Thursday, 24 January 2013

Punggol East By-election campaign - 23 Jan

Koh will be strong voice in the House: Halimah
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2013

NEW Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob gave a strong endorsement of People's Action Party candidate Koh Poh Koon yesterday, saying she is confident he would be a strong voice in the House.

Speaking to reporters after joining Dr Koh on the campaign trail in the morning, she said: "Every Member of Parliament who is elected is expected to do his job vigorously to pursue what he is most passionate about, to bring about a difference to the lives of Singaporeans."

She said she was confident that if he was elected, Dr Koh would pursue issues which he believed in with rigour and passion, including those related to the elderly, the poor, or families and children.

She also observed that the 40-year-old had put in "tremendous" effort to connect with residents, and many already knew him. "That speaks volumes. To connect over just a few days is not easy."

The colorectal surgeon was introduced as a candidate just two weeks ago and has been going on walkabouts and pressing flesh in Punggol East every day since.

Madam Halimah, who had previously developed a reputation as a spirited backbencher who raised issues related to the elderly and the poor, spoke readily about Dr Koh.

However, she did not want to be drawn into an ongoing debate on the parliamentary performance of Workers' Party (WP) MPs.

The Jurong GRC MP would only say: "Everyone has to develop his own style, his own niche, and you need to pursue these interests vigorously."

The debate over the WP's performance in the House was prompted by remarks made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong while on a visit to Punggol East last Saturday. He said he had not seen "strong opposition or alternative proposals from Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs) or elected opposition MPs".

At a WP rally on Tuesday, its chief Low Thia Khiang defended the party's record, citing a list of issues it had raised, and added that the eight WP parliamentarians had done their share of questioning of policies.

To a question on the controversy over town councils that was also aired at the WP rally, Madam Halimah noted that PM Lee has already called for a review.

She said: "I think that residents should be assured that when the PM himself says an investigation will be done, it will be done."

PAP candidate 'energised' by party support
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2013

AS THE battle for Punggol East enters its final lap, Dr Koh Poh Koon said yesterday that more residents knew what he stood for as his visibility had grown.

"The residents have warmed up considerably, over the last few days the visibility of who I am, what I stand for and what I'm championing, have become much clearer," the PAP candidate said.

He added that he felt energised by the support of party members, who have turned up in increasing numbers in the past few days to help the colorectal surgeon and political greenhorn canvass for votes in the four-cornered fight.

Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob went on block visits yesterday.

About 30 Members of Parliament, including Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) and Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC), have helped to distribute fliers. And last night, as the Workers' Party (WP) rally was going on, about 400 activists from party branches across Singapore congregated in the north-east constituency to knock on doors and garner support.

"With the support of the rest of the party members, I feel much more energised. I think the momentum is really going very strong," Dr Koh said.

When asked about the show of support, he said: "This is a reflection of us as a party, we are a team, there's people always working together.

"At the beginning, the intent was to let the residents see me as a person, get to know me first.

"When the sensing is that they start to know me and recognise me as the candidate, we now have them all coming to touch base and show the solidarity of the party."

Meanwhile, he welcomed the announcement of more government subsidies for childcare while continuing to stress the need to increase capacity in the sector. As he had done previously in his campaign, he suggested looking into funding child and infant care operators so as to increase the supply of such services.

"My concern is that if the operators are not given the necessary support, then just by providing funding for the parents is not going to make any more places available for them to send their kids to," Dr Koh, 40, told reporters after a walkabout.

He added that it was not just about building more centres, but also training more teachers: "We can build more infrastructure, but we do need... the people, the software behind the hardware to deliver the education, to deliver the personal touch to the children."

Separately, Mr Seah objected to WP MP Png Eng Huat mocking Dr Koh's name at a rally on Tuesday. Mr Png said Koon means sleep in Hokkien.

When asked, Dr Koh said he recognised that emotions could run high during the hustings and that it was probably said in jest.

He said that the campaign has maintained a "very gentlemanly tone" and hoped it would continue to be so. "At the end of the day we are electing people as Members of Parliament and we do need to maintain decorum."

Elderly 'won't have to fret over health care'
Gan pledges they will get needed care without having to worry about bills
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2013

THE Health Minister yesterday assured senior citizens that they would always receive the health care they need without having to worry about whether they can afford to pay their medical bills.

"The important message is that our senior citizens will always receive the necessary health-care services without worry about affordability," Mr Gan Kim Yong said at a clan event.

His remarks came a day after the Workers' Party (WP) slammed the Government at an election rally for not doing enough to help the elderly.

The minister added: "I encourage all these elderly folks... if they have problems with their bills, do let the hospitals, public institutions, health-care institutions know.

"We'll find different ways to help them."

Medifund Silver, for instance, is a scheme for needy patients aged 65 and older, he cited.

"We also have given the hospitals a lot of flexibility in terms of eligibility criteria, so that they can reach out to more elderly who are in need of support for their healthcare needs," the minister added.

He also urged caution in response to WP candidate Lee Li Lian's suggestion that those older than 75 should be allowed to use their Medisave without restriction.

"We have to be mindful these are very important savings of the elderly, and they will continue to need the savings as they grow older," the minister said.

