By Ko Siew Huey
In an exclusive interview with The Online Citizen, four of the assentors of an opposition team that failed to file their nomination papers on time today gave their account of what happened at the Nomination Centre.
The team, comprising Ng Teck Siong, chairman of the Socialist Front [picture right], PKMS chief Nazem Suki, Lim Mie, Ng Pian Ying and Abdullah Salam came together at the eleventh hour to make a bid for the Tanjong Pagar GRC led by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.
Up until the night before Nomination Day, the team was still trying to raise funds for the election deposit. A call was also sent out for members of the public who are residents of Tanjong Pagar GRC to volunteer themselves as proposers, seconders and assentors. These witnesses are required to accompany the candidates as they deliver the nomination papers.
Karen Teoh, 32, an IT executive and her husband Dustin Lau, 31, a manager had just arrived home from China Wednesday morning at 4:30am when they saw this urgent request for help posted on a sociopolitical website, Temasek Review. They then went door to door trying to recruit their neighbours, but that did not yield any results. They decided to show up at the Nomination Centre anyway and there they met a friend Daniel Sassoon, 36, a legal counsel and Yasser Mohamed, 33, a fishmonger.
After they arrived at about 11am, Mr Lau called Mr Ng several times, before getting through to an aide who told him that they were waiting for their other volunteers.
“I think what was happening was that they were waiting for the assentors, seconders or other people that they needed outside of the venue before they came in,” Mr Lau said. “But what that meant was that quite a few of us who were already at the venue were waiting without any clear idea of who we were supposed to go to.”
Ms Teoh recalled finally seeing the opposition team arrive at about 1130am, but the candidates stopped to answer questions from the press. She said that it was another 10 minutes before they made their way up to the Nomination Hall.
According to Mr Lau, the contingent went to the Commissioner for Oaths to prepare the necessary papers. These documents had to be checked and countersigned by the Commissioner before submission. But before that was done, the National Solidarity Party candidate for Whampoa SMC, Ken Sun, who was in the hall at that time, urged Mr Ng to hand in the papers quickly as it was nearing the deadline.
“When he rushed to hand up the form, which had not been countersigned yet, the rest of his team was there shouting at him to come back,” said Mr Lau, who lamented that they were “wasting precious minutes”.
It was during that time when Mr Ng came back to get the Commissioner’s signature that time ran out.
“All the effort that everyone else put in was wasted because they were 35 seconds late,” said Mr Yasser wistfully.
Mr Sassoon said that the whole episode appeared disorganized and haphazard: “They did not know the process, they did not know the procedure, the coming in late, the whole not organizing your team… just the whole air of chaos didn’t help.”
Ms Teoh added: “You intend to be an elected candidate and you are not clear about election rules… I’m not sure how you could represent anybody effectively in parliament.”
However, they all agreed that this particular incident should not be taken as indicative of how all opposition parties are organized. In fact, they were glad to see the presence of high caliber candidates in the current slate offered by the opposition.
With the exception of Mr Lau who voted in the 2006 General Elections, the other three who were interviewed told TOC that they have never voted. It was a common desire to ensure they and the residents at Tanjong Pagar would get the chance to exercise this right that motivated them to step up to the plate.
“I’ve never voted before and I think that’s important,” said Mr Sassoon. “I would have thought that it would have been a shame if for lack of people who actually take a step out to spare that time and show up and give their assent…for the lack of that if there was a walkover, I would have felt terribly guilty knowing that I could have been there but didn’t.”
Mr Lau said: “If a ward goes uncontested, it just feels like a free ride in. And I think that politicians should always have the mandate of the people, they should always have to fight for the right to represent people in parliament… It’s a privilege that needs to be earned.”
Making the point that wanting the chance to vote does not mean that they were against the ruling party, Mr Yasser had this to say: “I think this point needs to be really highlighted. The fact that we are assentors does not mean that we will vote for the people we are assenting for.”
To which Ms Teoh quipped, “Having seen what I’ve seen today. Even if it had gone through, I would have voted for PAP.”
PS: TOC has made several attempts to contact Mr Ng Teck Siong but we were unable to reach him.