As the nine-day campaign for the Bukit Batok by-election drew to a close, candidates Murali Pillai and Chee Soon Juan made their final pitch to voters at rallies last night.
Both sites resounded with appeals to voters to consider the brand of politics they wanted, and the character of each candidate.
Mr Murali of the People's Action Party (PAP) said he would not only speak up in Parliament but also solve residents' problems on the ground. "A vote for us is a vote for certainty. No need to experiment. You should choose who you think is the best person, the best party to serve you."
Dr Chee, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief, said he would be an effective voice in Parliament and promised to run the estate well.
"Why would you want to elect someone to represent you... when you already have 82 PAP MPs to say the same thing and vote the same way?" he asked. "Every time you get more opposition in Parliament, the PAP is pushed to act in your interest, in your favour."
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam told voters at the PAP rally in Bukit Gombak Stadium that the issue is not just having more opposition, but also what kind of politics they want for Singapore.
He said he was not against a healthy opposition. The SDP thinks policy proposals are its strength, "but policies are not about research papers, policies are ultimately about politics".
He said he was troubled by how the SDP spoke of its proposals, using "the politics of spreading fear and alarm, and the politics of populism - giving promises, telling them the good things without telling them what the costs are, what everyone will have to pay".
"Spreading fear and alarm and being populist is the wrong type of politics for Singapore. It's the wrong way to advance our democracy."
Mr Tharman noted that Dr Chee had called for unemployment insurance, which he said was not a crazy idea and one that may have to be considered if there was high long- term unemployment.
But people had to be frank about the costs, he said, adding that Dr Chee had highlighted such a scheme's benefits but glossed over the costs. "Lay out the benefits, lay out the costs, be honest about it. Don't bluff people.You don't need to agree with the PAP. But discuss things openly, tell people the truth, these are the benefits, these are the costs. Let's argue what's best."
He also noted that the contest was a "very tight fight", adding that Singapore had to pursue a politics of developing consensus and not division. "Always go for a consensus and a better consensus. That's how we advance democracy. And it's the track I hope the SDP gets onto."
At the same rally, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing highlighted what he saw as inconsistencies in Dr Chee's remarks. For instance, Dr Chee called for tighter immigration controls after recent terror arrests, but not too long ago had called for a security budget cut.
Speakers at both rallies vouched for the character of their respective candidates. The campaign to fill the seat vacated by former PAP MP David Ong, who resigned on March 12 over an alleged extramarital affair, had a quiet start, but heated up last weekend when the issue of character came to the fore.
Today is Cooling-off Day, when campaign activity is banned. Tomorrow, up to 25,727 eligible voters will cast their ballots at polling stations from 8am to 8pm. The result will be known the same night.
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