SINGAPORE - It was the last night of rallies for the Sept 11 polls as Thursday (Sept 10) is Cooling-off Day.
The night climaxed with a record number of 14 rallies which were streamed live via www.straitstimes.com. On 14 screens, readers could see political history unfolding before their eyes from the comfort of their homes on a day when heavy showers earlier made for wet rally venues.
The police issued permits for 15 rallies, but on Wednesday evening the Reform Party cancelled one of its rallies which was to be held at Delta Hockey Pitch. Chairman Andy Zhu said they applied for multiple venues as a contingency plan, but cancelled one as they did not have enough speakers.
For the record, the six PAP rallies were at Boon Keng Road, Potong Pasir Avenue 1, Circuit Road, Simei Road, Petir Road and Woodlands Stadium.
The Workers' Party's (WP) was at Bedok Stadium, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) at Clementi Avenue 6, Singapore People's Party (SPP) at Bishan Stadium, the Reform Party (RP) at Buangkok Crescent, the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) at Pasir Ris Park, the National Solidarity Party (NSP) at Ngee Ann Secondary School, Singaporeans First (SingFirst) party at Queenstown Stadium and the People's Power Party (PPP) at Chua Chu Kang Secondary School.
Here are five highlights from the night:
1. SO WHO WENT?
With so many rallies to choose from, plus the threat of inclement weather, some rallies did not see large turnouts, but there were exceptions. Just like past nights, WP drew the largest crowd and Bedok Stadium was filled to the brim. SDP's rally at Clementi Ave 6 also saw a sizeable turnout, and the PAP rallies at Simei Road (East Coast GRC) and Boon Keng Road (Jalan Besar GRC) were well-attended.
2. LIM SWEE SAY ON GOOD POLICIES V GOOD POLITICS
Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, starting his speech in Mandarin, said he was sorry for his remarks at the first East Coast GRC rally on Sept 3.
He had said that he was fortunate to have been born in Singapore and not China or Malaysia. This resulted in an online backlash from the people of both countries, who slammed him for being insensitive.
On Wednesday, he went on to explain the difference between the PAP's "good policies" and the opposition's "good politics", which he said are a bid "to win over voters".
He took issue with the opposition's proposals to lower the age withdrawal limit for CPF, and also to introduce a minimum wage. These proposals are not good policies as they do not help enhance retirement adequacy, he said.
"Why do you think they push for it? Because it is good politics. Are they worried about your retirement or your votes?" asked Mr Lim, who is standing in East Coast GRC.
Another example he raised was the Government's decision in 2010 to reduce the influx of foreign labour and to maintain the ratio of local to foreign workers at two to one.
He charged that the Workers' Party realised the folly of their initial call to freeze the growth of foreign labour altogether, which would have resulted in SMEs struggling and many workers losing their jobs.
"Instead of admitting they were wrong, they said the PAP had made a U-turn and because of that, SMEs are suffering," he said.
3. KEY ISSUES THAT CROPPED UP
PAP: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who spoke in Boon Keng for Jalan Besar GRC, urged Singaporeans to take a step back after nine days of campaigning to scrutinise the opposition's campaign promises and track records before casting their votes.
"Tomorrow is Cooling-off Day, you get a breather... spend the time well, examine what each party has promised you, what plans they have, look at their track record," he said.
The PAP has presented voters with its report card, said Mr Lee, citing a slew of measures implemented since the 2011 election after taking in feedback from the people, such as the Pioneer Generation package and ramping up the supply of new flats.
Turning to the opposition, he asked: "So what have they done, what are they trying to do? Well, they are trying to make people unhappy, unhappy over the Government, they look for subjects which they think will annoy people, rile people up, so they dredge them up and make a fuss in elections."
And while the WP has been criticising the Government's policies at election rallies, its MPs took a completely different stance in Parliament. Referring to the WP chief, he said: "You all look at what Mr Low Thia Khiang has been saying in election rallies. He says the Government's economic policy is so inhuman, so heartless, go for growth, ignores people. Did he say that in Parliament?
" No. Why didn't he say that in Parliament? Because if he had said that in Parliament, then we would have argued with him face to face and he would have had no answer.... What did he say in Parliament? He said in Parliament, Mr Low Thia Khiang welcomes the direction of Budget."
Over at the Simei rally for East Coast GRC, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam spoke on the three major shifts that the Government has made in order to safeguard Singapore's future.
First, striking a balance between social and economic policies to build a fairer society. Second, looking beyond education in schools to help Singaporeans realise their potential. Third, a Government which actively engages and listens to its people.
At the other rallies, PAP candidates also focused on the PAP's track record.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who is leading the PAP team for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, spoke about the deep bonds his team has fostered with residents through house visits in the last few years.
