SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at the People's Action Party (PAP) rally for Aljunied GRC and Hougang on Friday (Sept 4) night to shore up support for its candidates fighting a tough battle in these two Workers' Party-held (WP) constituencies.
Mr Lee told the crowd that the PAP decided that one of the election rallies must be in Aljunied. "I decided to come to talk to you at this rally in Aljunied because I wanted you to know that I've sent a good team here," he said.
The message from the PAP team to voters who had handed them a stinging defeat in the 2011 polls was clear and loud: We have heard you and we will put things right. Please bring us home to Aljunied and Hougang.
Two topics stood out at Friday's rally: What the PAP government has done to help seniors, such as the Pioneer Generation package and higher interest paid on CPF Retirement Accounts, and how the young will have ample opportunities to succeed in life.
In the last election, WP's "A" team led by party chief Low Thia Khiang won with 54.7 per cent of the vote against a PAP team anchored by former foreign minister George Yeo.
Mr Lee did not refer directly to the long-running Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council saga in his 40-minute speech. But he reminded the audience that the former PAP team led by Mr Yeo had run the town council well and built up healthy reserves.
"But it doesn't take long to demolish it, to waste it away," he said, noting that things had not gone well for Aljunied in the last four years.
"That's why we are sending a good team here to contest in Aljunied, to convince and persuade you that the PAP is the right choice," he told the crowd. "You vote for my team. Vote for them. They will stop things from going wrong and they will put things right. And things will work again."
He also addressed criticism that the interest rate for the Central Provident Fund (CPF) is too low at 2.5 per cent. "But do you know how much CPF gives you in your Special Account? The Special Account which we all have, for the first $60,000, you get 5 per cent interest a year," he said, adding that the rate is even higher for retirees.
"You go to DBS, cannot get that. You go to UOB, cannot get that."
Why did the opposition not mention this at their rallies, he asked. "If they mention this, nobody will vote for the opposition."
Former Cabinet minister and PAP chairman Lim Boon Heng, who leads a PAP task force to win Aljunied GRC back, also spoke at the rally, and he had some strong words for the WP.
Speaking first in Teochew, Mr Lim alluded to online chatter that the WP wants to "feast on mutton". Mutton, which means "yang" in Chinese, is a pun on the Chinese surname of PAP's Aljunied candidate Yeo Guat Kwang. Mr Lim said he has some advice for Mr Low, the WP chief: "Be careful, don't choke on it!"
The PAP's Hougang candidate Lee Hong Chuang and Aljunied candidates - Mr Yeo, grassroots leader Victor Lye, private banker Chua Eng Leong, lawyer K. Muralidharan Pillai and former teacher Shamsul Kamar - also took turns to speak.
Mr Pillai, a lawyer, delivered a forceful speech peppered with anecdotes on how the PAP team had persevered despite the cool - and sometimes hostile - reception from Aljunied residents following the 2011 election.
He recounted one incident. "One gentleman said to me 'I only accept WP rice. I do not accept PAP rice'."
There were others who told him "you are stupid, go back home". "But am I deterred? No."
The mood on the ground, however, is now friendlier.
"Aljunied residents know when a person is sincere... They also know when a person is wayang king," he said. "Wayang" is the Malay word for "putting on a show".