SINGAPORE - The first lunchtime rally of the Sept 11 General Election was held by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) at UOB Plaza on Monday (Sept 7). The action continued into the night - hazy conditions notwithstanding. Some rallygoers came with face masks.
The People's Action Party's Holland-Bukit Timah GRC team was geared up to rebut points made by the SDP earlier, with Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and Ms Sim Ann, in particular, in fine form.
"In the PAP, we do not have a tradition of backstabbing our mentors," Dr Balakrishnan calmly told the crowd at one point, a dig at SDP Holland-Bukit Timah rivals Paul Tambyah and Chee Soon Juan.
At the lunchtime rally, Dr Tambyah had said that Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was probably the "most brilliant of our ministers and many of us think he will make a fine PM". He added that many in alternative parties "hope one day DPM Tharman will have a falling out with PM and come out to lead a grand coalition of opposition parties".
Referring to this, although not mentioning Dr Tambyah by name, Dr Balakrishnan said: "This reveals the mentality, mindset and attitude they have in politics. I have just one message to send to the SDP: In the PAP, we do not have a tradition of backstabbing our mentors." Some also read it as a reference to the falling out between Dr Chee and SDP founder Chiam See Tong, who later left the party.
Nine other rallies were held as the countdown to Polling Day started (there are only two days of campaigning left before Cooling-off Day on Thursday.)
The PAP held three rallies - at Commonwealth Avenue, Woodlands Drive and Jurong East Stadium.
The Workers' Party (WP) held its rally at Ubi Avenue 1, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) at Toh Guan Road, National Solidarity Party (NSP) at Circuit Road, People's Power Party (PPP) at Chua Chu Kang, Singaporeans First (SingFirst) at Boon Lay, and Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) at Compassvale Bow.
Here are our five highlights:
1. SO WHO WENT?
No prizes for guessing it was again the WP rally that attracted the biggest crowds, although it was a smaller turnout than the weekend's.
Even SingFirst candidate Ang Yong Guan mentioned it. He opened his speech with a jibe at the PAP. Referring to the seven PAP rallies scheduled on Tuesday, he said: "The PAP is very scared now. They're trembling. They want to flood Singapore with their rallies. But one Workers' Party rally can beat (the turnout) at all their rallies combined."
But the PAP's rallies saw a fair number of fans too, many armed with posters, pompoms and even a placard for Sembawang GRC candidate Ong Ye Kung that read "Keep Kung and Carry Ong".
Yuhua SMC candidate Grace Fu also proved popular with her supporters, and a large crowd surrounded her at the end of the rally.
2. THE SINGING POLITICIAN
A few days ago, SDA's Pasir Ris-Punggol candidate Arthero Lim launched a Hokkien video with him lamenting about the Central Provident Fund to the tune of the song I Ask Heaven. It went viral.
Perhaps emboldened by its success, he and the SDA launched another video - The Singing Politician - on YouTube on Monday.
The new three-minute clip shows scenes of the 60-year-old stuck in crowded MRT carriages and wandering the streets in a wistful manner, crooning in protest at the Government's contentious Population White Paper to the strains of Hokkien number Ai Piah Jia Eh Yia (Must Fight To Win).
At the rally, Mr Lim explained that he wrote the first song "wholly from my heart, from my experiences in life". In his Mandarin speech, he also took a swipe at how the PAP had let the people, especially the elderly, down by failing to look after their interests. The politician-film-maker's Pasir Ris-Punggol colleague, Mr Harminder Pal Singh, repeatedly called on the audience to support Mr Lim's videos.
3. KEY ISSUES THAT CROPPED UP
PAP: There were three rallies and the one in Commonwealth Avenue was by far the most heated, even if the speakers spoke in even tones.
Dr Balakrishnan opened his speech with: "I will be making the most boring but the most important speech of my life."
Speaking about how Singapore's healthcare model was better than the "universal benefits" model adopted in some countries which would mean higher taxes for the middle class, he told the crowd that someone had been invited to make speeches in Europe and ended up copying ideas from there.
If Dr Chee says he is second when it comes to 'chut pattern', no one else would dare to claim first.
- PAP's Sim Ann on SDP chief Chee Soon Juan
Ms Sim Ann, known for her fluent and almost perfect Mandarin, also dripped sarcasm when talking about Dr Chee. She said he was someone who likes to "chut pattern", meaning someone full of antics in Singlish. In mellifluous tones, she said: "If Dr Chee says he is second when it comes to 'chut pattern', no one else would dare to claim first." At this point, a supporter shouted: "Pattern more than badminton", a Singlish phrase referring to someone full of tricks.
Over at Jurong East stadium, Ms Fu called SDP's proposal of free healthcare, free service and stress-free education, "fancy terms" modelled after Western values that require the Government to raise taxes. She said the party was taking advantage of the people's emotions and banking on populist policies that would bring Singapore "down a slippery road".
"These are pointing to three words, voters. Spend, spend and spend," she charged.
At Woodlands, Housing Minister Khaw Boon Wan speech was much less combative. Instead, he spent a fair amount of time working through the recent improvements made to housing policies, in particular, the measures put in place to cool the housing market. But he made a surprise apology to housing agents, acknowledging that the measures have affected their income.
"Unfortunately, we cannot have home prices both high for the sellers, and low for the buyers," he said. "I believe most Singaporeans support the 'kor lian mee sua' and prefer the current situation to four years ago." Mr Khaw was referring to the Hokkien term used in local movie 7 Letters to mock the cooling measures. "My apologies to the property agents, but I hope you understand."
WP: Their rally was focused mainly on the party's manifesto and policy ideas.
