Character takes centre stage in battle for Bukit Batok

Political correspondent Chong Zi Liang talks to Rebecca Lynne Tan about how Singapore Democratic Party's candidate Dr Chee Soon Juan defended criticisms on his work and character.
SDP candidate Chee Soon Juan speaks at his second rally for the Bukit Batok by-election at Bukit Gombak stadium on May 1, 2016.
SDP candidate Chee Soon Juan speaks at his second rally for the Bukit Batok by-election at Bukit Gombak stadium on May 1, 2016. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - The issue of character continued to dominate the campaign for the Bukit Batok by-election on Sunday (May 1).

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, a member of the People's Action Party central executive committee (CEC), hit out at the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) argument that the character of election candidates should be off limits.

Mr Heng said SDP's argument - made by SDP CEC member Paul Tambyah - was "one of the most astounding statements ever made in the history of Singapore politics".

Dr Tambyah had said "a person is not defined by his or her own actions or words".

Mr Heng countered: "This means a person can lie, cheat or betray someone with impunity.

"How are voters to believe what such politicians say, or hold them accountable for their actions if they were running a town council?"


Mr Heng's comments came a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, PAP's secretary-general, raised questions about the character of SDP chief Chee Soon Juan, who faces PAP's Mr Murali Pillai in the May 7 by-election.


The PAP did not hold a rally on Sunday, but SDP did, and Dr Chee called on PAP to "stop the gutter politics" and focus on policy issues.


He dismissed what he said were "personal attacks" by PAP leaders, pointing out that he had not used Dr Lee Wei Ling's recent criticism of her brother - PM Lee - as ammunition when he could have done so.

This line was also taken up by Dr Tambyah at the rally, who repeated his view that while it was fine to criticise a person's words or actions, which might reflect his values, it was wrong to attack his character, which he accused the PAP of doing.

Both candidates went on walkabouts in Bukit Batok on Sunday. Mr Murali gave details of a job placement scheme he would launch if elected, while Dr Chee called for a retrenchment insurance scheme.

Mr Lee tackled the issue of unemployment insurance at Sunday's May Day Rally, saying Singapore had something better: schemes paid for by the Government to help workers find jobs.

He also said it was important for Singaporeans to signal their support for government initiatives amid global economic challenges.

"Because we have a strong mandate, I and my team have been able to implement the programmes vigorously in order to improve people's lives. That is why the (2015) general election was so important," he said.

"The Bukit Batok by-election matters also. To tackle these challenges, we need your support and we need you to show your support."