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The Hougang spirit

April 29, 2010

Jessica Lim for TOC/

credit: Jing Quan

Singaporeans showed up in strong numbers to attend the Workers’ Party first election rally yesterday in the open field along Hougang Avenue 4.

While many came via public transport or on foot, traffic along Hougang Ave 10 and 4 was jammed even half and hour before the rally was to begin at 7.30pm. While the field was less than half-filled when the rally began, the crowd continued streaming in and the numbers surpassed the showing at the WP's 2006 rally which was held on the same field.

Kicking off the rally were speeches by WP candidates L. Somasundaram (Moulmein-Kallang GRC), Lee Li Lian (Punggol East SMC), Mohd Rahizan bin Yaacob (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) and Koh Choong Yong (Sengkang West SMC).

Gerald Giam, a candidate in East Coast GRC, said in his speech that he believed Singaporeans were "looking for more than material benefit", and wanted a more caring and compassionate society, and a greater sense of belonging.

WP Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang took the stage to introduce Yaw Shin Leong, who has been with the WP for 10 years. Yaw is contesting in Hougang SMC for the first time, a WP stronghold, which Low has represented for the past 20 years since he was first, elected in 1991.

In his speech, Yaw paid tribute to what he called the 'special Hougang spirit'. He also called for a round of applause for Seah Yin Hwa, the NUS undergraduate who questioned Lee Hsien Loong at a forum in NUS about why residents in Hougang were being penalised for living in opposition wards.

Yaw, who spoke in Teochew, Mandarin and English, ended his speech by calling on Singaporeans to "place more hammers in parliament".

In his speech, Low questioned the PAP's claim that housing in Singapore was affordable, saying that housing prices have increased without a matching increase in median wages. He also countered PAP's Mah Bow Tan's explanation to the media that young couples buying homes need only pay a small amount in cash upfront, by drawing attention to the loan they will have to repay for the next 20 to 30 years.

Responding to PAP's K Shanmugam's comments in the media that the Workers' Party wanted to be a 'co-driver' of the government, Low continued the driving analogy by saying "the co-driver is there to slap the driver if he goes off-course, or if he falls asleep," and also to "just keep talking to him to keep him awake".

"Without a co-driver, we keep getting taken for a ride."

In his later speech in Teochew, Low addressed his difficult decision to leave Hougang to lead a team in Aljunied GRC. He called for Hougang residents to go meet and talk to their ‘neighbours’ next door in Aljunied GRC to support the WP.

The crowd saved its most enthusiastic welcome for Chen Show Mao, who is contesting in Aljunied GRC. Chen spoke in all four official languages, kicking off with a short speech in Malay, followed by Mandarin, Tamil and then English.

Chen said he what he was doing was in fact heeding the call by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister for concerned Singaporeans to step forward to work for the good of Singapore. He spoke out on the need for prices of HDB flats to be pegged to the incomes of eligible households, and for the Workfare supplement to be benchmarked against the increases in cost of living. He asked for Singaporeans to be courageous, and to vote wisely for their future.

Addressing the crowd, WP Chairman Sylvia Lim highlighted a point in the PAP's manifesto, which says "Singapore belongs to each and everyone of us" and contrasted it with Lee Hsien Loong's remarks to NUS undergraduate Seah Yin Hwa on how the PAP would continue to favour constituencies that voted for the PAP. She asked the crowd, "by voting people in this way, is the PAP a first world government as it claims to be?"

A consistent message from all candidates throughout the night was to call for a 'First World Parliament'. The candidates stressed the need to plan for the future now, to ensure alternate parties in parliament which will allow for more robust debate. Said Low in his speech, "unless we have checks and balances in our political system, we cannot claim to be a first world country."