Dr Balakrishnan, who had harsh words for the opposition at an earlier rally, said some people have told him not to be so fierce and demolish opposition policies because they won't win anyway. "And I said well, if I cannot question the person, if I cannot question the policies, then what am I going to talk about?" he said. "And you all know me... I am a fighter," he added to cheers from the crowd.
Other candidates who spoke at other PAP rallies included Ms Tin Pei Ling, who is defending her seat in MacPherson SMC. She spoke at length about how the residents accepted her when she went through a low point after the 2011 election. She was accused of riding on the coat tails of Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.
At Potong Pasir, incumbent Sitoh Yih Pin repeated the slogan that guides him and his volunteers - "ABCD", which stands for "acting beyond the call of duty".
WP: In their last campaign rally, the Workers' Party gathered all their candidates on stage. Like the other rallies, the speakers' line-up began with the younger faces and ended with the familiar favourites. There was the same focused messaging, with the younger candidates given airtime to talk about their causes and offer family anecdotes, while the seniors came in to talk about bigger issues.
The SMC candidates, Mr Bernard Chen (MacPherson) and Mr Dennis Tan (Fengshan), had speeches geared at reassuring their voters that essential services would not be disrupted. The speeches from Mr Png Eng Huat, Mr Low Thia Khiang and Ms Sylvia Lim dovetailed with the WP's broader message about the need for more opposition representation in Parliament.
The party chief touched briefly on the SDP's policies before praising his own resilience in bouncing back from setbacks and saying that he would be able to go toe-to-toe with the PAP's ministers and ask them tough questions in Parliament. "Do you think I can ask tough questions and show the ministers up if they give nonsensical answers?" he asked.
Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC candidate Bryan Lim chose to focus on Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's earlier comment on ministerial salaries, saying that he had lost sleep thinking about volunteers who put in hours of work, who are neither wealthy nor corrupt.
Mr John Tan, also running in Marsiling-Yew Tee, sought to allay fears that the SDP wouldn't know how to run a town council. He said that if elected, the party would not outsource taking care of the town to a managing agent: "Your community is too important for us to simply outsource it."
* SDP's mascot Danny the Democracy Bear has been spotted at rallies and took possibly the most prominent position on-stage as the campaign drew to a close. As Dr Chee wrapped up his speech by inviting candidates and their families on-stage, so came Danny.
* PM Lee whipped out his smartphone in the middle of his speech, and referred to WP's website which said: “Workers’ Party supports progressive Budget, raises gaps and issues in Parliament." He was pointing out WP's inconsistent stance - criticising government policies at the rallies but singing a different tune in Parliament.
* There was an awkward moment for Mr Low Thia Khiang when he was introducing the full slate of WP candidates. He talked about the Jalan Besar GRC team, and after introducing the team leader L. Somasundaram, he paused for a while on Ms Frieda Chan's name, before finally getting it.
* At the Reform Party rally in Ang Mo Kio GRC, team leader M. Ravi was conspicuously absent. He did not sit on stage with the party’s 10 other candidates at the rally. RP chairman Andy Zhu said the lawyer sat out the rally in the constituency he is contesting because he had a sore throat. “We told him since you can't speak just go up and show your face, you have us behind you. But he was just very upset about himself and didn't want to talk to us also,” said Mr Zhu. “ I heard some rumours that it has something to do with his condition but it is not. Before this he has all the certifications from his psychiatrist. “
"This rooster is supposed to wake up before dawn. I think it woke up late this morning."
- PM Lee Hsien Loong on the opposition telling the Government the transport system should be restructured when in fact the Government is already doing it.
"They are like the blue sky which turns into night sky in Parliament, sleeping away."
- PAP's Yaacob Ibrahim on the WP's performance in Parliament.
"Empower your future is useless if there is no future to empower."
- PAP's Denise Phua, referring to WP's slogan
"I don't have a PhD, I didn't graduate from Oxford, but I have a Singaporean heart that is willing to serve the country."
- Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say comparing himself to WP's East Coast GRC candidates Daniel Goh, a sociology professor, and Leon Perera, who graduated from Oxford University
"Doing the limbo rock is it? The lower the better ah."
- Mr Lim Swee Say referencing the popular dance in making fun of the opposition parties' proposals to lower the CPF withdrawal age limit
"Singapore belongs to all citizens, including the 40 per cent of us who voted for opposition parties in 2011, and the maybe 45 per cent of us who will vote for opposition parties on Friday."
- SDP's Dr Paul Tambyah
"We all think of the hammer as something to hantam (hit) but the hammer is also a tool to knock the nails into wood, to build a new home."
- WP's Leon Perera
"Remove the white haze around Bedok, Simei and Changi and bring on a new blue sky."
- WP's Dennis Tan, candidate for Fengshan SMC
"I'm not a saint, but I'm not the devil the other side wants you to believe."
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