Public gallery overflows as many turn up to watch

People waiting to enter the public gallery at Parliament House yesterday at about 11.30am. Visitors were directed to the auditorium to watch a live telecast after the gallery filled up.
People waiting to enter the public gallery at Parliament House yesterday at about 11.30am. Visitors were directed to the auditorium to watch a live telecast after the gallery filled up.ST PHOTO: PRISCILLA GOY

Dozens of visitors directed to auditorium as over 200 people show up to witness proceedings

So many people turned up to watch yesterday's Oxley Road parliamentary debate that the public gallery was packed, and dozens of visitors were directed to watch it as a live telecast from the auditorium.

More than 200 members of the public flocked to Parliament House for the debate, in which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed allegations of abuse of power made by his siblings in their dispute over the fate of their late father Mr Lee Kuan Yew's house at 38, Oxley Road.

They included students who decided to spend a few hours of their Youth Day school holiday getting a closer look at the proceedings.

Sixteen-year-old Philip Tham, who arrived at the House with three classmates at 11.50am, told The Straits Times: "It is my first time attending a Parliament sitting and today is a school holiday, so it is perfect timing to watch it today."

He said he wanted to better understand why a ministerial committee had to be set up to study options for 38, Oxley Road.

The public gallery at Parliament House seats about 150 people. Once that filled up, visitors were directed to the auditorium on another level, where they could watch a live telecast of the debate.

Philip said he was not surprised to be led to a different venue, as he expected a huge turnout.

By 12.40pm, there were about 70 visitors there.

Visitors were also given the option to wait for others to leave the packed gallery, so they could enter. Chairs were put out for them at about 1pm. At that time, about 10 people were seen in the queue, with some saying they preferred to enter the Parliament chamber to view the debate, rather than watch a telecast.

Most visitors interviewed by The Straits Times said they were less interested in the fate of the Oxley Road house and more keen to hear how PM Lee would address his siblings' allegations of abuse of power.

Educator Joseph Tan, 65, said: "PM Lee is the Prime Minister. There are some tensions as he has a role in the Lee family as the eldest sibling, and he has a role as Prime Minister of the country."

He added: "He must be seen to act in the interest of the country. In my view, he has been doing that very well so far."

Full-time national serviceman Chew Hui Jun, 20, left the House at 2.30pm and said of PM Lee's speech in Parliament: "He put up quite a robust defence, which is good for his political legitimacy and the legitimacy of the Government."

But Mr Chew and visitors such as student Linus Chen, 18, preferred to wait till the debate was over to conclude if PM Lee had fully addressed all the allegations.

Dr Norshahril Saat, a research fellow at the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, agreed, but added that it was a "healthy debate" and MPs from both sides of the House had raised good questions.

He said of the public turnout: "It is a good sign that even students turned up, and it shows that they really wanted to hear the Government's views.

"We hear a lot of fake news and don't have a live telecast of Parliament proceedings (on TV), so I think that is why people want to go down to hear it first-hand."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'Public gallery overflows as many turn up to watch'. Print Edition | Subscribe