Sparks fly as AHPETC becomes lightning rod

Left: Bedok resident Quek Jee Yee, 84, cheering along with Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew (right, in photo) at the People's Action Party rally at Bedok Stadium yesterday. Right: Workers' Party supporters cheering at the Boon Keng rally yesterday.
Left: Bedok resident Quek Jee Yee, 84, cheering along with Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew (right, in photo) at the People's Action Party rally at Bedok Stadium yesterday. Right: Workers' Party supporters cheering at the Boon Keng rally yesterday.ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM/ MARK CHEONG
Above: Bedok resident Quek Jee Yee, 84, cheering along with Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew (right) at the People's Action Party rally at Bedok Stadium yesterday. Right: A Workers' Party supporter holding up a "hammer", the symbol of the opposition p
Above: Bedok resident Quek Jee Yee, 84, cheering along with Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew (right) at the People's Action Party rally at Bedok Stadium yesterday.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

PAP and WP leaders exchange barbs over what has become the dominant issue so far

Round 1 of the election campaign was like a blast from the past as politicians exchanged blows over the long-running Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) saga, which has emerged as the dominant issue of the hustings so far.

Both National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan and Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam took umbrage at the way Workers' Party (WP) leaders had characterised AHPETC's lapses at their first rally on Wednesday night.

WP chief Low Thia Khiang had said that "I would be serving time if I was corrupt", while WP chairman Sylvia Lim said the town council was not in financial difficulty and had not been overcharged by its managing agent.


A Workers' Party supporter holding up a "hammer", the symbol of the opposition party, during its rally in Boon Keng road last night. ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

AHPETC LAPSES ARE NOT OK

Their town council paid more than everyone else. Their managing agent made more than everyone else. Their town council lost money more than everyone else. And they say everything is OK 'because none of us are in jail'.

MR KHAW BOON WAN, Minister for National Development

UPPING THE ANTE

If they can bring evidence against us, we will subject ourselves to the necessary (legal) procedures.

MS SYLVIA LIM, Workers' Party chairman

Speaking to the press yesterday, Mr Khaw said: "Their town council paid more than everyone else. Their managing agent made more than everyone else. Their town council lost money more than everyone else. And they say everything is OK 'because none of us are in jail'."

Mr Shanmugam said that the WP has repeatedly refused to address questions raised by the PAP about AHPETC, in Parliament or in the media, all year long.

"They chose to (talk about) it at a rally, where they don't have to answer any questions," he noted.

At the WP rally in Boon Keng last night, Ms Lim upped the ante, telling the audience: "If they can bring evidence against us, we will subject ourselves to the necessary (legal) procedures."

But she also said that the WP did not want to be bogged down by the topic in this campaign.

One of its star new faces, East Coast GRC candidate Leon Perera, said the ruling party wanted voters to think that the polls are about local issues, to avoid discussion of national topics like the plight of older citizens, the future size of the population and how trains are managed.

Unexpectedly, the PAP politician most in the WP's cross hairs, East Coast GRC anchor minister Lim Swee Say, stayed resolutely away from the topic. Mr Lim, who is fighting off a repeat WP challenge after a close win with 54.8 per cent in the 2011 General Election, told a rally audience in Bedok that he and his teammates have "never said anything about our opponents".

"Because as far as we are concerned, this GE is about we serving you, we caring for you," he said, adding that the East Coast rally would not be like "most rallies you attend, (where) you see the contesting parties, they scold each other, they shout at each other, they fire at each other".

Instead, their rally speeches last night dwelled on how they have helped residents on the municipal level in the past four years.

Mr Lim, who is Manpower Minister, also defended the Government's immigration policy, arguing that the pre-2010 influx was due to its desire to seize economic opportunities, and had benefited Singaporeans.

But it then moved to tighten the tap of foreign workers in 2010 - before the 2011 GE, he emphasised - because the ratio of Singaporeans to foreigners was falling.

Across the six rallies held last night on Day 3 of the campaign were several firsts: a maiden rally for new party Singaporeans First, the first rally in recent history by an independent candidate, blogger Han Hui Hui, and the first time in 15 years that Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan spoke to voters while on the hustings.

Dr Chee was previously not allowed to stand in elections as he had been bankrupted by a defamation suit. Calling the PAP out of touch with the poor and lambasting the high costs of living in Singapore, Dr Chee said that he had not given up his long political struggle because he believes in Singaporeans. "The human spirit can only be suppressed, never quashed."

The campaign is set to go wide with the weekend's arrival. Nine rallies by eight political parties are scheduled for tonight.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2015, with the headline 'Sparks fly as AHPETC becomes lightning rod'. Print Edition | Subscribe