While the candidates mentioned the CPF drawdown age and the Population White Paper, they were also quick to offer their policy alternatives to these common complaints.
Nee Soon GRC candidate Luke Koh, who talked about CPF, added the WP's policy alternative on de-linking the retirement and re-employment ages from the drawdown age. Sengkang West SMC candidate Koh Choon Yong and Marine Parade GRC's Yee Jenn Jong discussed the unemployment benefit scheme that WP wants to implement for retrenched workers.
The big guns - Aljunied GRC incumbents Pritam Singh, Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim - took aim at more cerebral issues, mainly the processes in Parliament and how there should be clearer lines drawn between political parties and the structures of government. Mr Singh said that Bills are passed too quickly into law and there needs to be select committees which can parse the meaning of Bills more closely.
Both Mr Low and Ms Lim attacked the electoral boundaries committee and said that it should be an independent committee, and not come under the Prime Minister's Office.
SDP: Dr Chee was the star of the day-time rally. He spoke about competing in a constituency with wealthy private estates and said he does not believe the wealthy will always vote for the ruling PAP or that the rich care little for people around them like the elderly and poor.
He also talked about income inequality and said that the SDP was not against wealth, but wealth inequality as the widening income gap "harms the common good, erodes cohesiveness and corrodes the values that fosters social cohesiveness".
His speech also dealt with how there must be checks on the Government and he raised what he described as failed or questionable decisions by sovereign wealth fund GIC and investment company Temasek Holdings. Healthcare spending versus investment decisions also came up.
At the night rally, he read a eulogy to the late opposition leader J.B. Jeyaretnam. Among other things, it quoted from Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom.
SingFirst: The party's pet topics of foreigner influx, CPF and the Population White Paper came up for airing again. Tanjong Pagar GRC hopeful Fahmi Rais had harsh words for the ruling party. Among his criticisms of the PAP were accusations that the party's leaders are disconnected with the average Singaporean and do not play fair, likening their experience to playing a game of Monopoly with a four-year-old. "When the child starts to lose, that's when the (rules of the) game changes," he said.
SDA: The Population White Paper was the weapon of choice for most of the SDA candidates, although CPF issues and the high cost of living also cropped up.
NSP: Their focus was foreign workers displacing Singaporeans from jobs and the inability to withdraw CPF in times of need. Pioneer candidate Elvin Ong wanted a minimum wage as this would create a level-playing field for blue-collared Singaporeans. Sembawang GRC candidate Eugene Yeo said the party knew that foreign talent helped Singapore to grow, but added that perhaps Singapore did not need middle-income employees to come and displace jobs. As for CPF, he said young Singaporeans like him, who are in their 30s, are financially literate and did not need to be told what to do with their money.
PPP: All four candidates for the Chua Chu Kang GRC spoke, with founder Goh Meng Seng speaking twice, once for 40 minutes then later for more than 15 minutes.
The focus was on foreigners and healthcare. Mr Goh, who is facing a PAP team led by Health Minister and former manpower minister Gan Kim Yong, criticised Mr Gan for immigration policies and healthcare issues. Referring to fake degrees, he said Mr Gan did not take action against technicians and engineers from overseas who received employment in Singapore with fake degrees. He also spoke about cheap foreign labour compromising safety in Singapore, and the hospital bed crunch. He called for better salaries for nurses .
4. MEMORABLE MOMENTS
* NSP's Kevryn Lim broke down on stage during her speech, which focused on problems facing single parent families.
Speaking in Cantonese and then in English, she gave an impassioned speech, calling for parenthood benefits for single parents and maternity leave for single mothers. Ms Lim became tearful as she said: "In the pledge, it says based on justice and equality. These people are also Singaporeans." The 26-year-old, herself a single mother, recounted stories of parents she had met on walkabouts in rental blocks who were in such a plight. Later, she told The Straits Times that she broke down because during her walkabouts, she met many single-parent families who were struggling, and it was an emotional experience for her.
* Speaking about motherhood, NSP president Sebastian Teo, who is contesting Tampines GRC, congratulated PAP's MacPherson incumbent Tin Pei Ling on contributing to Singapore's population.
"I recognise that the mothers of Singapore have it hard, they must care for the families as well as work for society, they are busy on both sides, these people contribute to society and we should acknowledge it. Their contributions are significant," he said. Last Thursday, NSP candidate for MacPherson Cheo Chai Chen was labelled sexist when he said Ms Tin's new status as a mother was a "weakness". He later said he was joking.
5. QUOTABLE QUOTES
"The future of Singapore is at stake. We can't afford five years of trial and error."
- PAP's Grace Fu
"All 89 seats are being contested and we cannot be sure of a PAP Government on Sept 12. Probably will be but there is no guarantee."
- PAP's Khaw Boon Wan
"Some residents advised me to slow down. They have had open heart surgery like me. So they worry for me... that the punishing pace may trigger a heart attack. I do try to pace myself... and am alert to any heart discomfort."
- PAP's Khaw Boon Wan
"PAP sues us for defamation. I say, reputation is temporary. Character is permanent."
- SDP's Dr Chee Soon Juan
"Let us give the man a tiger!"
- SDP Marsiling-Yee Tee GRC candidate Bryan Lim telling voters to put Dr Chee in Parliament
"Xiao lien eh, lu san san jit ki kut, kung fu kuah buah chut. (Young man, you are skinny as a bone. Cannot see your kungfu.)"
- WP's Bernard Chen, quoting a resident who spoke to him in Hokkien, questioning his ability to work
"I would like to share three Cs about me - children, chocolates and choice."
WP's Firuz Khan, who used to work at Pertapis Children's Home and owns a chocolate factory