Sunday, 20 January 2013

Punggol East By-election campaign - 18 Jan

Govt has listened and learnt: PAP leaders
By Neo Chai Chin, TODAY, 19 Jan 2013

Amid a drizzle, the People’s Action Party (PAP) yesterday kicked off the round of rallies in the Punggol East by-election with a mix of local activists and political office holders lending their support for its candidate, Dr Koh Poh Koon.

While Dr Koh, 40, focused largely on municipal issues and pledged a series of improvements, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat spoke of how the PAP Government has moved ahead in many areas of concern to Singaporeans since the last General Election — in what could be a pre-emptive move, as the Opposition parties are expected to raise national issues in their rallies.

Apart from Mr Teo and Mr Heng, Parliamentary Secretary (Health and Transport) Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim and Senior Minister of State (Law and Education) Indranee Rajah noted that Singaporeans have aired concerns about hot-button issues — such as housing prices, cost of living and transport bottlenecks — and measures have been rolled out to tackle these worries, even as work remains to be done.

While the PAP has framed the Punggol East by-election as a contest based on residents’ municipal concerns, the Opposition parties have sought to attach greater significance to it. Workers’ Party Chairman Sylvia Lim, for instance, had said the by-election could be a “barometer” of how Singaporeans feel about the Government’s performance since the 2011 General Election.

Last night’s rally took place at the field in front of Block 183C Rivervale Crescent, and saw a total of nine speakers including Dr Koh and the ward’s rank and file activists who spoke in Malay, Tamil, Mandarin and English in just under two hours.
While all the speakers attested to Dr Koh’s dedication and readiness to serve, the PAP office-holders also spoke about efforts to ensure affordable and adequate housing, managing cost of living, easing transport bottlenecks and developing a more-rounded education system.

Mr Heng said that the Government has been building more than 70,000 Build-To-Order flats since 2011. He also noted that first-time buyers of public housing receive up to S$60,000 in grants, and more rail lines are to be added. He said: “Listening to you, we’ve learnt much. We share your concerns. We’re working hard and will continue to work hard to make life better for Singaporeans.”

Ms Indranee added: “We have not misread and we have not forgotten the message that the electorate has given.”

Mr Teo said the Government has received many suggestions and “tried to balance the different needs”, introducing many initiatives in the past year. But the suggestions have sometimes contradicted one another, as “we do not all have the same needs, we do not all have the same priorities, we do not all value exactly the same things in exactly the same ways”.

He added: “The key is to build consensus and find the right balance. To build upon what we have in common, bring us together, to unite us rather than accentuate the differences such that we end up being divided.”

Continuing the theme of national issues, Mr Teo said that, if elected, Dr Koh would have a bigger role beyond the constituency. He said: “With his capabilities and experience, Poh Koon will also be able to make a larger contribution, offering ideas and perspectives for policies to serve Singaporeans better.”

He reiterated that, if elected as a PAP MP, Dr Koh “will be able to help shape the policies that will make your lives, and the lives of your families, better for the future”.

After the rally, Dr Koh told reporters that he will champion the needs of women and children, in response to questions about how he will help shape national policies.

He added: “I’ll be looking at things that are really close to my heart, with women and children, their working lives as well as issues of education.”

WP 'will keep close watch over Govt'
But Government should also be given time to fix shortcomings, says Low

By Andrea Ong & Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2013

WORKERS' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang believes the Government should be given time to correct its shortcomings, even as he pledged that his party will continue to cast a watchful eye.

And while policy changes are still in progress, heightened politicking will not help Singapore, he said in a letter to Punggol East voters, obtained by The Straits Times yesterday.

In an eight-page brochure posted to households, he highlighted the WP's track record in contesting every general election since 1957 and being a "credible and responsible opposition".

However, the veteran MP pointed out: "While the WP will scrutinise and press for accountability from the Government, it is also my personal belief that the Government should be given time to rectify the shortcomings and neglects pointed out to it."

Doing so would "serve the public interest better than continuing to agitate and raise political tension to gain maximum political mileage for WP", as it takes time for policy changes to take effect on the ground, he added.

But, it is "in the interest of Singapore" for citizens to balance a strong executive government with a responsible opposition in Parliament to act as a check and balance and protect their rights.

"WP offers to play the role and to make a positive contribution to Singapore," said Mr Low.

He noted two key areas where the presence of more WP MPs in Parliament has made a difference since the 2011 General Election, when he led a team to victory in Aljunied GRC.

One, ordinary folk now have more say in governance, an improvement from when the country was run by an elite class under the People's Action Party (PAP), with little accountability and transparency, he said.

Two, the WP has championed a more humane society, where a First World nation extends beyond materialistic and elitist goals. "We have seen some changes in that direction," said Mr Low without elaborating.

