Wednesday, 12 August 2015

After Jubilee bash, now it's 'election season'

PAP set to unveil line-up over the next two weeks; opposition parties reach agreement
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 11 Aug 2015

Declaring that "we are in election season", People's Action Party (PAP) organising secretary Ng Eng Hen said yesterday that the party will unveil its candidate line-up over the next two weeks - with some as early as tomorrow.

This clearest sign from the ruling party that an early general election is on the cards comes even as opposition parties ironed out their competing claims to set the stage for straight fights for all 89 seats.

If the situation is unchanged on Nomination Day, it will be the first time since Independence that every one of the current 2.46 million eligible voters will get a chance to cast their ballot in a general election.

Dr Ng's announcement that the PAP will detail the MPs who are retiring and the slate of candidates contesting in each GRC and single-seat ward came as the National Solidarity Party (NSP) and Singaporeans First (SingFirst) party untangled the last of overlapping claims to constituencies they had with the Workers' Party (WP) and Reform Party (RP) respectively.

The NSP is giving up Marine Parade GRC and MacPherson ward to the WP, and SingFirst will not contest Ang Mo Kio GRC, which the RP had first claimed.

Dr Ng, who spoke after visiting residents in areas newly acquired by his Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC following boundary changes, told reporters he wanted to "talk about GE 2015". He said the PAP held off introducing candidates until after the jubilee weekend, but with that over, "we are in election season".

Over the next two weeks, the party will name its retiring MPs and unveil its line-up according to constituencies the candidates will contest in. There are 16 GRCs and 13 single seats following the electoral boundaries review last month.

Dr Ng said there will be at least 22 new faces. The party manifesto and constituency plans will follow and departures and introductions will take place at the constituency level.

"Where previously we'd only announce the whole slate of candidates on Nomination Day, we're telling you who's going to stand well before... The reason why we've made this change is that we believe this is better politics," he explained. "It's better to tell the residents upfront who's standing in your constituency so they can examine on record what candidates have done, can do, and they can make intelligent choices after examining both - whoever the political parties are sending, who can better serve."

He said previously that there will be very few surprises as PAP candidates have been on the ground, some for over two years, and will be familiar to residents.

Opposition parties have also picked up the pace with the RP, NSP and WP on walkabouts yesterday.

Opposition parties set for straight fights with PAP
NSP leaving Marine Parade and MacPherson to WP; SingFirst clears way for RP in Ang Mo Kio
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 11 Aug 2015

Opposition parties have resolved remaining differences and are set to go into straight fights with the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) at the next general election.

This follows announcements yesterday by the National Solidarity Party (NSP) and Singaporeans First party (SingFirst) to withdraw from areas other opposition parties have also staked claims to.

Opposition party leaders have spoken about the need for unity that has often proven elusive in recent years, and the avoidance of three-cornered fights which they see as favourable to the PAP.

NSP acting secretary-general Hazel Poa reiterated this when announcing it would stay out of Marine Parade GRC and the MacPherson single seat - both also claimed by the Workers' Party (WP).

She said the party was doing so to avoid diluting the opposition vote and reducing the chances of a more diverse Parliament.

SingFirst made a brief statement about its withdrawal from Ang Mo Kio GRC, first claimed by the Reform Party (RP).

Both moves pave the way for straight fights between the opposition and ruling PAP in all 29 constituencies - although independents could join the fray.

Ms Poa expressed disappointment that the NSP had to cede constituencies where it had walked the ground and said it was a "difficult decision" to make.

But it recognised "voters' desire for greater opposition representation in Parliament", she said.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim responded by thanking the NSP. In a statement, she also said the WP "will continue to focus on its preparations and campaign on the 10 constituencies announced".

Both parties had stood firm over Marine Parade during all-party opposition talks last week.

The WP offered to give up MacPherson if the NSP stayed out of Marine Parade, but this was rejected, said Ms Lim last Friday.

But Ms Poa said yesterday that the NSP informed the WP in an e-mail on the same day of its decision to pull out. It hoped to issue a joint statement on this "as a symbol of cooperation" but the WP did not respond.

She also lamented the WP's no-show at the second round of talks opposition parties had last Thursday, saying the issue could have been settled then.

