Saturday, 19 January 2013

Punggol East By-election campaign - 17 Jan

PAP man prefers to run his own show
He opts for personal touch - to listen, empathise and communicate
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 18 Jan 2013

UNLIKE in the Hougang by-election, the People's Action Party (PAP) camp in Punggol East is doing it alone.

Its candidate, Dr Koh Poh Koon, is squarely front-and-centre in the campaign, and has told MPs in the neighbouring Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC that "he can do it on his own".

In the Hougang by-election, the PAP headquarters issued a call for activists from other branches to help in the campaign, activists said. In contrast, there has been no such request from Punggol East, only a call for supporters on Nomination Day. Punggol East activists are also not enlisting help from the neighbouring Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

Said Punggol East Community Centre Management Committee chairman Tang Wing Fai: "We went through the 2011 General Election as a single-member constituency. We have the experience and the team in place."

Veteran grassroots leader Wilson Lim added: "We still have a very strong team of supporters that followed through with Michael Palmer until now. Everybody is still very united, so I think we can cope on our own."

Punggol East is also PAP ground, and its activists have a strong, established network of residents, unlike in Hougang, whose branch corps is substantially smaller as the ward has been Workers' Party (WP) territory since 1991.

Other PAP MPs are also unlikely to make an appearance in the ward to stump for Dr Koh, the way several did in the Hougang by-election for PAP candidate Desmond Choo.

Only Sembawang GRC MP Ellen Lee has plans to go down and help distribute fliers next week.

Dr Koh is being aided in strategy by caretaker MP Teo Ser Luck and Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing. But they are careful to stay behind the scenes, and not campaign by his side.

The reason, said activists, is that Dr Koh and the party believe that the spotlight should be on the candidate and what he can do for residents, if elected. The approach is in line with the party's bid to "localise" the by-election.

On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean rejected the WP suggestion that the race is a "barometer" of national support for the PAP. Rather, voters should decide based on who can best take care of them in the ward, he said.

Dr Koh was asked yesterday on this contrast in strategy to that of the WP's Ms Lee Li Lian, who has been flanked by Workers' Party MPs on the campaign trail.

He said in Mandarin that "residents are voting for me, not those around helping me". That is why he prefers "a personal touch when it comes to meeting residents".

He added: "My preference is always to have a chance to listen, to appreciate, empathise, and then also have a chance to communicate with (residents).

"So I prefer to be actually knocking on the doors myself."

Dr Koh rejected a suggestion that his solo approach may give residents the sense that the party does not see the ward as important. "I don't think so... In the end, the one who can solve their problems is not my other party colleagues, but it's me," he said.

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Gan Thiam Poh said he "is comfortable and happy Dr Koh made the decision to fight on his own. He is making sure he connects with the people".

Still, PAP ministers are likely to speak at his election rallies, and may pop by the ward for a walkabout. The PAP holds its first rally today at the field in front of Block 183C Rivervale Crescent.

Koh asks for more buses, trains
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 18 Jan 2013

DR KOH Poh Koon yesterday called on the Ministry of Transport to include Punggol East in its newly announced plans to expand the rail network.

Posting on Facebook on the same day two new rail lines were unveiled, the PAP by-election candidate asked for "stations within Punggol East constituency or nearer to where Punggol East residents live".

He also called for more feeder bus services to the train stations and to speed up plans to double the capacity of LRT trains.

On the campaign trail yesterday, Dr Koh also made it clear that he would focus on such local issues in this by-election, despite opposition parties pitching the polls as a barometer of the PAP's performance nationally.

"I prefer to make sure that I touch base with residents, hear their problems and solve their problems," he said.

While national issues have to be tackled as they arise, he views it as more important to "solve immediate local issues to make life much more bearable, at least in the short term".

He visited a PAP Community Foundation kindergarten and spoke to young parents about their concerns, even as he wrote online about the need to make after-school care available in all schools. His remarks appear to be targeted at the many young parents in the Punggol East ward.

