Sweaty nights, people-packed and still they throng the rallies

Left: Bus driver Ong Ah Guan, 53, with his collection of flags of opposition parties. He was at the SingFirst rally in Queenstown last night. Above left: Madam Sheila Ho, 88, asked her daughter to take her to the Singapore Democratic Party rally in C
Kindergarten teacher Ruselliawaty Rahmat (second from left), 32, and her colleagues from the PCF Zhenghua branch, with signs they made themselves at the People's Action Party Petir Road rally last night. ST PHOTOS: YEO SAM JO
Left: Bus driver Ong Ah Guan, 53, with his collection of flags of opposition parties. He was at the SingFirst rally in Queenstown last night. Above left: Madam Sheila Ho, 88, asked her daughter to take her to the Singapore Democratic Party rally in C
Also at the same rally were two-year-old Megan Sek and her uncle Michael Tong, 29, a finance analyst. He took his niece to the rally for ''early exposure''. ST PHOTOS: YEO SAM JO
Left: Bus driver Ong Ah Guan, 53, with his collection of flags of opposition parties. He was at the SingFirst rally in Queenstown last night. Above left: Madam Sheila Ho, 88, asked her daughter to take her to the Singapore Democratic Party rally in C
Madam Sheila Ho, 88, asked her daughter to take her to the Singapore Democratic Party rally in Commonwealth Avenue. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Left: Bus driver Ong Ah Guan, 53, with his collection of flags of opposition parties. He was at the SingFirst rally in Queenstown last night. Above left: Madam Sheila Ho, 88, asked her daughter to take her to the Singapore Democratic Party rally in C
Spotted at the Delta Hockey Pitch in Tiong Bahru Road last Thursday was this man with a poster of WWE wrestler Triple H - a pun on Radin Mas SMC independent candidate Han Hui Hui's initials, at the first-timer's campaign rally. TNP PHOTO: AZIM AZMAN

No better time to catch glimpses of fascinating S'porean behaviour as they pack the venues

Do not drink. And do not drive.

That is advice anyone going to a rally should heed.

I found out the hard way when I decided to go to the Workers' Party (WP) rally in Boon Keng Road last Thursday night.

Tummy full from a five-course Chinese dinner and copious amounts of Oolong tea, I did not expect to be stuck in a jam for nearly 40 minutes trying to filter into Balestier Road from the Central Expressway.

I spent another half an hour circling the Boon Keng and Bendemeer area in a state of high anxiety, desperately hoping that I would find not only a carpark but also a washroom as well.


Bus driver Ong Ah Guan, 53, with his collection of flags of opposition parties. He was at the SingFirst rally in Queenstown last night. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

I found out later that I could have spared myself a lot of grief if I had headed down to the Delta Hockey Pitch in Tiong Bahru instead to listen to independent candidate Han Hui Hui.

Low Thia Khiang and his WP team were like Bono and U2 playing to a packed stadium.

As in previous elections, the WP has been pulling in the biggest crowds at its rallies.

But every night since last Wednesday, thousands of people of all ages, ilk and stripe have been criss-crossing the island to hear the speeches of politicians from both the ruling People's Action Party and the opposition.

They crammed overhead bridges, stood on chairs and barricades, spread themselves out on picnic mats and jostled with the sweaty masses.

Some came in pyjamas, others in their party best. Some came alone, others in groups.

There were retirees and housewives, professionals and labourers, hipsters and intellectuals, heartlanders and condo dwellers.

The curious were there. So were the fervent, the disgruntled and the undecided.

Hungry ghosts? Never mind.

The haze? No problem, just wear a mask.

So we saw the likes of Mr Michael Tong, 29, who took his niece Megan Sek, two, to the PAP rally in Bukit Panjang last night.

And Madam Sheila Ho, 88, who turned up at the Singapore Democratic Party's rally in Commonwealth Avenue in a wheelchair.

And there was bus driver Ong Ah Guan, 53, seen brandishing a pole with flags of all the opposition parties.

A Tanjong Pagar GRC voter, he attended the SingFirst rally in Queenstown Stadium last night before hightailing it to the Singapore Democratic Party's rally.

He declared that he supports all opposition parties; his top concern was transparency.

Rallies are glorious occasions to catch glimpses of Singaporean behaviour at its most intriguing and fascinating.

Last Friday night, I went to the PAP rally in Bedok North Avenue 4 and was struck by how orderly and well-behaved everyone was.

A couple of hundred supporters sat politely on white plastic seats, with several in the front row holding electronic boards declaring "PAP We Love You" and "PAP Forever".

There was no fiery rhetoric from the stage, just calm and reasoned speeches by the likes of Fengshan candidate Cheryl Chan and Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, their voices reverberating in the industrial buildings across the road.

At critical points, a posse of supporters in white at the front would blow their whistles and wave their flags. And the crowd would dutifully break into applause.

I then headed down to the Singapore People's Party rally in Toa Payoh Stadium.

The crowd was a little bigger, and raucous.

That, I suspect, was due in part to the speakers. As opposition parties are wont to do, they took jibes at the Government and certain ministers and peppered their speeches with words and phrases which provoked reactions: foreigners, CPF, MRT breakdowns.

But even the rowdy ones quietened when opposition veteran Chiam See Tong signalled that he wanted to stand up and speak.

With speech and mobility affected by two strokes, he often had to start and stop. And when he paused, a silence descended upon the venue.

It moved quite a few people.

"I am not convinced by some of the speakers here tonight but that was quite a touching sight," said marketing executive Alan Lee, 35.

It was his third rally in as many nights.

"I think it is the only time when Singaporeans feel free to say and do things they do not normally do," said Mr Lee.

Indeed, rallies are the only times when I see so many Singaporeans openly declaring their loyalty and affection, or hostility and disfavour, towards policies, politicians and parties.

So they cheered and jeered, hollered and heckled, and expressed themselves piquantly in so many languages - Hokkien, Tamil, Cantonese, Teochew and Malay.

It almost feels like catharsis, and no need to apply for a licence at Hong Lim Park.

Last night, a colleague at the SPP rally in Hong Kah North said I would have appreciated the master of ceremonies Fazil Talip.

He made helpful announcements about where the nearest toilet was. In Block 424, apparently.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 06, 2015, with the headline 'Sweaty nights, people-packed and still they throng the rallies'. Print Edition | Subscribe