Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Punggol East By-election campaign - 21 Jan

Aiming to be part of change from within
Koh feels Govt is already moving in the direction he thinks is right
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 22 Jan 2013

AS HE dashes from house to house, ringing doorbells, shaking hands and handing out fliers, two things quickly become clear about Dr Koh Poh Koon.

First, the 40-year-old People's Action Party (PAP) candidate is still very new to the world of politics and second, that he is in a real hurry to establish himself in Punggol East.

He tends to run, not walk, between houses as he tries to connect with as many of the 31,649 voters as he can. The relentless pace is possible because Dr Koh is something of a fitness junkie, with his grassroots volunteers often finding themselves trailing behind him.

Almost everything about his journey into politics has been on a compressed schedule.

Invited to tea with the PAP in the middle of last year, it seemed that the original plan was to field him in the next general election.

But last month, after former Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer resigned, he was asked to consider running. He got the confirmation on a Saturday a few weeks later and by Wednesday, he was introduced as a candidate.

His friends tried to dissuade him, fearing a tough fight and that he would have to toe the PAP line on policies that he disagreed with.

To him, however, the PAP government is a good one that has already set in motion policy changes since the watershed 2011 polls.

"If the Government is already in the midst of change and it is moving in a direction that I think is the right direction, then it's better to be involved in the process of change from within," he said one Saturday night after a long day of campaigning.

He is candid, sometimes to a fault, prompting his wife to pronounce him "too straight" for politics.

Indeed, Dr Koh is frank enough to say that he believes Singapore should have more single-member constituencies, so that the seat will be better earned through a fight.

"That's not to say that in a GRC the engagement is going to be less, but that can be something that theoretically people can leverage and say: 'You keep riding on the shoulders of giants, then you sit there and do nothing, you will still get in.'"

Indeed, despite being a political greenhorn, he has spent a large chunk of his campaign ploughing a lone furrow. PAP heavyweights have dropped by to support him but he still does most of his walkabouts in small groups.

But he stresses that "this is me" is not the message he is trying to send. He explained that he had said it in jest earlier when asked about a slogan.

Still, his straightforward nature comes across to the residents he encounters.

"He's quite forthcoming," was the impression teacher Gopal Bahavani, 36, had.

His first rally speech last Friday was polished and confident and generally well-received. Businessman Raymond Pang, 42, said: "He has the calibre and is willing to stand up and be counted. He could achieve more besides being an MP."

Few in the PAP were surprised when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indicated that Dr Koh could be an office-holder in the future.Party activists who pounded the ground with him think he is friendly and sincere while his former colleague at the Singapore General Hospital, PAP MP Chia Shi-Lu, said he is "a straight talker with no airs".

His busy campaign schedule means that Dr Koh is not keeping up with his rigorous fitness regimen. He used to run 10km on Sundays and do 30 chin-ups daily before he showered, on the bar he mounted in his toilet.

His family - wife Jessica, a gastroenterologist, and two daughters aged nine and four - have largely shied away from the limelight, save for turning up at his rally.

On a drive to his party branch last Friday, the two doctors talk about what they normally do, exchanging medical notes and discussing the schedule for the week ahead. When they pull up in a carpark, he thanks her, reminds her to drive safely and gets out of the car. Before he shuts the door, he pops his head in and kisses her.

And then he is off and running again.

Candidates react to baby boosters
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 22 Jan 2013

MEETING the demand for childcare was the focus of the candidates in the Punggol East by-election yesterday, as they reacted to the swathe of new government measures to encourage citizens to marry and have babies early.

The People's Action Party's Dr Koh Poh Koon gave his views on Facebook, saying that the measures "will go some ways to help young couples who wish to have children".

He added: "However, we should do more to reduce the hassle of childcare arrangements and the stress of putting our kids through school to comprehensively address the concerns of couples thinking of starting a family."

Workers' Party's Ms Lee Li Lian also welcomed the new measures while reiterating her stand that there needs to be more "affordable and quality infant and child care that is conveniently located".

A similar point was raised by Singapore Democratic Alliance's Mr Desmond Lim, who said the lack of affordable childcare facilities was a "big obstacle".

The Government is expected to announce further moves, aimed at improving the childcare sector, tomorrow.

Both Dr Koh and Mr Lim have pledged to increase childcare facilities in Punggol East if elected.

The policy changes announced yesterday span larger baby bonuses, increased subsidies for fertility treatment, priority for couples with young children in the queue for new flats, as well as paternity and adoption leave.

During a walkabout earlier in the day, where he spent some time with a PAP Community Foundation kindergarten class, Dr Koh picked out paternity leave as a key part of the slew of measures.

"Having some paternity leave goes in some way to signal that this is important, and that parents, be it father or mother, have a role to play," he said.

Ms Lee also lauded the paternity leave and added that the WP manifesto had suggested at least six days of paid leave for fathers.

She went on to say that while she was glad families would have a higher priority for flats, her top concern was still affordability.

Reform Party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam meanwhile criticised the new measures and said he disagrees with a lump sum baby bonus. He wants it replaced with continuous support for families.

Banking on her heartland girl charm
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 22 Jan 2013

WALKING briskly in black kitten heels, Ms Lee Li Lian cuts a striking figure as she clicks her stilettos around the Housing Board blocks in Punggol East.

She looks residents straight in the eye while smiling and greeting them in English, Mandarin or dialect.

She shakes each hand firmly, sometimes paired with a pat on the shoulder.

But she is a woman in a hurry. Alone among the four candidates, the Workers' Party (WP) contender has set herself the goal of visiting "100 per cent" of the 127 Housing Board blocks in Punggol East.

