by Benjamin Cheah/ photos by Ko Siew Huey
‘We want to listen to your heart and bring it to Parliament.’
These words, uttered by Mr Benjamin Pwee, seemed to be the Singapore People’s Party’s (SPP) rallying cry. The three key themes of the rally were government accountability, increasing costs of public housing, and increasing number of foreigners. All speakers took every opportunity to deride the People’s Action Party (PAP) on these three fronts, but of the SPP’s proposals they said little.
The rally got off to a slow start. Ms Juliana Juwahir started the rally by declaring that voters should always be heard whenever policies are formulated, and that policies ‘should benefit the people of Singapore.’ She said that the SPP stands for ‘accountability, transparency and debate in Parliament’ in this election. She also talked about the five working groups the SPP have started to rejuvenate the party and facilitate outreach. These are the Policy Working Group, SME Affairs Bureau, Malay Affairs Bureau, Youth Wing and Women’s Wing.
The next two speakers had very little to say. They were Mr Sim Kek Tong, the SPP’s Hong Kah North candidate, and Mr Jimmy Lee, who is contesting in Bishan-Toa Payoh. Mr Sim spun a long riff about the party and the candidates, intertwined with calls to vote for the SPP. Mr Lee promised to talk about three things: why an alternative voice was important, Mas Selamat, and why there was ‘no reason to fear’. Mr Lee recounted two anecdotes that illustrated his first point. Mr Chiam See Tong, Secretary General of the SPP, arrived in the middle of his second story, interrupting his speech. Mr Lee quickly wound his speech down without touching on his other two points.
The rally picked up by the fourth speech. Mr Mohamad Hamim bin Aliyas centred his speech on the lack of government accountability. He said there was no accountability and no transparency for the Orchard Road flooding, the losses “Temasek GIC” incurred during the subprime mortgage crisis, the management of the Youth Olympic Games, and the escape of Mas Selamat. He also raised contentions with the rising prices of flats, ministerial salaries, and influx of foreigners. He said that 6 in 10 jobs go to foreigners, and that Singaporeans cannot compete with the foreigners flooding the market. He ended his speech by proposing to re-implement the old quota for foreign workers, which allows companies to hire three foreigners for every local.
The crowd stirred and came alive when Mrs Lina Chiam took the stage. Mrs Chiam focused her speech on affirming that she was her own person. She was uncharacteristically shouting into the mic during her speech, as though trying to work up the crowd. It seemed to work, with members of the crowd roaring with approval and jeering the PAP at every turn. She said, ‘I have my own name. I will do things my way.’ However, she spent most of her speech speaking about the hardships Mr Chiam faced during his political career instead of articulating ‘her way’. Near the end, almost as though in passing, she said that the government needs to manage immigration and housing prices – and tacked on a call to vote for more opposition.
Mr Wilfred Leung used his speaking time to scrutinize the People’s Association (PA), as part of the SPP’s wider theme of government accountability. He asked, ‘How come when I go to the PAP website, RC (Residents’ Committee) campaign together with the PAP?’ The RC is a subsection of the PA, which is a government body. In response to a question by a member of the audience, Mr Leung affirmed that if the SPP wins in Hong Kah North, there will be funds in the Town Council to pay for current upgrading projects.
Mr Benjamin Pwee built his speech primarily on engaging the attendees. He said that he joined politics ‘for the good of everybody’. He encouraged voters to overcome their fear of voting for the opposition. He ended his speech by saying, ‘We stand up because we believe in Singapore. This is Singapore and this is our home.’ After the Chiams, Mr Pwee received the most applause and cheers by the audience.
The rally climaxed with Mr Chiam See Tong taking to the podium. Compared to the other speakers, his speech was brief. He said that the SPP ‘believes in building a democratic society’ and in freedom. He called for greater government transparency and responsibility, raising the issue of ministerial salaries and Mas Selamat’s escape, and encouraged people to participate in politics.
Mr Sim made the last formal speech for the night. In this speech, he outlined his election platform. If elected, he promised to concentrate on five key issues. He wants to create a new category for Certificates of Entitlement for cars of 1600cc or below. He explained that this would allow COE prices to fall and enable more people to buy cars. He also wants to revise the pegging formula for ministerial salary ‘to close the income gap’; help SMEs and neighbourhood shops; and push for a new public holiday, ‘Multicultural Day’, to reflect Singapore’s multicultural society’. Finally, he said he would study the Goods and Service Tax to see if it can be scrapped.
The rally concluded with Mr Chiam taking to the stage one last time. He spoke briefly, inviting the audience ‘to be a part of our party’s rejuvenation’. He finished his speech by saying, ‘I am not a great man, but I love Singapore’.
‘We love you too!’ an audience member replied.
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