SINGAPORE - The first of six constituency political broadcasts for the general election was aired on TV, radio and online on Friday (July 3). The parties contesting in five constituencies - Aljunied, Ang Mo Kio and Bishan Toa Payoh GRCs, and Bukit Batok and Bukit Panjang SMCs - addressed their voters.
Those standing in four- and five-member GRCs were given 12min and 15min respectively, while SMC candidates had three minutes to speak. The broadcasts run until next Wednesday and constituencies are lined up alphabetically.
As rallies cannot take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the broadcasts are one-off arrangements to give candidates more airtime to get their messages to voters.
In the 2015 General Election, the Workers' Party (WP) had a close call in Aljunied GRC, when it bested the People's Action Party (PAP) by just 2,626 votes.
Recounting the result yesterday in a televised broadcast, WP chief Pritam Singh told Aljunied voters the party understands their vote has to be earned.
"We have worked hard to earn your trust, sometimes under difficult circumstances. For those who feel that we have not met your expectations, we seek your understanding and promise to do better.
"Now, more than ever, your vote is essential to chart the kind of political system Singapore should have," he said.
Spelling out the high stakes in this year's general election, in the first of a series of constituency political broadcasts, Mr Singh reiterated a key theme of his party's campaign: that a strong opposition presence is important and there is a need to have elected opposition MPs in Parliament.
The WP had wrested Aljunied - the only opposition-held GRC in Singapore - from the PAP in 2011.
But it won by a much smaller margin four years later with 50.95 per cent of the vote share, enough to trigger a recount into the wee hours of the morning.
Mr Singh said that as MPs in Parliament, his party had asked tough questions on residents' behalf to hold the PAP government accountable.
"As WP MPs, we have been rational and responsible. We support the government agenda when we think it is on the right track, and oppose it only when we find the direction is not in the national interest," he said, citing the party's opposition to the 2013 Population White Paper and the goods and services tax hike as examples.
Expanding on the theme of the need for checks and balances, fellow WP candidate Gerald Giam urged voters not to be swayed by the PAP's argument that there is no need to vote for the opposition, as the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme ensures their voice in Parliament.
"The PAP will feel safe as long as their two-thirds majority is not threatened. But once the opposition gains more seats, they will be forced to consult you, and you will also get a more responsive government," said Mr Giam, a former NCMP.
Rounding up the WP team in Aljunied are two other incumbent MPs - party chairman Sylvia Lim and Mr Faisal Manap - as well as former NCMP Leon Perera. Mr Giam and Mr Perera will replace former party chief Low Thia Khiang and party stalwart Chen Show Mao, who will not be standing for election.
Mr Perera said the voices of NCMPs can be ignored, as they do not carry the full mandate of the people. On the other hand, "the voices of fully elected opposition MPs cannot be ignored by the PAP at the risk of losing more fully elected seats".
Mr Singh also sought to pre-empt concerns over the mismanagement of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.
The town council has steadily built up its operating funds and most recently recorded an accumulated surplus of $7.9 million, more than double the accumulated surplus recorded when it took over from the previous town council in 2011, he said.
The High Court found last October that Ms Lim and Mr Low had breached their fiduciary duties towards the town council in hiring a managing agent company without calling a tender. They have appealed against the ruling.
The PAP team, on the other hand, argued that community should come before politics.
PAP's Bedok Reservoir-Punggol branch chairman Victor Lye said: "Aljunied is yours - not someone's political hostage".
His fellow PAP candidate for Aljunied GRC, Mr Shamsul Kamar, asked: "Are we (Aljunied) the check and balance mechanism for the country or the catalyst to take Singapore forward and scale greater heights?"
Rounding up the PAP camp are lawyer Alex Yeo, marketing director Chan Hui Yuh and bank executive Chua Eng Leong.
Mr Chua pointed out that despite losing in the last two general elections, the PAP team has not left Aljunied behind.
On the contrary, it has continued to improve the infrastructure there, with plans to build new polyclinics, community hospitals and MRT stations.
The team also outlined plans to set up job centres and a pocket money fund for disadvantaged children, and secure cheaper essential goods and services for residents.
Ms Chan and Mr Yeo described their collaborative approach to providing local services and programmes. Ms Chan plans to set up a local fund for residents, so that even those living in private estates are eligible as long as their income level is below a stated sum.
