Benjamin Cheah / photos by Jean Loo
Sound and fury were the order of the night at the Singapore People Party’s rally. The speakers engaged the audience with humour, mixed with jabs at the People’s Action Party (PAP). The crowd cheered with every mention of the SPP, Secretary General Mr Chiam See Tong, and Potong Pasir candidate Mrs Lina Chiam; and booed whenever the PAP was mentioned. The speakers worked up the crowd to a fever pitch, keeping them there until the rally ended.
Mr Sim Kek Tong, chairman of the SPP and candidate for Hong Kah North, kicked off the evening with a speech in Chinese. He criticized the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) and Group Representative Constituency (GRC) schemes, and proposed replacing GRCs with Single-Member Constituencies. Mr Jimmy Lee, who will be contesting in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, spent his speech praising the people of Potong Pasir and Mr Chiam, and slamming the PAP for withdrawing funds for upgrading projects in Potong Pasir. He concluded by challenging the PAP to issue the same threat in Hong Kah North and Bishan-Toa Payoh.
Mr Mohamad Hamim bin Aliyas started with a speech in Malay. The crowd quieted down; most of the audience is Chinese. The Chiams arrived in the middle of this speech, and the crowd burst into cheers and chants of ‘SPP!’ and ‘Chiam See Tong!’ Excitement rippled through the crowd as the Chiams took the stage. A man in a wheelchair, a little girl and a middle-aged woman took turns to garland them. After the Chiams settled down, Mr Hamim completed his speech, and made another in English. He repeated the points he made in the last rally on the lack of government accountability and transparency, as well as ministerial salaries and unchecked influx of foreigners. He mooted the idea of having Singaporeans representing Singapore in sports, to loud cheers and applause.
On Friday, Mr Wilfred Leung promised to talk about Mr Sitoh Yipin, the PAP candidate for Potong Pasir. This was the theme of his speech, criticising Mr Sitoh for not doing anything for the residents, and the PAP for refusing to grant funds to upgrade Potong Pasir. The crowd booed and jeered with increasing intensity at every mention of the PAP and Mr Sitoh. Mr Leung praised the people of Potong Pasir, saying, “There is no price to pay for the soul of Potong Pasir!” This was met with cheers and applause.
Benjamin Pwee based his speech on two themes: listening and security. He said that the opposition will listen to the people’s voice, unlike the PAP. ‘There is nothing to fear for Singapore’s security if you vote for the opposition’, he said. Referring to Singapore’s Total Defence concept, he assured the audience that the opposition will ensure Singapore’s security. The military would defend all Singaporeans, regardless of political affiliations. Everybody, regardless of race and religion, could live in peace with each other. The opposition would listen to investors to ensure funds are invested wisely. Most of all, he emphasized the need to rid oneself of fear. ‘We need to dare to get rid of the fear that holds us back,’ he said. ‘Dare to vote because you are Singaporean!’ The crowd erupted into cheers at that remark.
The rally, however, belonged to the Chiams. Mr Chiam mounted the podium to much fanfare. He began his speech with, ‘I’m afraid you have to be quiet because my voice is not so good.’ Members of the audience immediately shush each other. This silence was not to last. Every other sentence Mr Chiam said was interrupted by ear-splitting cheers. He said he is contesting Bishan-Toa Payoh ‘to promote democracy in Singapore’, and that democracy cannot exist ‘without opposition in Parliament’. Thanking the crowd for their support, he added, “The people shall not be bullied any more. Everyone will be treated equally.”
Mrs Chiam spent the first half of her speech detailing how the PAP had treated Mr Chiam and the people of Potong Pasir, by discontinuing bus service 141, denying children places in PAP Community Foundation kindergartens, and kept Mass Rapid Transport stations around Potong Pasir closed. She also took issues with Mr Sitoh, saying that he took credit for the recent lift upgrading project even though the residents and town council of Potong Pasir paid for it.
Near the end, Mrs Chiam spoke briefly about her policy positions. She advocated more subsidies for childcare and healthcare for the elderly, with emphasis on early detection of diseases. She promised to look into the problems of Sennett estate, even though they do not pay service and maintenance charges to the Potong Pasir Town council. Finally, she said that senior citizens should be able to use their concession cards at all times, instead of only during concession hours.
Before the rally began, the SPP distributed fliers detailing the party’s stance on public housing. In the flier, the party raised issues with rising prices of flats, pointing out the average new family would have to support ageing parents and young children in addition to paying off a 30-year loan, causing them to be income-poor. The SPP proposed five points:
- Commission a study on the effects of public housing on the open market.
- Push the government to make public housing statistics and information available.
- De-link public housing prices from private housing market prices.
- Push for a balance between affordable housing and reserve building.
- Assert that the income gap can be mitigated through public housing program, though not at current prices.
The rally was more focused on generating buzz and rousing the crowd than proposing ideas. The speeches were more engaging than the previous night’s rally, perhaps as part of a shift in strategy. The adoration in the air was palpable. The rally, however, risks coming across as too shallow, by focusing on bashing the PAP and uplifting the candidates without actually delivering concrete ideas. This could signal a shift in the SPP’s strategy towards a more emotive-based form of campaigning. How well it works remains to be seen.