SINGAPORE - The two candidates for the Bukit Batok by-election made their final pitch to voters on Thursday (May 5) at the last rallies before residents cast their votes on May 7.
Both People's Action Party (PAP) and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) appealed to voters to consider the brand of politics they were choosing, and the character of each candidate.
PAP candidate Murali Pillai, 48, emphasised the party's track record, pointing out that the PAP has helped to set up several social programmes in Bukit Batok over the past four decades.
"A vote for us is a vote for certainty. No need to experiment," he said.
He pledged to not only speak up in Parliament but to also solve residents' problems on the ground.
Countering Dr Chee's criticisms that he would not be an effective MP in Parliament, he said: "I will not be muzzled", adding that he would push to tighten the criteria for employment passes and get higher Eldershield insurance payouts for the disabled, among other things.
SDP candidate Chee Soon Juan, meanwhile, said he would be an effective voice in Parliament and pledged to run the estate well.
Referring to Mr Murali, he said: "Why would you want to elect someone to represent you in Parliament when you already have 82 PAP MPs to say the same thing and vote the same way in Parliament?"
The SDP chief also reiterated his pledge to serve as a full-time MP if elected, and promised to hold more than one Meet-the-People session per week.
He said he would be at the service of residents at any time of the day - and not manage the town council "by remote control from Shenton Way". He was alluding to his PAP opponent who is head of commercial litigation at law firm Rajah and Tann.
Dr Chee also took aim at MPs and ministers over their salaries, which he said "corrupt the spirit of public service" .
Besides the two candidates, other speakers also addressed the crowd at both rallies.
Minister Chan Chun Sing rebutted SDP’s claims that Mr Murali would just be another PAP voice. He recounted how in their dealings, “when he didn’t agree with me, he will tell it to my face”. “He has guts,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is MP of neighbouring Jurong GRC, said he is troubled by SDP's policy proposals which gave people promises, "telling them the good things without telling them what the costs are".
"I am not against a healthy opposition," said Mr Tharman, the last speaker of the PAP rally. But he warned against "the politics of spreading fear and alarm and the politics of populism" which he said the SDP has been engaging in. "That's the wrong type of politics for Singapore."
He cited Dr Chee's claim that only 100 jobs were created last year: "Crazy," said Mr Tharman, adding that anyone with a sense of reality knows that is not so.
The Employment and Employability Institute and Singapore Workforce Development Agency alone created 17,000 jobs, and the Economic Development Board brought in investments which created about 20,000 jobs last year, he pointed out.
Dr Chee had said at a rally on Tuesday (May 3) that the Government had created only 100 jobs for citizens and permanent residents. He cited manpower data.
The Ministry of Manpower clarified on Wednesday that he misunderstood the data. The increase mentioned by Dr Chee is not the total number of new jobs taken up by locals last year. The increase is actually the difference between the total number of locals taking up and leaving jobs, for example due to retirement. This difference – the “net” number of new jobs taken by locals – was 700 last year.
Other speakers at the SDP rally stood up for Dr Chee’s character and will to soldier on in politics despite the obstacles he has faced.
The party’s Yuhua candidate at GE2015, Ms Jaslyn Go, said Dr Chee “has not been beaten (and) has been steadfast in his commitment to Singapore and Singaporeans.” She noted that Dr Chee, who was sacked by the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1992, has had “many opportunities to leave and work overseas” but chose to stay in Singapore.
Their party comrade, NUS medical professor Paul Tambyah, said the support for the party he has witnessed in recent years suggests that the “knuckle-duster era is well and truly over”. He said: “We have a mountain to climb. We and the SDP are like Dr Chee – we will not give up. No matter how high the mountain is, we will keep climbing.”
Both candidates will take a break from campaigning on Friday (May 6) as it is Cooling-off Day, when electioneering is banned.
On Saturday (May 7), 25,727 eligible voters will cast their ballot.
Polling stations will open at 8am and close at 8pm.