs, for 'the children of Hougang must never forget their proud history'.

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