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GCT: “We want the best captain and crew”

Howard Lee /

Elderly folk sitting and chatting on field mats and foldable stools, and children with scooters and neon-lighted clappers. The rally for Marine Parade GRC on 30 April had a festive atmosphere to it, with or without the toad that made its way from the back to the front of the rally site (I kid you not), to the giggles of attendees. But, I will not write further about frogs in the well.

The rally started with two grassroots leaders delivering their support for the People’s Action Party, before the candidates arrived at about 8pm. Mr Ong Ah Heng opened the session in Hockkien, before the candidates did their speeches in turn – Ms Tin Pei Ling, Dr Fatimah Lateef, Mr Goh Chok Tong, Mr Seah Kian Peng and finally BG Tan Chuan Jin.

The speeches of the candidates all followed a certain pattern – demonstrate that they have been walking the ground, list the good work that the PAP has done for the constituency, sketch out both party and personal plans for their wards and the constituency, before chastising the opposition for their empty promises. They all ended with a warning about the pitfalls of voting on emotions, for popular and easy choices, and for incompetence, and categorically reaffirmed the PAP as the only party worth the vote of Marine Parade GRC residents. All par for the course.

Depending on their personality, seniority and personal experiences, each told the same story in different ways. Tin, for instance, quote a personal experience with a resident in detail, Goh harked back to the days of old, and Tan related to the people through his leadership experience in the army.

While all the other candidates were content to lambast the commitment, credibility and the lack of concrete plans by the National Solidarity Party, Goh was the only one with experience, and perhaps clout, to take swipes at a number of opposition parties in a speech that lasted almost 40 minutes.

Among all the candidates, Tin had the most comprehensive and specific list of to-dos for her constituency. It included increasing access to healthcare for elderly, coffee sessions with youths to find out their ideas and find out what they would like to see in their community, install energy saving light bulbs to help residents cope with utility bills, a mentor reading programme which is apparently already in the works, and bursaries and study awards.

Fatimah made a couple of rather awkward statements. The first was to claim that the support the PAP received from the team’s walkabouts was not just warm, but HOT. Giggles broke from the crowd, probably due to the rather warm night. The second was, “Look at what we have achieved here in the past 40 years - do you call this slow?” Interesting that progress over 40 years can be considered fast. The rest of her four-minute speech in English was dedicated to saying the opposition has not been walking the ground.

Goh made many points that amount to cautionary notes on voting in the wrong party – plummeting stock prices, the dangers of voting out Mr George Yeo, Mrs Lim Hwee Hua and Mr Zainul Abidin in Aljunied GRC. What stood out most was his view on Singapore Democratic Party candidate and his former PPS, Mr Tan See Jay. He indicated that back then, he “did not think (Tan) could make it as a Permanent Secretary”, whereupon Tan decided to move to the private sector for career advancement. Is Goh insinuating that Tan is now seeking vengeance by going against the party of his former employer?

Goh also warned that if the opposition manages to have significant representation in parliament, say 20 seats, the PAP would have difficulties forming a first rate government since there will be fewer elected PAP candidates to choose from for office. He used the examples of the United Kingdom and Malaysia, where people who have not won elections were appointed into parliament, and indicated his reluctance to do so as it would be “bua cao” (playing cheat). It eluded me why he did not mention the possibility of making office appointments of elected members of the opposition with suitable qualifications. He then reiterated his doubts about the originality of Workers’ Party’s First World Parliament, and compared it to “selling koyok”. He ended his speech with the analogy of Singapore being “a little boat sailing in a storm… and we want the best captain and crew”, and a plea for voters to “vote for yourself”.

Seah indicated that “the NSP has no local agenda, they are only using (the elections) as a vehicle for their party agenda”. He also indicated that the NSP’s webpage for the Marine Parade constituency plan was still “under construction”. He must have been referring to this page. Strangely, he is right, but only because all the opposition candidates have made it a point to focus on macro issues rather than take on constituency matters.

Tan Chuan Jin came across as the most forceful speaker, with a loud commanding voice that never broke pitch. Bet his arguments are not without portholes. He quoted Mr Goh Meng Seng who mentioned that NSP “has always been interested in Marine Parade for strategic reasons”. By this, Tan alluded that NSP does not have the interest of the Marine Parade people, and are only seeking to advance the NSP’s agenda.

Tan must be referring to this article. If so, he should know that Goh was responding to the question on whether Nicole Seah was fielded in Marine Parade in direct competition to Tin. In addition, Goh also added that the NSP “wants to take on the Senior Minister in Marine Parade because… many national policies and their accompanying problems were formed when Mr Goh Chok Tong was Prime Minister. These include policies on housing and transportation”. Is this what Tan meant when he said the NSP did not think of the people? If so, why did he not include them in his speech?

All in, it was a rally that aimed to discredit opposition’s positions as empty rhetoric, and refocus the attendee’s interest in the concrete plans offered by the PAP. I will leave it to you to decide if that is really what voters should be interested in, but the level of interest at this rally might give an indication. Apart from a group of 20-odd clapper and pom-pom wielding supporters at the front, there was very little response from the rest of the attendees, who seem content to watch from afar and fiddle with their tech gadgets.