Soldiering on with small teams

THE two smallest parties in the Punggol East by-election are soldiering on with modest teams of helpers and supporters.

Unlike the People's Action Party (PAP), with its strong grassroots network, and the Workers' Party (WP), which has a campaign team of more than 200, the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) has about 100 helpers and the Reform Party (RP), just 20.

SDA candidate Desmond Lim has drawn his mostly young volunteers through Facebook.

Among them are Akmal Dani Suhaimi and Zameer Husref, both 19, who just sat the A levels and are waiting to enlist for national service. The friends turned up on Nomination Day on Wednesday and have been helping Mr Lim with his door-to-door campaigning since.

They said they wanted a close-up taste of the polls and considered volunteering for the PAP or WP. But SDA's small size proved a draw.

"I won't get the chance to stand next to a candidate in a bigger party like the PAP or WP," said Zameer, who lives in Upper Serangoon.

Both said they hope to become journalists, and campaigning is giving them a ringside view of the by-election.

Asked what they receive for their trouble, Akmal Dani said: "We get lunch, capped at $5." They were told they would be reimbursed for transport costs too.

Human resource consultant Martin Gabriel, 45, befriended the SDA chief over Facebook five months ago and agreed to help after being asked three times.

"I decided to help after I saw that he was really serious in contesting," he said. "And it was Desmond's sincerity in asking me that made me say yes."

For at least one man helping RP chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam, the main draw was the candidate's late father, former opposition stalwart and party founder J. B. Jeyaretnam.

Businessman David Tan, 48, said he started supporting the party about six months ago because of its connection to the senior Jeyaretnam, and has since been co-opted into its leadership.

He does not mind being associated with a party some have labelled a spoiler in the Punggol East contest.

"We are a democratic country. Every opposition party has something to offer," he said.

Both parties said they could have mustered more volunteers if the by-election had not been called so quickly.

"Most of our supporters are working and it's hard for them to apply for leave on short notice," said RP chairman Andy Zhu.

The SDA's Mr Lim said: "We just make use of who we have, rely on the stronger camaraderie of a smaller team, and soldier on."