Note: This is of last night's rally on Friday, 29th April 2011.
By Elliot Aruldoss/ photos by Kirsten Han
The battle between the ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), and various opposition parties continued on Friday. At Jurong East stadium, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) drew a crowd larger than the one at its rally on Thursday. The party came out once more with guns blazing; this time, with a clearer, more-focused intent to cause serious damage to the PAP.
Sadasivam Veriyah, SDP candidate for Sembawang GRC, responded to doubts raised by the ruling party on the ability of the opposition in running Singapore. Confidently assuring all those who were watching, he argued: “There is no way a government will collapse. (This is because) it depends on the civil service structures which are already in place”. He stirred up the crowd by telling them not to be intimidated, and to “never let the PAP run your life”.
The next speaker was no stranger to the crowd. John Tan, assistant Secretary of the party, reminded the audience “we are standing at the cross-roads”. He emphasized the theme of the SDP this election, ‘It’s About You’, and accused the PAP for being indifferent towards Singaporeans. “The PAP never thought about you until elections were around the corner.”
Attacks on the ruling party escalated as the night wore on. Jaslyn Goh criticized the PAP for failing to curb rising costs of living: “PAP – Pay and Pay. SDP – So Don’t Pay!” Alec Tok, candidate for Bukit Panjang SMC, took to the stage next, launching into a heartfelt speech predominantly in Mandarin. Confidently, he proclaimed: “SDP is going through one of its most important periods in history because this is a turning point. This is a turning point because we are days away from a possible victory at the polls!”
Facts and statistics poured in from Mr Tan Jee Say, who responded strongly to Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hian’s criticisms of him. He reiterated that $60 billion was a small sum in comparison to the huge sum of national reserves and the millions lost in bad investments made by Temasek Holdings. He addressed Dr Balakrishnan directly, challenging him to reveal the amount of national reserves in line with the promised principles of accountability and transparency. In response, the crowd booed and jeered, leading Mr Tan to joke, “I can see that he is very popular”. In calling for transparency of the National Reserves, Mr Tan further stated: “The late president Mr Ong Teng Cheong asked for the figures but was unable to get the information from the government”. Tan challenged Dr Balakrishnan: “Get your facts first. Tell us what the reserves are!” He also demanded Dr Balakrishnan give his account on the controversial Youth Olympic Games (YOG): “Tell us how you overspent the YOG budget by over $300 million. That, to us, is not small change”. Mr Tan assured voters that if voted into parliament, the SDP will protect the interests of Singaporeans with accountability.
Dr James Gomez then took over, criticizing the ‘uncaring health minister’ and asking what he had in mind when he proposed the idea of moving the elderly or aged to Johor Bahru because land and healthcare costs appeared cheaper overseas. Dr Gomez objected to the tactics employed by the PAP in response to the SDP’s invitations to hold open debate about policies. “They are playing the tactics of avoidance. In Hokkien, they are trying to ‘siam’”.
The next speaker, Dr Ang Yong Guan, said the PAP could no longer connect with the people. He encouraged voters to take a look at SDP’s 10 Promises and the party’s Manifesto, which is available online. Having served as a psychiatrist with the Singapore Armed Forces for 17 years before retiring with the rank of Colonel, he assured voters he will take a prominent role in assessing the “psychological effect” of the policies they wish to implement. “We are mentally prepared. We are willing to sacrifice for Singapore. We are willing to be the first wave of opposition to wake up the PAP!”
Though perceived as a quiet and reserved individual, Ms Teo Soh Lung, candidate for Yuhua SMC, radiated a sense of purpose and profound sincerity on stage. After completing her law degree, Ms Teo served her pupilage under the late David Marshall. She spoke strongly on the topic of education in Singapore and asked Yuhua voters what Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of National Development & Ministry of Education, has done for education in Singapore. “We are a first-world nation”, Ms Teo stated, and we should have a “first-class education system”. She questioned why Singapore is labeled a “Tuition Nation”, with parents spending so much money on tuition fees and criticized large class sizes which undermine teaching and learning efforts. She pointed out that children as young as three years of age are receiving tuition and found it “ridiculous” that “97 out of a 100 primary, secondary and junior college students receive tuition”. Ms Teo also cited the range of $10-$150 in tuition fees per hour. “This is a very bad refection of our first-class education system”, she said disappointedly.
They chanted “Vincent! Vincent!” as he took the stage and Dr Vincent Wijeysingha closed the night by addressing the following issues: minimum wage, unemployment and the casinos. He observed that despite the 35,000 jobs created for Singaporeans by opening the casinos, unemployment went up again, this time much higher than before. “Unemployment is higher than in the last 3 months.” On the issue of minimum wage, he stated that “173 countries of the world already have a minimum wage” and that even China has established a minimum wage. He pledged that SDP will fight to put resources to good use in establishing a minimum wage and not carelessly “spending 1.5 billion on the defense budget” and increasing ministerial wages like the PAP has done.
On the whole, the crowd was receptive and cheered loudly as the SDP closed the rally but questions remain. Will this effectively translate into votes for the SDP candidates? How will the PAP deal with the blistering attacks made by the SDP? One can only find out in the exciting days ahead.
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