Resident Vena Xie, 35, certainly has after-school care on her mind as her daughter goes to Primary 1 next year.

Both Ms Xie and her husband work as police officers and her mother-in-law, who looks after their five-year-old, is getting on in age.

Dr Koh also told reporters he hopes to find out which residents need child-care services, and explore if more void deck spaces could be used for it. A key consideration is to build centres close to people's homes.

Another young parent, Mr Lim Eu-Gene, 40, said he was more worried about the higher cost of living, such as home prices and certificate of entitlement (COE) premiums for cars.

Dr Koh told the resident that if he gets into Parliament, he will raise issues of concern to people like Mr Lim who feel sandwiched between the poor and the rich.

Dr Koh will also champion issues of concern to young families.

"People with a young family like mine, faced with issues of children going to school, and struggles faced by working mothers - these are close to my heart."

By-election a gauge of WP too: Lee Li Lian
She says it will show whether voters have confidence in WP's track record

By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 18 Jan 2013

DAYS after the Workers' Party (WP) said the Punggol East by-election would be a barometer of the Government's performance since the last general election, its candidate admitted that the poll would be a gauge of how well her party has done too.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a morning meet-and-greet session at Kangkar LRT station, Ms Lee Li Lian said the poll would demonstrate "whether voters have the confidence to give us the vote", based on the party's track record.

Her comments put the spotlight on the national performance of both the People's Action Party (PAP) and WP since the watershed general election in May 2011.

That election prompted the PAP to make changes to national policies.

It also put the WP under greater scrutiny, since its number of MPs went up from two to eight and it also has had to run the town council in a GRC, not just in a single-seat ward.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim had said at a press conference on Monday that the election would serve as a test of "people's feelings" towards the changes at the national level since 2011.

A day after Nomination Day, the two major parties contesting in the Punggol East by-election - the PAP and WP - have not crossed swords on issues yet in this by-election.

Comments from the PAP leaders and its candidate, Dr Koh Poh Koon, so far indicate a preference to stick to local concerns and the question of which candidate is best suited to serve residents.

Ms Lee, however, has raised both local and national issues.

In a Tuesday interview with The Straits Times after her introduction, she pointed to the party's growth since 2011 and its preparation for "bigger things" in 2016.

Asked what role she saw the WP playing in the longer term, she said she hoped to see enough WP MPs "to be able to cast votes to make a difference in Parliament".

"I know that will not happen overnight. It took us 20 years to win a GRC, so what makes me think that it's going to be so easy to take up 30 per cent of the seats? A lot of hard work still needs to be done."

Yesterday, Ms Lee also pointed to problems in Punggol East.

She said she would push for more childcare facilities and feeder bus services.

On childcare, she related the story of a young couple she met on Wednesday who could see their youngest child only at weekends because they had to send the child to their parents' place during weekdays.

"We have to look at what caused this situation - both in terms of lack of facilities and difficulties in securing a place in a local (childcare centre)."

Ms Lee visited an LRT station and Rivervale Plaza, and carried out house visits yesterday.

Accompanying her were WP MPs Chen Show Mao, Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap, Png Eng Huat and Yee Jenn Jong.

She said that in the 2011 campaign, she personally visited six in 10 households, and would be starting this time with the remaining 40 per cent.

She hopes to visit all households before Polling Day.

Online threat against my family: Jeyaretnam
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 18 Jan 2013

REFORM Party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam said yesterday that barely hours after he was named a candidate for the Punggol East by-election on Wednesday, he received a threat that his family would be harmed.

He declined to disclose details of the threat, but said the person who made the threat "obviously wanted him out of the by-election".

He told The Straits Times: "We can't have a system where only two parties can run in an election and others have to be warned off.

"It's like preventing competition in the market."

He made the point to this reporter while on his campaign rounds in Punggol East, which is dotted with 500 posters of his party.

Mr Jeyaretnam said he is seeking legal advice on the matter and considering making a police report.