She said: "Our help schemes will be based on trust and not on rules that may make it difficult for you to get help when you need it."
Mr Yeo stressed the need to listen and deliver what residents really need.
Citing his ward's grocery distribution programme as an example, he said: "We raised funds so that we could purchase items based on feedback, giving beneficiaries what they need. We must always listen, go the extra mile and try our very best."
Wrapping up the team's speech, Mr Lye said that the PAP team "can do better" for Aljunied residents.
"In GE2015, we stood up for you. Forced a recount. The opposition who lost could enter Parliament; we could only look on and resumed helping you the next day.
"It's been nine years. It's time. Bring us home."
ANG MO KIO GRC
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Government has stabilised the Covid-19 situation after battling it for the last few months, but "the crisis is far from over", he added.
"The crisis is the biggest challenge Singapore has faced since Independence," he said. "We are doing our best to keep everyone safe and healthy, and to support our economy. Our focus is on jobs: protecting existing jobs and creating new jobs."
All five PAP candidates - Mr Lee, Mr Gan Thiam Poh, 56, Mr Darryl David, 49, Ms Nadia Samdin, 30, and Ms Ng Ling Ling, 48 - spoke during the broadcast.
There are 24 town career centres, including one in Cheng San to help those who are looking for employment. Two community job fairs will also be held in the town's Yio Chu Kang and Cheng San Community Clubs and those who have lost their jobs or incomes due to Covid-19 will get help, said the PM.
With AMK home to many senior residents, the PAP will continue to carry out pro-senior and pro-family projects in the district, including the establishment of a silver zone and renovation of elevators, said Mr Gan.
The Reform Party was represented by Mr Charles Yeo, 30, and Ms Noraini Yunus, 52. They spoke about their plan to build a better and fairer society for Singaporeans. Mr Andy Zhu, 37, was ill and unable to take part.
Mr Yeo, a lawyer, told voters that the party has heard their complaints about high service and conservancy charges, and raised the issue of ageing HDB flats. "The HDB should not be allowed to profit and flats should be affordable," he added.
Speaking in Malay, Ms Noraini called for more government spending to combat the economic fallout of Covid-19. She said: "We want a better social safety net, universal health care, family cash payments, senior pensions and a minimum wage."
Pointing to elderly Singaporeans who work as carpark attendants, service staff and cleaners, and those seen picking up cardboard and tin cans, Mr Yeo said in Mandarin that the "PAP does not care for your lives".
He also said residents they met during walkabouts had complained about not seeing their MP. The PAP MPs' "claims of dedication ring hollow unless one is prepared to be a full-time MP", he added.
He claimed that these MPs have well-paying full-time jobs and "so they won't work for the people and they are sleeping in Parliament".
BISHAN-TOA PAYOH GRC
Defence minister Ng Eng Hen also dedicated his speech to the Covid-19 crisis, which he said has affected Singapore's economy significantly.
While the Government had promised to reduce retrenchments and has drawn more than $50 billion from the reserves to help companies, he said some businesses may not survive.
"Vulnerable residents may lose their jobs and their families will be under great stress. Together we must help residents through this difficult period," Dr Ng said.
Mr Chee Hong Tat, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, and Education, said that the Government has set up the National Jobs Council to ensure Singaporeans remain employable. He is working with colleagues at the ministries to "create jobs, including in growth sectors like healthcare, early childhood education and training & adult education", he added.
SGUnited Jobs and Skills Centres will also be set up in the constituency to organise job fairs and provide job-related services.
Dr Ng also pointed to improvements made in Bishan and Toa Payoh for residents, which include elderly fitness stations, covered walkways, a new community club in Bishan, and a three-generation mega recreation area in Toa Payoh that will be completed in a year.
Two other members of the PAP team - Mr Chong Kee Hiong, 54, and Mr Saktiandi Supaat, 46 - also spoke during the broadcast.
In his speech, Singapore People's Party (SPP) secretary-general Steve Chia promised voters that if elected, his party's candidates would commit to becoming full-time MPs. They plan to "hold public officers to greater accountability" and raise their constituents' concerns in Parliament.
He said: "This Covid crisis has greatly impacted the world and Singapore. Our PM is now asking again for a strong mandate. Do you want the whole Parliament to have 93 elected MPs to speak PAP policies? I believe you want diversity of views, want alternative parties with alternative ideas to propose alternative solutions. You will also want a balanced Parliament to protect against power abuse."