He reiterated WP's commitment to seeing Singapore progress and PAP improve. But WP must also "be ready one day to be an alternative choice for the people, especially if the ruling party should become incompetent or corrupt".

It is a pledge the party hopes to build on by sending its candidate Lee Li Lian into Parliament.

Ms Lee yesterday unveiled another part of her campaign platform in vowing to champion the welfare of the elderly.

The 34-year-old sales trainer has two proposals for improving their health-care needs.

First, she is calling for Medisave withdrawal limits to be lifted for patients above age 75 - a suggestion the WP had put forth in its 2011 manifesto.

Currently, there are caps on the amount which can be withdrawn from each person's account, such as a maximum of $400 a year for outpatient treatment of chronic diseases.

But Ms Lee pointed out that few people at that age would still have income from work to foot their medical bills.

Spending on their medical care - especially for long-term diseases like diabetes - "has already become a necessity", she told The Straits Times.

Second, elderly patients should not have to queue up at polyclinics to get referrals for subsidised treatment at public hospitals. She suggested expanding the existing Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS), where patients satisfying certain criteria can get subsidised treatment at general practices.

Now, many elderly patients have to walk "quite a distance" or take a bus to the polyclinic to be referred, some arriving as early as 4am to beat the queue, she said.

This is "physically draining as well as troublesome for them", said Ms Lee, who hopes patients can just visit CHAS clinics near their homes to get referrals.

Threats ‘intended to disrupt our campaign’, says RP’s Jeyaretnam
By Teo Xuan Wei, TODAY, 19 Jan 2013

Reform Party candidate Kenneth Jeyaretnam yesterday spent about three hours at a police station lodging a report against “credible threats of violence” that he and his family had received via his Facebook page.

Mr Jeyaretnam confirmed the police report at a press conference which he had called — but began one hour later, and after prompting from reporters who had gathered outside Rivervale Mall.

Reading out from a brief statement, Mr Jeyaretnam gave little details about the threats that he received since he was officially nominated on Wednesday as one of four candidates standing in the Punggol East by-election, or the instances of cyberbullying directed, since Monday at his 16-year-old son, Jared, who is in London.

However, when pressed by reporters, he declined to say more about the nature of and reason for the threats.

He explained that the case was under police investigation.

But he said, “obviously it’s intended to disrupt our campaign”, citing the hours he spent lodging the police report as an example.

He added: “I would also ask you to stop speculating online that this is the work of the WP (Workers’ Party). There’s no basis for believing that.”

Previous reports had mentioned discontent against the Reform Party and the Singapore Democratic Alliance for preventing a straight fight between the WP and the People’s Action Party.

In his statement, Mr Jeyaretnam also spoke out against cyberbullying and gave advice to victims of such bullying. He added that the online harassment had caused considerable distress to his son but that he remained focused on his campaign.

Mr Jeyaretnam visited Kangkar LRT station and Rivervale Plaza yesterday morning, then covered a block of flats before spending the bulk of the afternoon at the police station.

He told the media that he would give more details of the threats and online harassment today.

A hands-on lesson in local politics
By Desiree Tay, TODAY, 19 Jan 2013

Having time on their hands while awaiting their A-Level results, Zameer Husref, Akmal Dani, Fareez Khan and Angie Ooi, all 19, figured they might as well get involved with the Punggol East by-election by volunteering in the campaign of Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) candidate Desmond Lim.

Zameer, who saw an SDA Facebook post at the start of the year asking for volunteers and asked the rest along, said he saw “this as an opportunity to have a hands-on experience of what local politics is like on the ground”.

He added: “If we had volunteered with a bigger party, I doubt we would have the chance to interact with the candidate himself, or get to follow him on his walkabouts.”

The group conceded that they were at first clueless about the SDA or Mr Lim. And after doing their own research, they were sceptical about Mr Lim’s chances, given his record of losing in three previous elections.

In the 2011 General Election, Mr Lim’s election deposit was forfeited as he received just 4.5 per cent of the vote in Punggol East. But still, having spent the past few days with him, they felt that he “genuinely cares for the people and their concerns and really wants to do something”. “He is admirable for being willing to try his best even though he lost the previous time,” said Zameer.

The group is among Mr Lim’s youth volunteers — some are as young as 17 — who have attracted much media interest, amid speculation that they were paid to volunteer. Mr Lim had clarified that no electioneering rules were broken, and the youths are given a token sum to cover their food and transport expenses.

According to the group, the number of volunteers has fallen sharply: On Nomination Day, almost 100 volunteers — comprising eight groups of 12 — turned up to support Mr Lim. But in the following days, only a handful of groups have been reporting for the campaign activities.

