Speakers at the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) rally yesterday hit out at the high costs of living here and stressed a need for Singaporeans to have an alternative voice in Parliament.
Eight SDP members, including secretary-general Chee Soon Juan - who is contesting an election for the first time since 2001 - shared the stage at Choa Chu Kang stadium last night for the party's first rally in the general election.
They took turns to speak on healthcare, housing, competition from foreign talent and dignified retirement.
Medical professor Paul Tambyah, who is contesting Holland- Bukit Timah GRC with Dr Chee, spoke on healthcare reforms, saying today's public healthcare funding is inadequate as it "punishes people who are sick".
"I do rounds in general medical wards... and almost every day, we admit someone with a stroke," he said. "When I talk to these people, half would admit they have had high blood pressure five or 10 years ago. I ask them, 'Why not take medicine?' They say they cannot afford it."
Sticking to party lines, Prof Tambyah and the other speakers dwelled on a tendency of the People's Action Party (PAP) to emphasise fiscal prudence at the expense of social well-being.
"Under the PAP plan, you underpay now, people get sick faster, and their costs go higher," he said. "Under the SDP (proposed) plan, we spend wisely now, patients stay healthier longer and costs go down overall."
Recalling Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comments at a July dialogue that public hospitals must "watch their bottom line" and "break even", Prof Tambyah added: "No public healthcare system can break even.
"He's confused, things that break even are businesses, healthcare is not a business. Spending money on primary healthcare is spending smart."
Prof Tambyah was the sixth speaker to take the stage at the rally, which lasted almost three hours. Others who spoke before him included SDP candidates for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC Wong Souk Yee and Damanhuri Abas.
Dr Chee, 53, made his appearance near the two-hour mark to rousing cheers. He is making a comeback to the polls this year after he was banned from contesting in an election until 2012 because he was bankrupt.
Last night, Dr Chee spoke in Mandarin, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Malay, Tamil and English. He started by thanking supporters for their warm reception, before dwelling on the dangers of a "nightmare" Parliament that lacked opposition voices, and of a government "out of touch with reality".
He described SDP as a party of "compassion", and blamed the PAP for being the direct cause of both wage stagnation and rising costs of living. This was a result of "a party with so many millionaire ministers that they don't know what it is like to be poor", he said.
Dr Chee also explained the grounds for his own politics in both English and Mandarin: "I do care (about my pay cheque) but not enough to keep silent when I see that old lady bent at her waist collecting cardboard while (a former) permanent secretary flies all the way to Paris and pays $50,000 for cooking classes."
He closed by criticising Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong and Minister of State Sim Ann for picking at faults from his past earlier this week. "Any time they cannot debate with us in a logical manner, they will throw up the standard line that Chee Soon Juan is a liar, a gangster and a psychopath."
• Additional reporting by Idayu Suparto and Amir Hussain