RP's Kenneth Jeyaretnam to join Punggol East race

Satish Cheney
Satish Cheney
Reform Party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam announces his candidacy for the Punggol East by-election. (Yahoo! photo)

Reform Party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam said Tuesday he would definitely contest in the Punggol East by-election.

At a press conference Tuesday evening outside the Rivervale Plaza within the single member constituency, Jeyaretnam told reporters that the idea of not contesting just to avoid a multi-cornered fight is "ridiculous".

He rubbished the notion of opposition supporters creating a backlash against his party if he took part in the polls.

"[It's like] if two companies which monopolise a market were to say we don't want any competitors, it's splitting the votes, splitting the market. A rigged market is bad for competition in business and bad for the consumer... backroom deals in politics which don't give the people a choice are bad for the voters," he asserted.

With his announcement, RP becomes the fourth party after the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), the Workers' Party (WP) and the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) to name a candidate for the upcoming poll.

In a surprise move, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) said it decided against jumping into the ring.

Meanwhile, Jeyaretnam said the Rivervale Plaza, which has been plagued by delays in renovations, looked like a bomb site.

"The previous MP did nothing and the Workers' Party candidate Lee Li Lian has been missing in action since the last general election," he noted.

Reception on the ground

RP chairman Andy Zhu said the party made its choice after serious consideration and that the decision to field Jeyaretnam was unanimous.

Zhu told reporters that while the response on the ground may not be “very good” there have been requests for the party to field a candidate.

Jeyaretnam and RP central executive committee member Osman Sulaiman said the reception from Punggol East residents has been warm.

Founded in July 2008 by his father Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, a veteran politician who died three months later, the party contested two group representation constituencies -- Ang Mo Kio and West Coast -- in the general election in 2011.

J.B Jeyaretnam, who was previously the Workers’ Party leader till 2001, was the first opposition politician to gain a seat in Parliament after he won a by-election at Anson in 1981.

The junior Jeyaretnam led his party's team in the West Coast where they got 33.43 per cent share of the votes, losing out the slate of the People's Action Party. In Ang Mo Kio, RP's team was soundly trumped by the PAP candidates led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a battle which was dubbed ‘David vs Goliath’.

The 51-year-old is a veteran in the financial industry with over two decades of experience. Most recently he was the manager of his own hedge fund. Armed with a first class honours BA and an MA in economics from Cambridge University, he was also an investment banker with Nomura and the merchant banking arm of HSBC.

"We are not a party which has been around for 50 years or more or describe itself as a small party with limited resources as an excuse for why they've done nothing since the general election. We've been around for three years now, and yet in GE2011, we scored 34 per cent in our first ever election, so we are pretty pleased with our record," the former St Andrew’s School student said when asked to rate his chances at the by-election.

Jeyaretnam said his campaign slogan will be "no more broken promises".

Political parties can officially nominate their candidates on Wednesday, nomination day. If more than one candidate qualifies, polls will be held on 26 January this year.

The seat for Punggol East became vacant when Michael Palmer resigned from the PAP in disgrace last month after admitting to an extra-marital affair.

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