The threat was posted on Facebook and Twitter, he added, but declined to give details.

"The comments were attacking my son and even saying that something awful will happen to my wife and son," said the 53-year-old, whose wife and 16-year-old son live in London.

"I am not worried about these people who are too scared to come out from behind the keyboard, but it's upsetting for my son."

One of his assentors, security supervisor Paul Antony Fernandez, 47, said yesterday: "Kenneth told me about the threat when we had lunch today. I spoke to his wife on the phone and she told me that she was worried about Kenneth's safety here.

"I assured her that Singapore is a safe country. If there is a need, we will make a police report."

Mr Jeyaretnam said it was not the first threat he had received, but this time, it was targeted at his family.

Yesterday, he went door-to-door at Rivervale Drive to canvass for votes and distributed fliers outside Rivervale Mall.

He also visited more than 180 households at blocks 194 and 197 of Rivervale Drive.

Very often, residents recognised him, saying they are familiar with the political history of his father, the late J.B. Jeyaretnam.

SDA, RP candidates outline their 5-year plans for Punggol East
By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 17 Jan 2013

Candidates for the Punggol East by-election from the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) and Reform Party (RP) outlined their five-year plans on Thursday.

RP's secretary-general, Kenneth Jeyaretnam said his plan won't cost a lot of money while SDA's secretary-general, Desmond Lim said he wants to set up a residents' cooperative to build a hawker centre.

Mr Lim said his five year plan had been announced during the General Election in 2011.

It includes building a hawker centre, bicycle tracks, childcare centres and coffee corners.

He explained the plan can be funded by the town council as it has the operating and sinking funds.

For programmes that can't be funded by the town council, Mr Lim said he intends to invite interested parties to invest in joint-ventures with the residents.

One such idea is to establish a residents' cooperative for a hawker centre.

Mr Lim said: "They manage the place, give low rental and rent out the stall to their own residents to operate and run. Residents within this constituency can patronise and have a discount rate. For outsiders, of course it is normal rates."

Mr Jeyaretnam was also busy reaching out to residents.

He will be discussing his five-year plan for the ward with his grassroots team on setting up a legal clinic to help those in debt, as well as a tuition club.

He added that several residents of Punggol East are in the team as his primary advisers in this by-election.

The RP chief remains undeterred about some views that the by-election will be a two-horse race between the Workers' Party and the ruling People's Action Party.

Mr Jeyaretnam said: "People have got to be given the right to choose. It is like the idea that it is better to have one or two brands in the supermarket because it might confuse consumers."

Mr Jeyaretnam added he will not hold more than two rallies and that the first will probably be held this weekend.

By-election candidates can ask for recount if conditions are met
By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 17 Jan 2013

Any of the four candidates in the Punggol East by-election can request for a recount - if the difference between the candidate with the most votes and that for any other candidate is two per cent or less than the total number of votes cast.

There are 31,649 registered local voters and another 59 overseas Singaporeans in the by-election on January 26.

The four candidates are Dr Koh Poh Koon from the People's Action Party, Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam from the Reform Party, Mr Desmond Lim from the Singapore Democratic Alliance and Ms Lee Li Lian from the Workers' Party.

The Elections Department said voters will start receiving their Poll Cards from January 17.

These cards, which are green in colour, indicate the polling station they have to go to.

Voters must have the poll card, as well as their identity card or passport for verification at the polling station.

During voting, they should put a cross (X) on the ballot paper to indicate their choice clearly and drop the ballot paper into the Ballot Box before they leave the polling station.

Polling Day for the Punggol East by-election is not a public holiday. All employers must give staff who have to vote reasonable time to do so.

Polling stations will open from 8am to 8pm.

The results of the by-election are expected to be known after 10pm.

The Elections Department will deploy some 250 personnel to conduct the by-election.

