GE2020: My biggest regret is not being able to engage with PAP on issues – SDP's Paul Tambyah

Singapore Democratic Party members outside Farah Shopping Centre on 8 July. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore/Joseph Nair).
Singapore Democratic Party members outside Farah Shopping Centre on 8 July. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore/Joseph Nair).

SINGAPORE — With the General Election (GE) just two days away, Singapore Democratic Party chairman Dr Paul Tambyah expressed his biggest regret that his party was unable to engage with the People’s Action Party (PAP) on the big issues.

Giving his overview over the last nine days of campaigning for Bukit Panjang single-member constituency (SMC), Dr Tambyah was speaking to reporters on Wednesday (8 July) about his earlier calls for him and Progress Singapore Party’s Dr Tan Cheng Bock to take on Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing in a national debate over the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think the biggest regret is the inability of the PAP to engage us on the issues... And then when they talked about COVID, Dr Tan and I offered to debate with Minister Chan Chun Sing, and then he wanted to know what we were going to say,” said Dr Tambyah, who is an infectious diseases expert.

“It's like so typical of the PAP, they cannot go into a fight without the advantage of knowing the opponent’s strategy and what they're going to do.”

Speaking at his party’s last doorstop before Cooling-Off Day, Dr Tambyah said the party had been forced to operate under “very unusual circumstances”.

“We've had no rallies, we've had no large walkabouts, we've had to talk to people through a mask. When you're talking to elderly people they cannot understand what you're saying,” Dr Tambyah said.

Even with the use of technology by the SDP during the GE campaign, the majority of voters probably had never seen its materials, he noted.

“As a result of that I’m really not optimistic about the outcomes,” said Dr Tambyah, who was addressing reporters outside of Fajar Shopping Centre on the last day of hustings.

He was accompanied by the SDP members contesting in Holland-Bukit Timah group representation constituency (GRC), Yuhua SMC, Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, and SDP secretary-general Dr Chee Soon Juan, who is contesting in Bukit Batok SMC.

Dr Chee did not address the media at the doorstop. He only said that he wanted Singaporeans to “focus on the issues” beyond the mudslinging before the SDP candidates left via a chartered bus to continue their last day of outreach efforts.

Speaking further about his regret, Dr Tambyah noted that Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran had repeated the same line as Chan on Tuesday.

“It's like you know I'm going into a football match and I want to know the opposing team's lineup and their strategy and how they're gonna attack us. But we gave it to them, we told them, Dr Tan told them about his economic plan, I told him about economic approach, which focuses on jobs and seniors, and I gave them the reference to a scientific article I'd written earlier on this.”

He added that every developed country has debates in parliamentary elections except Singapore.

“So we need to engage on the issues, rather than the name-calling and using dubious laws like POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) and things like that. So there’s one thing I would change would be to actually have a debate.”

In a joint press statement on a POFMA direction against Dr Tambyah Sunday (5 July), the Ministries of Health and Manpower said he had stated falsehoods including on the MOM email advisory to employers on testing of migrant workers made without the advice from public health medical professionals, that it stated employers would lose their work pass privileges if they brought their workers for COVID-19 testing and actively discouraged the testing of workers.

Singapore Democratic Party's members speaking to the media on 8 July. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore/Joseph Nair)
Singapore Democratic Party's members speaking to the media on 8 July. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore/Joseph Nair)

COVID-19 cases in community

Commenting on the rise of community cases of COVID-19, Dr Tambyah said he was “pleased” that the multi-ministry taskforce has been able to find cases without a link, as it showed that it has been looking for such cases.

“There's always a fear that they could do a Donald Trump and stop testing and then they won't find anything. So the fact that they're finding new cases is, it’s a glass is half empty and glass is half full kind of thing,” he said.

Also speaking at the media doorstop was SDP’s Holland-Bukit Timah GRC team, comprising James Gomez, Min Cheong, Alfred Tan and Tan Jee Say.

James, a political scientist, said that voters of the constituency had been deprived of engagement due to the current constraints of the “internet election”.

His fellow teammate and former presidential candidate, Tan Jee Say, said that while the PAP liked to paint the SDP as a tax and spend party, the opposition party had said that its proposals would be financed by a fuller use of investments returns on reserves.

Min, a marketing communications professional, had one last message for voters, which was to think critically over issues and examine what both sides had presented. “Look at the candidates, what we bring to the table as people, not just candidates.”

Alfred Tan, a businessman, called for a diversity of voices in Parliament. “I think it is too long a time where we hear one party's voice. It is time for the residents of Holland-Bukit Timah and Bukit Panjang’s voices to be heard in Parliament, give us that opportunity to speak for you, and let the people's voice be heard.”

Asked if he had any last message for voters, Dr Tambyah said, “I really appreciate what the voters in Bukit Panjang have done. In the last nine days they've gone way beyond what we've experienced in the last 10 years in terms of opening their hearts, opening their homes to us...whatever the outcome on Friday, I'm going to enjoy working with them, and of course with the Holland-Bukit Timah team which is just across the road.”

As to his plans on Cooling-Off Day, Dr Tambyah said “I got a clinic (appointment) in the morning. I actually scheduled it because you know, we're not supposed to do any campaigning and things like that. And the whole afternoon I'm going to sleep.”

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