The PAP Government, said Mr Chia, has "neglected many areas of growing concerns", including stagnating wages, cost of living, affordability of HDB flats, income inequality and foreign talents competing with Singaporeans for jobs.
He also raised the issue of Singapore's reserves, stating that no one knew how much they were as "the PAP Government says it is a national secret".
Two other members from the four-man SPP team - Mr Melvyn Chiu, 40, and Mr Williiamson Lee, 40 - also delivered their speeches during the broadcast.
Mr Chiu, 40, said: "This election is not about a report card for the PAP, it is not about a fresh mandate. It is about your livelihoods and the future of our younger generation."
BUKIT BATOK SMC
Both candidates in their broadcasts said they could do a better job than the other as MP for Bukit Batok SMC. Mr Murali Pillai highlighted his 20 years of service in Bukit Batok, while Dr Chee Soon Juan said only a full-time MP, which he will be if elected, can handle the role's responsibilities.
The incumbent Mr Murali delivered his speech in four languages. He brought up the uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and said it is not enough to just have a plan.
"You need to have the leadership, the people, the resources and the organisation," he said.
Explaining why he has these qualities, he went on to say that he had forged bonds with community partners, leaders, volunteers and residents during his long years of service.
He cited a fund which he has helped set up to aid low-income families. Called the Helping Hands Fund, he said it was created to support those like the widow of a taxi driver who died from Covid-19 this year.
The family, who live in Bukit Batok, has a special needs grandchild and the loss of its main breadwinner had led to the woman reaching out to Mr Murali for help. The PAP candidate said he would launch food bank JamPacked@ Bukit Batok next year to provide halal food to families in need.
Meanwhile, Dr Chee said he would be a full-time MP if elected.
"Mr Murali insists on doing the work on a part-time basis. What PAP MPs do is to contract out their work to profit-making businesses called managing agents. Residents end up paying an extra layer of costs," Dr Chee said.
"I will personally see to it that only the most qualified and experienced professionals handle the job and they will be directly answerable to me."
He promised to make the running of the estate transparent and accountable, publish an interim financial report for Bukit Batok Town Council and report on the handover process.
BUKIT PANJANG SMC
Mr Liang Eng Hwa of the PAP said residents could count on him to "work very hard" for Bukit Panjang estate. He listed the improvements he had secured for the town in the past.
Dr Paul Tambyah of the Singapore Democratic Party spoke on a range of issues, from running the town council with the active participation of residents to giving residents a retirement income and retrenchment insurance.
Mr Liang spoke in English and Mandarin. He began by saying that he was proud of the significant improvements in Bukit Panjang town in the last decade. These include new bus services, the upgrading of the Bukit Panjang LRT, a polyclinic and a second hawker centre.
He then promised to continue investing in the town's "continued vibrancy and sustainability" as it enters its 30th year.
But he also made reference to the economic headwinds brought about by the pandemic.
"I know our residents are concerned about their jobs, especially the young job seekers and workers above age 40.
"Rest assured, I will work with you to seek help to improve employability, through the various jobs and skills programmes."
In Mandarin, he added: "Improving the town and the lives of the residents to me is not just a responsibility, but my mission."
Dr Tambyah began by saying that he had taken note of issues Bukit Panjang residents have brought up during his walkabouts, including noise levels near loading bays and lift upgrading delays.
He said his party promises that it will run the town council itself in partnership with residents.
"We will transparently demand all accounts be released to ensure a smooth transition. There will be no more investments in toxic financial products," he said. He was referring to Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council having invested some monies from its sinking fund in risky financial products that went bad during the 2009 Global Financial Crisis.
The SDP is committed to suspending the GST (goods & services tax) till end-2021, to introducing retrenchment insurance for residents and retirement income for low-income seniors. These measures are possible by using "slightly more" of the return on investment income and raising wealth taxes.
"A senior citizen with $500 or a retrenched single mother with $1,500 are far more likely to spend the money in a hawker centre or in the shops in Bukit Panjang than a billionaire putting his millions in the Cayman Islands," he said.
"It is much better to have the cash in the hands of the people rather than corporations and hoping some of it trickles down to the rest of us."