Sunday, 20 January 2013

Punggol East By-election: WP Rally, 19 Jan

WP 'not out to cripple Govt'
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 20 Jan 2013

The Workers' Party last night pledged its commitment to constructive opposition politics, assuring voters it is a rational and responsible party.

It did not oppose the Government for the sake of it, but only when it believed public interest was at stake.

Speaking at a Punggol East rally last night, WP leaders Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim also emphasised that the party has sought to maintain a good working relationship with government agencies and has had a track record of working with them to resolve problems.

Said Ms Lim, who is party chairman: "WP does not believe in crippling the Government, which will hurt Singaporeans. Our brand of opposition politics is pro-Singapore. We do not want the ship to sink because we are on board as well."

Mr Low added that the party was not positioning itself as rational and responsible in order to "gain your support".

"We do what we say and believe in what we say. It is in the interest of Singapore to have a credible party which is reasonable and responsible, to check on the Government."

While it watches the People's Action Party (PAP), the WP has also come under fire from critics who find that it has been too soft in taking on the Government.

Ms Lim said the WP has not shied away from "confronting the Government when we have to", but would do so only when it did not perform or when its actions hurt public interest.

She cited how the party voted against constitutional amendments and legislation, and pushed the Government on health-care funding, social justice and ministerial salaries.

WP also did not always seek political mileage from speaking up, she noted: "From time to time, WP has submitted to the government ministries our alternative suggestions on certain policies for them to consider behind closed doors."

Ms Lim also addressed fears that a WP MP may not be as effective in resolving residents' problems. She said a Punggol East resident had asked her if government agencies took letters written by WP MPs as seriously as those by PAP MPs.

Ms Lim said government agencies were obliged to reply as they were MPs. However, if they failed to do so, the MPs could always question the minister in Parliament.

Mr Low cited an example of this. He said the infestation of midges, a form of flies, around the Bedok Reservoir in his ward improved after he filed a parliamentary question, compelling the Government to detail its plans to fight it.

"This is how the WP works. We want to resolve the issue on the ground. But if we are not able to resolve it, we will bring it up in Parliament," he said.

But he also stressed that WP did not aim to have a bad relationship with government agencies. "We want to be able to make Singapore a better place to live in, regardless of political affiliation."

We will make PAP work even harder: Workers’ Party
By Tan Weizhen, TODAY, 20 Jan 2013

Seeking to turn the tables on the People’s Action Party - whose leaders cited on Friday the PAP Government’s efforts to address Singaporeans’ concerns since the 2011 General Election, even though work remains to be done - the Workers’ Party yesterday argued that the ruling party has quite some way to go in addressing hot button issues such as high transport and healthcare costs, rising housing prices and childcare fees.

And the way to make the PAP work even harder is to increase the number of WP MPs in Parliament, WP party leaders said at the party’s first rally in the Punggol East by-election.

The rain did little to prevent a crowd from turning up at the rally, which was held a day after the PAP’s inaugural rally.

Hougang MP Png Eng Huat said: “In the few months after the 2011 GE, there was a bus and mrt fare increase. There were also hefty fare hikes for taxis after 2011, which took place just as Singaporeans were struggling to get home in the midst of massive train breakdowns. And to top it off, our Transport Minister said last December that there will be another public transport fare review this year.”

Acknowledging that some work has been done, WP Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang and Chairman Sylvia Lim stressed the need to keep the PAP Government on its toes. Mr Low said: “Elections are the best way to safeguard your rights and interest and to make the Government work for you. After the last elections, the PAP has obviously worked harder, let us make sure that after this by-election, at the next General Election, they will work as if their lives depended on you.”

The WP leaders’ remarks were met with a swift response: About 1.5 hours after the opposition party’s rally ended at 10pm, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean posted on Facebook that he is “glad WP agrees that PAP’s new policies are good”. Mr Teo added: “If voters support the PAP’s new policies, for example in education or making flats more affordable and available, the best way to show their support is by voting for the PAP and these policies, not voting against them.

“Voting in dedicated and able people, like (PAP candidate) Koh Poh Koon will help us do even better. Voting for Poh Koon in Punggol East, will allow him to continue the good work there, and make even more improvements.”

At its rally, the WP leaders also spoke about the role of the party in Singapore’s political landscape.

Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao said it will “take time for an opposition party in Singapore to grow... into its own as a credible, alternative government”. And the time to start is now, he said.


Ms Lim described the WP’s brand of opposition politics as “constructive” and “pro-Singapore”. She said: “Even though we are an opposition party, WP doesn’t believe in crippling the Government, which will hurt Singaporeans. We do not want the ship to sink because we are on board as well.”

Mr Low added that the opposition party wants to “be able to make Singapore a better place, regardless of political affiliation”. “It is in the interest of Singapore to have a credible party, which is reasonable and responsible, to check on the Government and to make them responsive to the needs of the people,” he said.