"I really have to get going," she said, when stopped by The Straits Times during her house visits last week.

Yet, despite the race to hit 127, the 34-year-old sales trainer has been able to maintain an air of calmness.

At the WP's first rally last Saturday, while other speakers were seen flipping through notes before they spoke, she sat serenely as camera lights flashed.

When she took the podium, she did not refer much to her script when she spoke up on behalf of young families.

But it is her heartlander girl charm which many have noticed.

At a foodcourt last Friday, an old man came up to her, shouting "Ho seh liao!" while miming a hammering motion.

With her trademark gap-toothed smile, Ms Lee laughed and said: "Gam sia, gam sia!" (Hokkien for "thank you").

Of the four candidates, Ms Lee comes closest to the main demographic being courted in the ward. A large number of Punggol East residents are young, middle class white-collared men and women.

She has opened up about her wish to start a family and the factors that couples like her and her husband must consider, such as rising costs and childcare.

She has also blogged previously about suggestions like legislating paternity leave and giving single parents the same public housing benefits as married ones.

When the WP team stops for a meal, young to middle-aged women with children in tow frequently approach Ms Lee for a photograph, addressing her familiarly.

Later, as the team goes past Rivervale Primary School just as school ends, they get stuck in a crowd of parents and excited children as she is kept busy shaking hands and posing for photos.

Many remember her from her previous run in the 2011 General Election.

Some residents, however, wish she would do more.

Civil servant Hardy, 43, thinks the WP has done a good job and likes Ms Lee's agenda.

"But if she could bring up education for special needs children, that may make up my mind," said the father of three.

But while Ms Lee is comfortable and open with residents, she is more guarded with the media.

In line with the WP's usual practice, Ms Lee has kept her campaign low key, declining to allow media coverage of her house visits to protect residents' privacy.

She is supported by a tight- knit group of volunteers, including husband Jacky Koh, 36, a telecommunications consultant.

But Ms Lee is usually the first face residents recognise when the blue-clad team appears. She keeps her smile on throughout the day, never seeming to flag.

Ms Lee even powered on ahead of party leaders at a recent market visit, instead of having them flank her. But WP leaders Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim seemed happy to let her run her own show, walking leisurely in the background while greeting residents.

At last Saturday's WP rally, Ms Lim asked voters to elect another woman opposition MP.

"She can do something which I can't do," said Ms Lim. "She can run in high heels!"

SDA holds online rally
By Amir Hussain, TODAY, 22 Jan 2013

Instead of just being a check on the People’s Action Party-led government, the Singapore Democratic Alliance’s (SDA) candidate for the Punggol East by-election, Mr Desmond Lim, yesterday sought to offer himself as a check on the “two dominant parties”.

“You want democracy? Then why restrict the voices in Parliament to two? Where is the system of checks and balances with two dominant parties in action?” Mr Lim asked in his first online rally video posted on YouTube. “Empower me to make sure those highly-paid representatives are earning their keep. Let democracy reign.”

The video was among two clips posted last night. The first was shared on the SDA’s by-election Facebook page an hour later than scheduled as Mr Lim said his team “needed a little more time to get (the video) duly trialled and tested”. TODAY understands that the clips were posted late as the SDA had not declared to the Elections Department of Singapore its intention to do so as part of election advertising, as required by the Parliamentary Elections Act. The party had to submit its declaration before it could post the videos.

The 45-year-old Lim plans to produce at least 10 rally clips of between seven and 10 minutes duration. He had said that cost was a key reason for making the SDA the first party here to hold an online rally.

In the first six-minute-long video, Mr Harminder Pal Singh, who led the SDA’s team in contesting in Pasir Ris-Punggol in the 2011 General Election and who is assisting in Mr Lim’s by-election campaign, noted: “There are many impending issues today, including better childcare support, safer living spaces and sustainability of incomes.”

And in his latest flyer to residents, Mr Lim said he plans to review existing childcare facilities, study the possibility of increasing traffic lights and designated pedestrian crossings to enhance road safety, and increase interaction and bonding among residents.

Asked why voters should choose the SDA over other parties that have more resources to implement similar plans, Mr Lim told TODAY: “Experience has shown that (resources) do not guarantee performance on the ground. There are many unresolved matters in Punggol East and deliverables (are) not achieved. This tells you that ... it is the candidate who makes the difference.”

Alluding to the resignations of former Members of Parliament Michael Palmer and Yaw Shin Leong, Mr Lim said in the first video: “Big names cannot guarantee loyalty and performance. At the end of the day when the fanfare is over, what counts is the individual. The individual and his values should be what you should be voting for.”

Similarly, Mr Singh noted the “exit of prominent players who succumbed to personal challenges in their political careers”, and asked viewers: “Who is here to stay?”

Mr Lim had contested in Punggol East in the 2011 General Election and received 4.5 per cent of the valid vote.

RP's Jeyaretnam happy with campaign progress so far
Channel NewsAsia, 21 Jan 2013

As the by-election campaign passed the half-way mark, Reform Party's candidate for Punggol East, Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, said he is happy with the progress so far in terms of feedback and reach.

Mr Jeyaretnam told reporters after his house visits on Monday morning that he is satisfied with the party's first rally on Sunday.

He said he has received a lot of positive feedback.

His party has distributed leaflets to all flats in the ward.

The Reform Party chief has also covered 25 blocks during his house-to-house visits.

The Reform Party is expected to hold its second and final rally either on Wednesday or Thursday.

Mr Jeyaretnam said he will focus on plans for the constituency in his speeches.

No comments:

Post a Comment