SINGAPORE - The haze was in the upper end of the "moderate" band with an average PSI reading of 90, but what's some dust particles in the air when the general election is on, right?
Thousands thought so as they thronged to eight corners of Singapore on Saturday (Sept 5) to attend the fourth night of rallies leading up to the Sept 11 polls. It was the only Saturday in the campaign period, and some came prepared with packed dinners.
For the record, these were the rallies that were held:
The People's Action Party (PAP) was in Petir Road and Teck Whye Crescent, the Workers' Party (WP) was at Punggol Field Walk, Singapore People's Party (SPP) at Bukit Batok West, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) at Commonwealth Avenue, National Solidarity Party (NSP) at Tampines Street 81, SingFirst at Stirling Road and Reform Party (RP) at West Coast Walk.
Here are the five key points of the night:
1. SO WHO WENT?
As always, the crowds were biggest at the WP event, although SDP's rally on both Friday and Saturday saw a sizeable turnout. The elderly also turned up, including a Madam Sheila Ho, 88, who said she had asked her daughter to take her to the SDP event.
2. THARMAN DEBUNKS MYTHS
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who spoke at the PAP rally at Petir Road, delivered a forceful rebuttal to a key criticism levelled at the PAP by the opposition camp: that the Government is not generous enough when it comes to social spending.
His message was clear: One, nothing is free, and there are trade-offs involved for countries which appear to have a more egalitarian system.
Two, the Government has already been maxing out on the investment income from reserves, contrary to popular belief that it can draw more from the reserves to fund social spending without raising taxes.
Mr Tharman noted that at least one opposition party has proposed giving every child and elderly $300 with no conditions attached. That, however, would mean taxing the middle-income group more. "There's no system in the world where you can give everyone something without taxing people, and especially taxing the middle-income group," he said. "And we must make sure that our system is never one where we place a high burden on the middle income group."
"Let's be clear about it and see through promises that are false promises."
There were others who proposed drawing on Singapore's reserve income to fund social spending, he noted. "It is also a myth to think that, look, let's don't worry about taxing people, let's talk about taking money from investment income from reserves, and several parties I noticed have mentioned this," he pointed out.
"Well, let me just say this: We are already maxing out on the investment income from our reserves," he said, noting that the Constitution allows the Government to spend 50 per cent of the income on Singapore's reserves. "It's fully used, there's no more money left there that you can just take without compromising the next generation," he said.
"And it's not as if we're storing up a whole lot of savings for the future generation to have a better life than today. All we are doing is making sure that each generation gets the same benefit."
He also dismissed talk that the Government may raise taxes after the election, slamming it as "scaremongering".
3. KEY ISSUES THAT CROPPED UP
At least five out of the eight speakers at the SDP rally touched on this hot-button issue, and accused the government of not properly managing the influx of immigrants.
Secretary-general Chee Soon Juan said: "I want to be very clear about this. SDP understands that Singapore needs new immigrants. The question is how do we manage the flow of immigrants into this country. The way that the PAP has handled the matter thus far has been disappointing."
Using an analogy of a lifeboat, he said if everyone had jumped into it all at once, the boat would sink. "But if we do it in an orderly manner, the boat will be able to safely take everyone in."
SDP's John Tan and Sidek Mallek said foreigners caused many other problems including transport breakdowns, unemployment and the rising cost of living. The solution was to implement a policy where Singaporeans are given employment priority, they said.
Mr Sidek also pushed for a minimum wage to be implemented, saying: "I think Singaporeans, when given the right remuneration, will be happy to take on these jobs... Foreign labour should supplement our workforce, not to displace it."
Some Reform Party candidates also raised the issue. Ang Mo Kio GRC candidate Siva Chandran claimed some foreigners "anyhow hantam" their degrees, while his team-mate, activist Gilbert Goh, continued his theme from Friday's rally. He said that foreigners have stolen jobs from Singaporeans, even pointing to one man in the crowd, a Mr Gani, who he said had lost his job to a foreigner.
Two candidates from the PAP's Holland-Bukit Timah GRC took aim at the SDP's proposal to cut $5.75 billion or about 40 per cent of Singapore's current defence budget.
Mr Chris de Souza, who grew up in a military family - he revealed his father was a member of the first Black Knights team - said the SDP proposal will "ambush Singapore's sovereignty". To propose this amid the current global and regional climate is "naive, dangerous and opportunistic".
