GE2020: No indications of three-cornered fights, say SDP leaders

SDP chairman Paul Tambyah (left) and secretary-general Chee Soon Juan speaking during the “Meet The Press: Alternative Ideas and Proposals for Post-COVID Singapore” held on the night of 24 June, 2020. (SCREENCAP)
SDP chairman Paul Tambyah (left) and secretary-general Chee Soon Juan speaking during the “Meet The Press: Alternative Ideas and Proposals for Post-COVID Singapore” held on the night of 24 June, 2020. (SCREENCAP)

SINGAPORE — Top members of opposition party Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) said on Wednesday (24 June) night that there are no indications of three-cornered fights in the upcoming 10 July General Election.

Secretary-general Chee Soon Juan spoke briefly about its attempts to work together with other opposition parties, “I'm just glad to hear that there’s an effort to make sure that there are no three-corner fights.

“We don't know any other situation where there's going to be another party in the constituencies that we are contesting in this time,” he added.

SDP chairman Paul Tambyah also noted, “It's very encouraging from what we've heard so far. There's no indication that there will be any three-corner fight.

“Besides that, Singapore voters are an educated and informed electorate. So, I don't think that's a major issue.”

Both were speaking during a one-hour virtual session titled “Meet The Press: Alternative Ideas and Proposals for Post-COVID Singapore” held on video-conferencing platform Zoom and screened live on Facebook.

Earlier in the wee hours of Wednesday, Reform Party (RP) had announced that it will no longer contest West Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC) as part of an agreement with Tan Cheng Bock’s Progress Singapore Party (PSP), to avoid a three-cornered fight with ruling party People's Action Party (PAP).

The five constituencies that SDP intends to contest in the upcoming elections are the same as in GE2015 – Holland-Bukit Timah and Marsiling-Yew Tee GRCs, as well as the Bukit Batok, Bukit Panjang and Yuhua single-member constituencies (SMCs).

The party has not unveiled any of the 11 candidates that they will be fielding, although Dr Chee had on Sunday confirmed that he would be contesting in Bukit Batok SMC for the second time.

The 57-year-old first ran for it in the 2016 by-election, pulling in 38.8 per cent of the votes cast and losing to the PAP’s Murali Pillai.

GE during pandemic? ‘Bizarre’

The opposition leaders also voiced their concerns and disappointment about the ruling party holding an election just weeks after the city-state emerged from a partial lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, Singapore has 42,623 cases of COVID-19.

Party leader Chee Soon Juan described the decision as “bizarre” and quite shocking.

“This is all done because the PAP has calculated it that it's in their political interest to do so. The interests of the people, the welfare of the people and public safety, comes secondary,” he said.

And since the elections would be held as Singapore undergoes Phase 2 of its reopening with social distancing restrictions in place, there have been challenges posed to the party’s campaigning efforts, said Dr Chee.

A major blow – Dr Chee had posted about earlier on Wednesday in a Facebook post – was the rejection of an application by the police for a three-day Walk The Talk, an event where he would travel around the city-state on foot to raise funds for the party.

Dr Chee had said in the post he conducted a similar fundraiser in 2015. The reason for the rejection, as given by the police, was that cause-based activities, even if carried out by one individual, might cause crowds to gather, which would put people at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, he added.

Dr Chee had also written, “If the police are afraid of activities that might cause crowds to gather during the pandemic, why did the PAP call for elections now?”

During the virtual media event, the party chief noted the police’s rejection of the application has left the party “high and dry”.

“We need all the funds that we can get to make sure that we run an effective campaign. (Selling merchandise at physical rallies) was another source of revenue. Now that these two have been banned, we can only do it online,” said Dr Chee.

“We cannot depend on state funds, the People's Association, and so forth. We only have the people to fall back on.”

And while the party has had some 50,000 views for its more popular digital efforts, it pales in comparison with the “millions of people watching mainstream media and TV every night”, said Dr Tambyah.

Agreeing, Dr Chee said, “The ministers come on Channel 8, 5, and CNA, night after night, month after month, year after year for the last more-than-half a century. That does something to the mindset of the Singaporean.”

“As much as we're going to try to use online campaigning, it's still an uphill struggle. But nonetheless, that's all we have going for us and we're going to use that to the best of our abilities.”

Because of the pandemic’s growing economic impact on Singapore, the proposed solutions in the party’s “Four Yes, One No” election campaign remain relevant, “if not more so”, according to Dr Chee.

The campaign, unveiled in late-April, tackled five key proposed changes: suspending of Goods and Services Tax (GST) till end-2021, paying retrenchment benefits to workers affected by the pandemic, providing the bottom 80 per cent of over-65 retirees with a monthly income of $500, putting people first and stopping the government from raising Singapore to one with a 10 million population.

Dr Chee also revealed details on the party’s extension of the proposed retrenchment insurance programme, titled RESTART (Re-Employment Scheme and Temporary Assistance for the ReTrenched).

Workers on the proposed scheme are allowed to come together in groups of 10 to propose a viable business plan and apply to the government to have their benefits withdrawn in one lump sum, rather than over the original one-and-a-half-year period, he added.

“That will put them into gainful employment, into starting an enterprise... I think it'd be good for Singapore if we're making a serious and genuine effort to restructure our economy. I think this is one way that we can do to stimulate innovation and creativity,” said Dr Chee.

On whether voting in SDP candidates would gain enough traction for the campaign to be translated into action, Dr Tambyah quipped, “I think 11 SDP MPs is going to send a really powerful message.”

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