Singapore GE2020: PAP, PSP West Coast teams exchange fire over manifesto, handling of Covid-19

Contest for West Coast GRC heats up as parties go to the ground to win over voters

SPH Brightcove Video
Two teams, led by politicians with decades of ties to the constituency are fighting to win every vote.

What was expected to be a clash of personalities in West Coast GRC turned into a battle of policies yesterday - with the People's Action Party (PAP) criticising its opponent's manifesto for lacking detail and the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) accusing the ruling party of taking its eye off the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was the first major exchange between the two teams led by politicians with decades of ties to the constituency: on the PAP side, Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran, 58, who has been a West Coast GRC MP since 1997, and on the PSP side, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, 80, who was Ayer Rajah MP from 1980 to 2006. Ayer Rajah SMC was absorbed into West Coast GRC in 2006.

Mr Iswaran yesterday took aim at the PSP's manifesto, saying it contained broad statements but few details. "The term 'trade-off' has been used," he said of the 13-page PSP manifesto which has sections on the economy, politics and social development.

Speaking to reporters after the latest of walkabouts in the constituency, he said: "What is a trade-off? A trade-off means you have to give up something in order to get something. If you look at what is being said by the other side, they talk only about what they want to get, but they don't tell you what you have to give up in order to get it."

The PAP team has "understood in detail, with depth, the concerns and needs of our people, and has mounted national programmes as well as local programmes", whereas "on the other side, you have a team that has basically put out a very short manifesto with broad statements but lacking in detail".

Both teams have been visiting markets and homes in the GRC nearly every day for the past week.

The race in the constituency has been attracting attention since Dr Tan - who used to win elections in Ayer Rajah by comfortable margins when he was with the PAP - declared his intention to contest there early this year. It heated up further on Nomination Day, when the PAP slate was boosted by the addition of Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, 43.

Responding to Mr Iswaran yesterday evening, Dr Tan said it would be up to Singaporeans to judge the PSP manifesto: "A manifesto is up to your interpretation; we feel like our manifesto was crafted in the interest of Singaporeans, so it's up to their interpretation. If they think we have done a lousy manifesto, it's not up to him to say. It's for the people to decide."

In its online rallies and manifesto, the PSP had attacked the PAP Government's stance on free trade agreements, especially those that cover labour exchanges which pave the way for freer movement of labour between Singapore and another country.

The People's Action Party's West Coast GRC candidates - Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee (centre) and former Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng (far right) - speaking to residents at Boon Lay Place Market and Food Village yesterday. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Yesterday, Dr Tan also reiterated comments made on how the PAP was irresponsible to call an election during a pandemic, adding that the ruling party needs to focus on the public health aspect of the outbreak and not just jobs.

"As far as I'm concerned, this is a Covid-19 election. If you don't control Covid-19... all the borders are closed to us. Where are we going to get people to come here to invest? Where are you going to get those people to come here as tourists? These are very fundamental, basic things," he said during a walkabout in Pioneer SMC.

He also pointed to his experience as a doctor in treating infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and said he had made proposals on how the Covid-19 outbreak might be handled.

In the early part of the campaign, both sides had focused their messages on their backgrounds and what they could do for the constituency.

Dr Tan cited his own experience in town management, as he had chaired Jurong East Town Council, Bukit Timah Community Development Council and, later, West Coast-Ayer Rajah Town Council.

Besides Dr Tan, the PSP team includes its assistant secretarygeneral Leong Mun Wai, 60, vice-chairman Hazel Poa, 50, and party members Jeffrey Khoo Poh Tiong, 51, and Nadarajah Loganathan, 57.

The PAP slate comprises Mr Iswaran, Mr Lee, incumbent MP Foo Mee Har, 54, former Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng, 53, and first-time candidate Rachel Ong Sin Yen, 47.

When it comes to improvements on the ground in West Coast GRC, the PAP team has split up the work among themselves. They plan for Mr Ang to focus on healthcare services and transport connectivity; Ms Foo on jobs, skills and helping small and medium-sized enterprises; and Ms Ong on issues related to family and youth.

Mr Lee said that if elected, the team's most immediate mission would be to bring government help schemes to the ground, "to ensure that the schemes the Government enacted to help citizens at this time of crisis reach the families who need the help".


Yesterday, the PSP team went on walkabouts at three of the largest markets in the constituency. Dr Tan was the team's main crowd-puller, with residents and supporters approaching him for wefies and autographs. He was very popular with the residents during his 26 years as MP for Ayer Rajah.

He also stood in the 2011 Presidential Election and lost to Dr Tony Tan by just 7,382 votes.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who is contesting in West Coast GRC, leading his Progress Singapore Party team on a walkabout at Telok Blangah Food Centre yesterday. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Among his supporters in West Coast GRC is Ms Zarena Akbarshah, 40, who works in the aviation industry. Her parents, who are in their 60s, have lived in Pandan Gardens for almost four decades. When they were looking to move from a three-room to a five-room flat, they insisted on remaining in the area as Dr Tan was a good MP, she said.

"He was always there to help citizens and always improved the residential areas and listened to residents. That's something we shouldn't lose - the human touch," she said. "So when I heard he's coming here (to contest), I felt excited."

Dr Tan himself described his return to the West Coast area as "coming home".

"I'd like to believe my old residents didn't see me just as an MP, but as a friend," he said.

Some residents, however, have concerns about Dr Tan's age. He first became an MP in 1980, the year Mr Desmond Lee's father, Mr Lee Yock Suan, entered politics. Mr Lee went on to become a Cabinet minister and both he and Dr Tan retired from politics in 2006.

Dr Tan, of course, has since decided to make a comeback. At 80, he is the oldest candidate in this general election.

Pandan Gardens resident Andrew Ho, 75, said Dr Tan's age is a factor in his decision on who to vote for.

"His stamina may not be so good. His ideas may be outdated. We need an MP who is dynamic," said the retiree who used to be a businessman in the education sector.

He thinks Ms Foo, the incumbent MP for Ayer Rajah ward until Parliament was dissolved last month, is "good".

He also expressed concern that Dr Tan is a "one-man show", adding that he did not know anyone else in Dr Tan's PSP team.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 05, 2020, with the headline PAP, PSP West Coast teams exchange fire over manifesto, handling of Covid-19. Subscribe