His colleague, Ms Sim Ann, also made the same point when she spoke in Mandarin. She said the defence cut suggested by SDP is far from a "minuscule reduction" as the party has termed it.
* PAP and grassroots organisations
A recurrent theme at the WP rally was how the PAP has co-opted infrastructure and grassroots organisations for political ends.
Mr Pritam Singh introduced the topic, and talked about the role of Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) and the People's Association. Of political co-optation of grassroots organisations, he said: "The system has become a disease."
WP chairman Sylvia Lim cited an example of how the HDB had asked Punggol East incumbent Lee Li Lian for help to get a venue for a block party for new residents, but then failed to invite her to the party and "even had the cheek" to ask town council cleaners to stand by to clean up after the event.
It's not unusual for candidates and their supporters to tout their attributes at rallies, of course, but the SPP rally in Bukit Batok stood out for how every one of the 11 speakers praised Hong Kah North candidate Ravi Philemon, with a focus on his years of being a social worker. Among other things, he was described as "not just a thinker, but a compassionate doer", a "first-class candidate" with a "first-class heart", and "an MP that money cannot buy".
WP's Low Thia Khiang said the PAP had misrepresented facts and misled voters. He held up an accounts sheet that showed that Punggol East ward had a deficit, and not a surplus in 2013 before it joined the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, as PAP's Punggol East candidate Charles Chong had earlier claimed.
4. MEMORABLE MOMENTS
* The emcee at the Reform Party introduced Ang Mo Kio GRC candidate Roy Ngerng saying that Mr Ngerng "may look feeble to your eyes, but when he fights, he fights like the lion of the forest and the serpent of the valley." Curiously, he had used the exact same description to introduce Mr Ngerng's team-mate Gilbert Goh at Friday's rally.
* RP's Jesse Loo took umbrage at an article, intended to be humorous, published by what he said was "Motherland.sg". He referred to that name several times throughout his speech. We think he meant the website Mothership.
* The PAP rally in Chua Chu Kang had a nice vibe going. There was hardly any sniping at the opposition, with most of the MPs focused on how they have been working hard to improve the GRC's infrastructure instead, and how much was done to foster a vibrant community there. In keeping with this feel-good vibe, at least 100 chairs were also provided for the elderly. Those who had arrived early and were comfortably in their seats were reminded by party volunteers to give them up as the seats were for "senior citizens".
* It may not have been the most creative of cheers - it essentially was just a repetition of the party name - but the SingFirst chant at least had a Riverdance feel to it. The team presented a cheer which they said was "invented for Singaporeans" on stage, complete with rhythmic foot stomping. Yes, there was an encore version.
"Not only do they avoid talking about the taxes they would have to raise if their proposals were to be put in practice, they also scare-monger. That is just cheap."
- Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on the opposition
"They are collecting taxes with the left hand to give with the right hand. It's a complete myth to think that these are egalitarian systems."
- DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam
"Some people use kou shui (saliva in Mandarin) to get votes. I want to say, I will use han shui (sweat) and do things for you."
- PAP's Liang Eng Hwa on how he is a doer and not a talker
"My wife is just behind me, poking me that I forgot to mention her name."
- Former MP Chiam See Tong and SPP secretary-general, who listed the names of the party's candidates but missed out on his wife Lina, chairman of SPP
"The son of Punggol is now the son-in-law of Ang Mo Kio."
- WP chairman Sylvia Lim taking a dig at PAP's Koh Poh Koon whom the PAP had pitched against WP's Lee Li Lian in the Punggol by-election and who is now part of the Ang Mo Kio GRC team. Dr Koh had described himself as "the son of Punggol" at the by-election
"Why do boundaries keep changing? I also ask that question. Boundaries might change, candidates might change but the PAP is always the same."
- PAP's Lawrence Wong on the creation of the new Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC
"Are we not having enough bread and butter in Toastbox?"
- RP's M. Ravi on how the election is not just about bread-and-butter issues. He talked about human rights and the jury system
"If you have a degree, you will drive a taxi, I promise you."
- RP's Gilbert Goh on the future if the PAP forms the government
"If they say I'm going to give you NTUC vouchers, I'm going to give you a library, I'm going to give you a covered walkway. If you want that, great, wonderful! But if you never asked for a library but what you want is more childcare centres. If you never ask for a walkway, but what you want is another polyclinic. Have they heard you?"
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