GE2015: Town council issues come to the fore again in final Workers’ Party rally

Nicholas Yong
Senior Correspondent
Workers' Party chair Sylvia Lim spoke at a rally at Bedok Stadium on 9 September 2015.

Town council matters were once again the focus on the final day of campaigning, as the Workers’ Party repeated its call for a more balanced Parliament with a stronger opposition presence to check on the People’s Action Party (PAP).

Nine days ago, party chair Sylvia Lim had begun the first WP rally with a thorough accounting of the Aljunied Hougang Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) saga, answering and rebutting the PAP’s accusations that it had mismanaged the town council.

As she addressed the crowd at the final WP rally that saw tens of thousands in attendance and overflowing out of Bedok Stadium, Lim addressed what she called “some unfinished business in this election campaign” – namely, the accounts of the Punggol East town council.

She noted that on 28 August, Punggol East candidate Charles Chong had told the media that the Punggol East town council had a surplus of one million dollars in 2013. At the time, it had just been handed over to the Workers’ Party, following Lee Li Lian’s victory in the by-election that year. 

But on Sunday (6 September), WP chief Low Thia Khiang said that the accounts actually showed a deficit of $282,000 at the time. But PAP candidate for Pasir Ris-Punggol Zainal Sapari, then said that there was actually a surplus of $21,000. PAP organizing secretary Dr Ng Eng Hen later added that there would be a “definitive clarification” on the matter and that he hoped Mr Low would be “gentlemanly” enough to apologise.

Lim shot back, “There are just two and a half hours more before Cooling Off day. We are still waiting for the PAP to come back with its definitive clarification.

Could it be that the PAP has tried to mislead the public, and damage AHPETC again? Will someone from the PAP be gentlemanly enough to tell us the facts?”

She then referenced Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s comments at Tuesday’s lunchtime rally that Singapore would be “finished” if the WP formed the next government. Lim said that if the PAP failed to provide answers on the town council,  “it is the PAP that is finished. Liao! Finished!”

Lim then addressed the topic of “happiness, and a better life”. She noted that at the United Nations, Singapore had co-sponsored a resolution that said that the pursuit of happiness was a fundamental human goal.

But when Lim spoke in Parliament on the rights of Singaporeans to pursue happiness, she was mocked by a PAP MP who said, “How come your speech like that?”

She quipped, “The PAP seems uncomfortable with talking about happiness. Perhaps they are more comfortable with sadness, since we always see Mr Lim Swee Say and Mr Lim Boon Heng crying in public, ever so often.”

Lim urged voters to reflect on “how the PAP has placed economic growth at the expense of your happiness”. She added, “Tell the PAP that we don’t always need to be rich. We just want a better life.”

Speaking in Mandarin, party chief Low Thia Khiang began by introducing the WP candidates for the seats that it is contesting in Nee Soon, Marine Parade, Jalan Besar and East Coast GRCs, as well as Sengkang West, MacPherson and Fengshan SMCs.

In particular, Low took time to endorse the qualities of Fengshan candidate Dennis Tan, and the East Coast team of Gerald Giam, Daniel Goh, Leon Perera and Mohamed Fairoz. For example, he said of Tan, a shipping lawyer, “He has impressive qualifications, but he is down to earth.”

Low also praised the WP’s East Coast candidates as having different professional expertise and working experiences that would serve them and the people well in Parliament. He added in Teochew, “Our candidates are good enough. You must all vote for them and send them to Parliament.”

The WP chief noted that since the 2011 election, when seven WP MPs were voted into parliament, the government has changed course on policies such as public housing, healthcare, social services and the influx of foreigners. “I feel very comforted by this. But this is just the start,” said Low.

“Parliament must be able to represent diverse peoples and interests. Only in this way, can the people be confident and fulfill their potential.”

Noting that this was his seventh election in 33 years, Low recalled that he had joined the Workers’ Party after his alma mater Nanyang University was shut down in 1980, out of a sense of injustice and helplessness.

After he became an MP in 1991, Low took part in many parliamentary debates and proposed many policies, but to no avail. He then realized that speaking up in Parliament would not necessarily affect change, as opposition MPs had to face PAP MPs and Ministers who were backed by entire government departments and a massive government machinery that help them to research information.  

“After 2011, there were seven Worker Party MPs and 3 opposition Non-Constituency MPs. But we had to take on 80 PAP MPs,” said Low. He then called for the voters’ support, in order to have a more balanced Parliament, and to push the government to implement policies that will benefit Singaporeans.

The rally ended with a recitation of the pledge.