Workers’ Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang said Wednesday evening that he was caught “somewhat” by surprise, by the timing at which Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong called for the by-election in Hougang.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the weekly Meet-the-People Session (MPS) in the ward, Low said he thought PM Lee may need more time before calling for one.
“We thought that the PM is so busy, he probably would want to take some time… but it seems that he has been quite efficient, (coming to a decision) quite fast,” the member of parliament (MP) for Aljunied GRC said.
With him was fellow WP member and Aljunied MP Chen Show Mao, who was conducting the MPS that evening.
On Wednesday, President Tony Tan Keng Yam, acting on the advice of PM Lee, issued the Writ of Election. Following that, the Elections Department put the dates for Nomination and Polling Day at 16 and 26 May respectively.
The Hougang single member constituency was left vacant after its former MP Yaw Shin Leong was expelled by the WP in February following his alleged extra-marital affairs.
In his Facebook post, PM Lee said the by-election is a chance for Hougang residents to choose a new MP to serve their needs.
He wrote: “I encourage Hougang voters to use this opportunity wisely, to elect the best candidate with commitment and integrity: someone they can rely upon to express their hopes and concerns, address their needs, and make a real difference to their lives.”
He also laid the blame squarely on WP’s shoulder, saying the party and Yaw had failed to give residents “a full and proper account of what happened”. He added that the WP and Yaw “have let down all those who voted for him”.
Responding to the PM’s post, Low, the WP secretary-general maintained that the WP has remained diligent in serving the residents of Hougang, even after Yaw’s sacking.
He shared how he had mobilised his fellow Aljunied MPs to conduct the weekly MPS in Hougang on Wednesday evenings, and that the Aljunied and Hougang town councils have been responding to feedback on government-related or other issues the residents raised.
He let on that he has been walking the ground occasionally to ensure things are stable, and is also personally looking into problems highlighted to him.
“I am satisfied to say that we have done our best to serve the residents of Hougang in this period of time. That’s why I am confidently saying that we have not shortchanged Hougang residents,” he said.
On the issue of his former protégé Yaw, Low added that the WP had decided to remove him from the party and his position because he was not responsible.
He noted also that the party had held a press conference on Yaw’s expulsion the very next day, addressing the issues involved to the best of their ability.
“We have served them well even without an MP”
Turning to the significance of the by-election to the ward’s 24,555 electors, Low said, like what the PM has noted, it is another opportunity to elect their MP.
“If the MP is not up to the mark, the WP is prepared to give them another choice; this is what we stand for,” he added, pledging that the party will work hard and diligently to prepare for the polls.
Asked about the party’s chosen candidate for the by-election, Low said he will be revealed at a press conference on Thursday afternoon.
He did say, however, that the party’s choice involved a “clear-cut” decision.
On talks on the ground that the candidate might be Png Eng Huat, Low said that the 50-year-old has been organising activities in the constituency since becoming the chairman of its committee. The WP candidate at East Coast GRC last year has also been showing up at MPS in Hougang “every Wednesday night without fail since some time early this year”.
[Watch a video on Png Eng Huat and what the WP has been doing in Hougang SMC here.]
Commenting on the PAP’s likely candidate, Desmond Choo and his efforts in the constituency over recent months, including giving out hearing aids to needy residents, Low said he welcomed anyone who want to serve the residents.
“We welcome all parties, whether it’s the PAP… the more the merrier, so it doesn’t matter to me personally, whether they will gain political mileage by giving porridge or hearing aids,” he said.
He also expressed his satisfaction that the other opposition parties have not decided to take part in the by-election, saying “I appreciate that they understand that it’s not good to have three-cornered fight”.
Still, Low would not be drawn into making a prediction for the contest. “I’m not able to predict (the likely outcome of the by-election), but hopefully it won’t rain.”
The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit an all-time high of 321 at 10pm on Wednesday, crossing into the "hazardous" range, according to data from the National Environment Agency (NEA).