Mr Lim declined to say if the number of volunteers has fallen, adding that such information is confidential.

Nevertheless, he did not expect to get so many volunteers initially. “I was very surprised myself that someone who is just a normal person like me can attract so many youths to step forward,” he said.

The volunteers were mostly students awaiting their O- or A-level results, and included Permanent Residents who were interested in politics here. According to the volunteers, their meal expenses are reimbursed, with a cap of S$5 per meal. On some days, they will be provided with meals. The volunteers were told that they can make transport claims at the end of the by-election.

Meanwhile, Mr Lim said yesterday that if elected, he will do his best to bring forward the opening of the new Cross Island Line, which was announced on Thursday. He wants to have residents sign a petition to bring forward the train line’s opening, currently set to be around 2030.

Mr Lim said he hopes the Cross Island Line can be completed in eight years — with five years to lay the foundation and three years to build.

He added, however, that he understands the difficulties in building the line as it is close to the sea and will take longer.

The new train line, which starts from Changi and ends at Jurong Industrial Estate, serves Punggol residents. It would reduce travelling time from Punggol to Pasir Ris — currently 40 minutes by bus — to 10-15 minutes.

How leaders' by-election hopes fizzled out
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2013

IT WAS late last week when the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) started getting nervous.

Despite e-mail messages and phone calls to Workers' Party (WP) leaders like Mr Low Thia Khiang, there was no response. Even calls to the WP headquarters' main line were rejected.

Earlier attempts to publish online the letters sent to the WP - "to get some public support", said a source - also made no headway.

With just days to the Punggol East by-election's Nomination Day, the party badly needed to contact the WP so as to convince it to back out and let the SDP be the main opposition contender.

It decided on the idea of a "unity candidate" between the two parties as a last gambit.

But the move would end up killing its hopes of standing in the election, leading to its surprising last-minute pullout from the race.

From the start, the party was split on whether to contest, said several sources who shared with The Straits Times the details of how the bid fell apart.

After the resignation of People's Action Party MP Michael Palmer mid-last month, some activists and supporters were worried that the SDP would be seen as "spoiling" the WP's chances if it contested.

But secretary-general Chee Soon Juan was keen as he believed the WP might give way.

"He was hopeful," said Dr Paul Tambyah, a party volunteer who was favoured as the SDP's candidate.

Other party leaders also believed the party would have a decent showing and might outdo the WP, thereby burnishing the SDP's credibility. It was also hoped they could strike a deal with the WP for the next general election.

The party's leaders decided to take the plunge, announcing on Dec 27 that they would contest, followed by conducting their first walkabout on Jan 7.

But behind closed doors, the unanswered calls to the WP were beginning to worry the party leaders. It led to the decision for a unity candidate.

Party insiders insist it was a collective decision, and that Dr Chee did not push it. He is said to be sensitive about coming across as too dictatorial.

But he did think the plan was worth a shot. "He felt, why not?" said a source present at a meeting.

With their media adviser Fazlur Yusof out of the country, the leaders clumsily phrased the proposal on their own - the SDP would enter Parliament while the WP would run the town council.

The reaction was swift. Within hours of their announcement last Friday, netizens criticised their proposal, with e-mail and online comments pouring in over the weekend.

Said a source who spoke to Dr Chee then: "He told me that he became concerned when it was no longer just the usual SDP haters who were complaining, but also key supporters contacting leaders, telling them to back down."

The party sought to clarify that they had been "misinterpreted". But it did little to stem the tide.

The central executive committee (CEC) called for emergency meetings over the weekend with activists to discuss the possibility of dropping out, even as those same activists would continue making house visits every night.

But still, the party put on a brave public front. On Monday night, Dr Chee told reporters that the party had picked its candidate. A party cadre was also told to pick up the political donations certificate the next morning.

But in reality, said one CEC member, they were already leaning towards dropping out.

On Tuesday morning, the leadership held its final pow-wow. Should they contest? Together, they decided it was no longer worth the effort.

The saga has not gone down well with members. At least one CEC member is said to be unhappy with how the proposal to the WP was bungled.

Several activists were unhappy with the last-minute pullout, concerned that it embarrassed the party and wasted their efforts. Some had taken leave while others cancelled plans for overseas trips to campaign in the by-election.

The leadership has taken pains to convince them that it was for the best through several meetings. They have also focused on winning over a few key figures among the volunteers.

A party split appears unlikely, for now. An appreciation dinner for volunteers and a May Day rally are in the works to boost morale.

Party insiders are confident that the SDP can survive, believing that its decision to pull out has earned it goodwill among opposition supporters.

Referring to the expected date for the next general election, Dr Tambyah said: "We still have three more years to 2016."

No comments:

Post a Comment