Urging Punggol East voters to throw their support behind WP candidate Lee Li Lian, 34, the WP leaders cited the party’s track record in managing the Hougang ward, and more recently, the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency. Ms Lim said that although Hougang has been under WP’s rule for more than two decades, it does not look much different from other PAP constituencies.

On his observations of Punggol East, Mr Low noted the lack of amenities in the constituency, and took a dig at the presence of Residents’ Committee offices at the HDB flats. He said: “It seems to me that the RC (Residents’ Committee) has become so important that it is even built into the design of HDB flats now - very convenient for the PAP to serve you, through the RCs.” In contrast, the constituency is lacking amenities that residents “need most” such as coffeeshops and convenience stores. Said Mr Low: “Your need for convenience in daily lives is not on the minds of the Government in the design of the estate. Your need has obviously been neglected.”

Mr Low also criticised the delay in the resumption of upgrading works at Rivervale Plaza, which had stalled for five months after the contractor went bust. A new contractor is due to resume the work this month, and complete it by July. Mr Low questioned whether residents might have to wait even longer for the work to finish, if a by-election had not been called.

Mr Png also reminded Punggol East voters the reason a by-election is being held - the seat became vacant after former PAP MP Michael Palmer resigned over an extramarital affair - by evoking an analogy that was used by PAP chairman Khaw Boon Wan during a rally at the Hougang by-election last year.

The Hougang by-election was held after WP MP Yaw Shin Leong was expelled from the party over an extramarital affair. Then, Mr Khaw had likened WP to a “dishonest fruit seller”, Mr Png recounted. The shoe is now on the other foot, he noted. “(Mr Khaw) probably never knew his speech can be used again in this by-election, but not by the same party,” he said.

Throwing their support behind Ms Lee, the WP leaders attested to her ability to connect with the ground, and work hard for residents.

Citing the male-dominated political landscape, Ms Lim made a pitch for voters to send another woman into Parliament as an Opposition MP. Pointing out that there are 62 male PAP MPs, Ms Lim said: “Do we really need another PAP man (in Parliament)?”

WP candidate raises concerns about education system, high cost of childcare
By Amir Hussain, TODAY, 20 Jan 2013

In contrast to her People’s Action Party opponent Koh Poh Koon, Workers’ Party candidate Lee Li Lian yesterday spoke at length about national issues such as the high cost of childcare as well as the pressures of the education system, as she sought to show that she can also contribute on the national stage.

Apart from reiterating her proposal for “unrestricted” use of Medisave for those above 75, she also suggested that the Government study the feasibility of a through train programme for primary schools, so that students can bypass the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

Ms Lee, 34, has previously spoken to the media about municipal concerns in Punggol East such as the lack of childcare centres and inadequate feeder bus services.

And while Dr Koh proposed a slew of improvements to the constituency in his first rally on Friday, Ms Lee - a trainer at a financial institution - instead focused on national issues at her maiden rally yesterday for the Punggol East by-election.

She noted that fees of childcare centres islandwide have increased, on average, by 34 per cent in the last five years – from an average of S$680 a month for a full-day infant care and childcare programme, to an average of S$914 a month.

This, despite the number of childcare centres rising from 743 to 1,009 over the same period, and the two anchor operators — PAP Community Foundation and NTUC My First Skool — enjoying government subsidies amounting to an estimated S$69 million a year. She said: “If NTUC and PCF enjoy such huge public subsidies, why are childcare centre fees going up?”

On the education system, she said: “We are seeing unhealthy stress levels... We have students committing suicide because they did not do well enough for their exams. An estimated 1 in 10 children aged 6 to 16 suffer from mental health disorders.”

She said that while “it is good that the Ministry of Education has decided not to name the top PSLE students in the media, to help reduce competitiveness and stress, much more can still be done.”

Said Ms Lee: “PSLE is still a high-stakes examination. If you do not do well at PSLE, you will always be struggling to catch up with your peers because of secondary school streaming.”

She added: “The formative years of our children should also be better spent on nurturing their many talents and interests rather than forcing preparations for high-stakes examinations on them.”

For the group at the other end of the spectrum, Ms Lee said by not restricting the use of Medisave for those above 75, it will also “ease the burden on families who have to take care of elderly parents and young children as well”.

She said: “Life expectancy in Singapore is 82 years. If our seniors cannot use their Medisave funds for immediate medical needs when they are 75 years old, when can they use it?”

Sharing her experience helping Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh on the ground, Ms Lee said she met young families which cannot afford to buy their own flats, elderly Singaporeans struggling to pay their medical bills and parents concerned about the rising costs of education.

“I worry if our children can afford to live in Singapore 20 years down the road,” she said.

Lending his support to Ms Lee’s bid to enter Parliament, Mr Singh described her as someone who takes an interest in people, and who makes time and effort to understand them.

Said Mr Singh: “The relationships that people like Li Lian make are based on empathy, friendliness and understanding; and these are very healthy qualities for anyone who wants to be a Member of Parliament. ... the residents of Punggol East will also benefit from these qualities.”

He added: “It is my firm belief that she will be an MP that you can relate to, and one who will look after you.”

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