Opposition parties met twice last week - the first time on Monday - to discuss constituencies and contests. The WP was a no-show on Thursday, saying that it had already made its intentions clear.

Said Ms Poa yesterday: "As there are many who are anxious for an outcome, NSP decided not to delay any further, but to make this announcement on our own."

The party will now contest in Tampines and Sembawang GRCs and the Pioneer single-seat ward.

Ms Poa thanked the Singapore Democratic Party for "voluntarily withdrawing from Sembawang GRC in the interest of opposition unity".

Another potential three-cornered fight in Ang Mo Kio GRC, which is helmed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, was also averted after SingFirst secretary-general Tan Jee Say's pledge not to contest there. His party will focus on Tanjong Pagar and Jurong GRCs.

The RP yesterday had a walkabout in Ang Mo Kio with blogger Roy Ngerng and lawyer M. Ravi, who said previously that he wanted to contest the next election in the GRC.

But three-cornered fights do remain a possibility as lawyer and former NSP chief Tan Lam Siong has said he will run in Potong Pasir - claimed by the Singapore People's Party - while former independent candidate Ooi Boon Ewe told reporters last week he intends to stand in Sengkang West, which the WP will contest.

PAP being 'upfront' about candidates
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 11 Aug 2015

The People's Action Party's (PAP) decision to announce its slate of candidates early is a significant departure from previous practice but the strategy is aimed at being "upfront" with residents about the choice they have, organising secretary Ng Eng Hen said yesterday.

It also stems from feedback from past general elections where residents were faced with a flurry of announcements about candidates and do not know where they will be contesting until Nomination Day.

"We didn't think this was a sensible way," he told reporters after visiting residents in areas of Moulmein-Kallang GRC that have been newly acquired by his Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC following boundary changes announced last month.

"We understand why people do it, because politics is politics: You put whoever your candidates are, I decide how to respond. But we decided, let's focus on the residents. Let's tell them who's going to be where they're living so that people can size it up."

The party will announce its full slate of candidates standing in the 16 GRC and 13 single-seat wards over the next two weeks so residents can find out about their backgrounds and size them up.

"We're trying to move towards a politics where the real work begins the day after the election results are announced and the glamour is no longer there... To achieve that, what we want to do is to give our residents as much information as possible so that they can make up their minds, given that information," he said.

But the PAP's promise is that its candidates are people of calibre, able to perform at the constituency level managing town councils and taking care of residents' needs; and at the national level, where the party has to plan for succession and have people able to run the government and Singapore.

"Whoever we put up, the bottom line is that we've assessed them. They are able to run a town, they're able to take care of a town, they'll make sure the finances of the town council will be well run..." he said in an indirect reference to the Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council, which has been in the spotlight over accounting and governance lapses uncovered by the Auditor- General's Office.

"The bottom line is whoever we put up, new candidates or old, that's again non-negotiable: they can run a town council well and comply with the law. And not only the letter of the law but the spirit of the law - accountability, integrity, honesty, transparency."

Dr Ng said the PAP began looking for new candidates very soon after the 2011 General Election. "For each session we roped in office- holders and MPs, and I would say we would have gone through probably 300 to 400 people each time. Copious amounts of tea were drunk," he said with a laugh.

Moving to name the slate of candidates early so residents can make intelligent choices after assessing them is an approach that is good for Singapore, he said, adding that he was glad some other parties have said they will try to do the same.

Indeed, Dr Ng may have given away the incoming slate in the five-member Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC when he met reporters accompanied by three new faces: Second Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat, who finishes his civil service stint today, OUE Hospitality Trust chief executive Chong Kee Hiong; and Maybank Singapore's head of forex research Saktiandi Supaat.

Also present were Dr Ng's fellow GRC MPs Josephine Teo, Hri Kumar Nair and Zainudin Nordin. Mr Nair and Mr Zainudin are expected to step down, along with the GRC's fifth MP - former minister Wong Kan Seng. The pair declined to confirm this when asked. Mr Chee said it was up to "the Prime Minister to decide where I stand, but as a resident of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, this is my home, and I'd be very happy if I'm able to serve the residents".

The team is likely to face a combined team from the Singapore People's Party and Democratic Progressive Party.

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