Four candidates, two-horse race?
by Eugene K B Tan, TODAY, 17 Jan 2013

Much is at stake for the four political parties contesting the Punggol East by-election. The stakes are different for each party but matter significantly to each. As such, the next eight days of campaigning will be critical in winning the voters' hearts and minds.

As it is a tight race, we can expect a robust contest. Regardless of how the parties seek to characterise the by-election, it will be fought on both local and national issues.

National issues often have local manifestations, and local concerns often reflect national priorities and policies. The party that is able to adequately address both sets of issues will gain traction with voters.

Although it is a four-cornered contest, the race will effectively be a two-horse race. The Workers' Party (WP) and the incumbent People's Action Party (PAP) are the main contenders. The by-election is a battle, a way station for them as they move towards the next General Election (GE), which promises to be the real watershed election.

While both parties have sought to downplay the significance of the by-election, the reality is that much will be read into how they contest, the eventual outcome and what it means for them going forward.


The Reform Party (RP) and the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) are taking a big gamble by contesting. This should not be surprising. Yet, their contesting is seen as having the potential to hurt the WP's prospects. Their challenge is to ensure that their candidacy is not seen as being opportunistic and that they have something substantive and different to offer. Otherwise, they run the premature risk of sleepwalking to political irrelevance and ridicule.

The RP and its candidate, Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, are new to Punggol East, and the snap election does not aid their cause as time is limited for them to build rapport with the voters and demonstrate their commitment.

The SDA's Desmond Lim is seeking to redeem himself after a dismal showing in the May 2011 GE. However, it is hard to see how different voters will view his electability in a short span of 20 months. Mr Lim had then polled 4.45 per cent of the votes and lost his electoral deposit.

Both the RP and the SDA may well be undermining their long-term political aspirations should they perform poorly at the polls.

The reality is that, in a crowded race that this by-election is, voters - especially Opposition supporters - are mindful that should their votes split, they will be handing victory to the PAP. In such circumstances, as was demonstrated in the 2011 GE, Opposition voters are likely to pool their votes behind the candidate who they regard as being the strongest Opposition candidate. As such, the possibility of Mr Jeyaretnam and Mr Lim losing their electoral deposits is high.


The WP has much to gain by securing a famous victory in Punggol East. A victory will not only increase its parliamentary headcount to nine Members of Parliament (MPs) but will bolster its credentials as the leading Opposition party and will put them in good stead for the next GE.

The WP's campaign will focus on its role as a check on the PAP Government, and how a healthy Opposition parliamentary presence will improve Singapore's governance and make the Government more responsive.

But the WP also has to deal with the perception in some quarters that it has not lived up to its billing as the leading Opposition party based on the parliamentary performance of its MPs thus far.

This by-election may well function as a referendum of sorts on the WP's performance. The party will have to show that another WP MP will do the job better than an MP from the RP or the SDA in order to persuade non-WP Opposition supporters to vote for it instead.

The PAP has the most at stake in this contest. The last time the PAP fielded a fresh face in a Single-Member Constituency was in 1988. Not only will it need to secure victory, it must also ensure that the party secure more than 50 per cent of the popular vote. Anything less than the magic figure of 50 per cent would mean that the victory is more fortuitous than real; that victory was by way of the Opposition vote being split.

As the outcome of this election will not result in a different government, the PAP will need to show why its candidate, Dr Koh Poh Koon, can make a qualitative difference by being its 81st MP.

The PAP will need to impress and assure voters that Punggol East is valued. Will the party's big guns take a low profile or will they campaign without undercutting Dr Koh's determination to run his own campaign? They will need to show how a victory is important in the larger scheme of things. How the PAP calibrates its campaign is crucial.

Fundamentally, this by-election underscores the central importance of representation in our system of government. And the candidate who is able to show he or she will be an effective and efficient representative of Punggol East will gain traction on the ground, and secure a famous victory for his or her party.

Eugene K B Tan is assistant professor of law at the Singapore Management University School of Law. He is also a Nominated Member of Parliament.

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