Mr Gan, who was attending an event at the Singapore Foochow Association, said he would take the opportunity to share with those present what the Government had done for the elderly.

Speaking to reporters, he listed five policies to show that the Government is helping the old.

These are:

The Enhancement for Active Seniors (Ease) scheme in which facilities such as grab bars and slip-resistant tiles are fitted in homes at highly subsidised rates;

Raising the age limit for MediShield, the national health insurance scheme, to 90 this year;

A one-off Medisave top-up of up to $400 to help with MediShield premiums;

An annual Medisave top-up of up to $450 under the GST Voucher scheme;

Expanding the renamed Community Health Assist Scheme to let patients get subsidised outpatient treatment for acute and chronic conditions and basic dental services at participating general practitioners and dental clinics.

Mr Gan said he would also let clan associations and community leaders know that the Government will continue to do more for seniors.

"I encourage the community and clans to continue with their many good programmes for the senior citizens," he added.

Separately, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who was in Punggol East to accompany PAP candidate Koh Poh Koon on a walkabout, defended the Government's track record.

The former Minister of State (Social and Family Development) gave several examples. One was grants for less well-off households employing maids to take care of elderly family members.

Announced last year, the estimated five-year budget for this is $25 million.

Another instance is the Government saying last October that it would spend $500 million until 2016 to ramp up the number of nursing homes, senior care centres and senior activity centres.

Unity possible, say most opposition leaders
By Jermyn Chow And Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2013

OPPOSITION leaders disagreed with Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang that unity among them is inconceivable, arguing that it is possible if parties put their mind to making it a reality.

Said Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) chief Desmond Lim, who is going up against the WP in the Punggol East by-election: "It is about compromise, give and take, and finding a common ground among everyone."

His own party was founded in 2001 as an alliance of four parties, but now comprises just the Singapore Justice Party and Singapore Malay National Organisation (PKMS).

The National Solidarity Party (NSP) pulled out in 2007, citing the need for more room to grow, while SDA's former chairman Chiam See Tong pulled his Singapore People's Party out in 2011, after failing to bring the Reform Party into the alliance.

NSP president Sebastian Teo argued that unity does not have to go the way Mr Low has in mind.

Nor does it need to be a formal alliance like the SDA, which his party left in 2007 as it wanted more space to grow.

"Unity doesn't have to be narrowly defined and can have different meanings," he said.

At the very least, parties can adhere to the concept of unity by just agreeing "to avoid competing with each other", he added. "That is the minimum requirement to show that opposition parties are heading towards (unity)."

Mr Low had said at the WP's Tuesday rally that opposition unity is an inconceivable concept given the diversity of personalities and beliefs in the opposition camp.

He argued that forcing people of different characters together would lead to ugly splits which could dent their hopes of winning at polls and disappoint Singaporeans hoping for a strong political force to check on the People's Action Party (PAP).

Mr Benjamin Pwee, acting secretary-general of the Democratic Progressive Party, said he was "disappointed to hear WP's unwillingness to together work towards opposition unity".

Unity need not mean "total oneness", he said, adding: "Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater."

Mr Pwee favours a loose alliance or network among the parties - an idea he had pursued in the past with former presidential candidate Tan Jee Say.

But both Mr Lim and Mr Teo acknowledged that personalities may be a major obstacle - a point raised by Mr Low.

"Politics is very complicated, with people of different personality and agenda. Ego is another factor too," said Mr Teo, citing a Chinese saying about how two tigers would find it hard to co-exist on the same mountain.

Reform Party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam, who is also contesting in Punggol East, was the lone voice agreeing with Mr Low.

He said he believes in competition, and added: "We have different ideologies.

"We should compete on our ideologies, the quality of our messages, our policies, our candidates and their effectiveness in Parliament."

He said the "chope-ing mentality" of parties - their perceived right to return to areas they have contested - is a "ridiculous notion".

Man arrested for online threat
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2013

POLICE have arrested a 23-year-old man for making an online threat against Reform Party chief and Punggol East candidate Kenneth Jeyaretnam.

The man is being investigated for criminal intimidation under the Penal Code, the police said last night. No other details about the suspect were revealed.

If found guilty under the Penal Code, the man faces a fine or a jail term of up to two years, or both. The jail term may be extended to 10 years if the threats are more vicious, such as those involving death or grievous hurt.

Yesterday's arrest came after Mr Jeyaretnam made a police report last Friday that his wife and son in London had received e-mail threats after he announced he was contesting in the by-election. He declined to comment on the arrest last night.

After eight days of campaigning, Mr Jeyaretnam was upbeat about his chances in the four-way race in Punggol East, saying: "There is a good chance of us winning."

Asked if he was worried about losing his deposit, he replied without missing a beat: "That hasn't even entered my calculations - the possibility of losing my deposit. I am the best qualified of the candidates, by a long way."

Last night, his party planned a Meet-the-People Session at the void deck of an HDB block in Rivervale Drive. Mr Jeyaretnam was present, but no residents turned up. After waiting for an hour, he left to knock on doors instead.

The Singapore Democratic Alliance stepped up its door-to-door campaigning last night too, but candidate Desmond Lim declined to rate his chances.

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