by Howard Lee/
Perhaps it was the presence of Kenneth Jeyaretnam, but the spirit of the late JB Jeyaretnam seems to fill the air tonight.
When I first walked into the Yio Cho Kang Stadium for the Reform Party’s rally, I was expecting very little – the crowd has gathered on half of the seats, leaving the field pretty much empty.
But by the time candidate Osman Bin Sulaiman took to the stage, the roar of the crowd behind me caught my attention. It has easily doubled to about 1,500, and the chants began. Even those sitting on the stadium seats at the back were waving flags.
This crowd could hardly be the 30% or so who voted for the Workers’ Party in 2006, but it was quite evident that they were here to give their all for RP, as the emcee goaded them to shout “Reform” – “CHANGE!”
And it was obvious that RP was there to tug at their heart strings.
The speeches began with Mr Alex Tan. Stumbling over his words a few times, he cut hard with some humour (“What does GST stand for? Good Story Telling!”) and a good dose of figures, when he drew estimates of GIC’s losses in foreign investments and chastised the People Action Party’s intention to spend $1.2b on a river in Bishan Park. His was an opening for what was to come for the rest of the night.
Tan also showed solidarity with the Singapore People’s Party – “What’s so bad about Potong Pasir? In fact, the residents have been voting Chiam See Tong for 27 years!” – and defended the sharing of candidates between the two parties as a signal of opposition unity. In so doing, he also opened for KJ to take the stage and jibe at Mr Lim Heng Kiang, whom he claimed earlier said that RP was out of step with the other opposition parties. Instead, he accused the PAP of being out of touch with the people, and claimed Lim was trying to drive a wedge between the opposition parties. Indeed, KJ believed that “the existence of the (Ang Mo Kio GRC) team was evidence how in step we are with the opposition parties”.
Vigneswari d/o V Ramachandran spoke next, and brought up a passionate plea to work with the government on issues and programmes to level the education playing field and re-emphasise the need to pinpoint and develop each child’s gifts. Renouncing the streaming system, Vigneswari encouraged the government to build more sports and arts schools, invest in subsidies and bursaries for the needy, and reiterated RP’s proposal to provide free education up to the secondary level, especially for the physically disabled and mentally challenged. Such subsidies, she jibed, is “money well spent compared to millions overspent on the YOG.”
But perhaps the most compelling was Osman Bin Sulaiman, who held the audience for 20 minutes and seemed to up the energy level by the end of his speech. Osman praised his team for the diversity of experiences, including representation for students. He was also responsible for initiating the many “boos” that came from the crowd, when he mentioned the 900,000 workers on work permit that the PAP still wants to bring in, and the infamous spurs-in-the-hide National Geographic interview with Lee Kuan Yew.
He reserved many sore points about the foreign workforce, but rounded up with a personal example from his walkabouts – a lady who was in arrears for her conservancy, but was sent a court letter, whereupon she was imposed a court fine. His statement to the cheers of the crowd: “What does it say about our government, penalising us when we are (already) poor?” Osman’s speech was short on tangible deliverables, yet the most impassioned.
Arthero Lim coined a new term, “Chinderporeans”, joking that he might no longer know how to address the crows the next general elections, given the mass influx of foreigners into our midst. He narrated his personal letters upon finding out about JBJ’s passing while overseas. Switching to Mandarin, he told the parable of cows and egrets, in direct reference to the way the Central Provident Fund has been managed by the PAP that impacts whose in their 50s who are unable to be employed. He indicated that it was a reflection of what they see on the ground at walkabouts. In response, he reiterated RP’s policies on universal health insurance to replace Medisave and Medishield, Singaporeans first when it comes to jobs, and minimum wage. His ending plea: “Go with a representative who dares to speak up for you (in Parliament).”
Election veteran Mansor Rahman took Lee Kuan Yew to take for his recent statements that he claims hurt the feelings of Malays. His advice to the Malays in Ang Mo Kio was that there was “no point voting for the PAP”. He also shared that he was expelled from the National Trade Union Congress for demanding that all PAP MPs must resign from NTUC, as “the trade union must be free from political affiliation”. His concern: “The government is the biggest employer in Singapore… How can they represent the workers?”
When it came to Lim Zi Rui, there was no holding back RP’s attempt to connect with all ages and outlooks. Lim first paid tribute to the elderly who have contribute to Singapore, emphasising that “they have undergone a revolution” in Singapore’s founding years, but are today neglected by the PAP. Lim speech also began an emphasis of the evening on the secrecy of our vote, and obvious overture to the older generation who still believe that to be true, a point that was also picked up later by M Ravi and KJ. But moving back quickly to his age group, he noted that of the PAP’s young candidates, the Y Generation was not happy with them. “We are looking not just for qualification, but a passion to serve, to represent Singaporeans,” he claims.
Lim also touched on how his university mates have found it inconceivable that many scholarships were given to foreigners who are no more capable than Singaporeans passed the chance. He reiterated RP’s stand that they are not against foreigners, but “against the policies that allow this to happen” as they have “created inequality, which permeates all aspects of society.
But it was guest speaker M Ravi who brought the house down. Mixing jokes with pressure statements, Ravi chastised the PAP for constantly referring to their track record, saying that “if you ask this question, nobody can get a job”, and instead insisted that a member of parliament only needs one quality: “To stand up for you”. Criticising the PAPs’ dominance, he candidly asked: “Can you play football with one team? How (do we) have a good game with 77 against 3?” He ended with a plea for voters to “have the same spirit that Lee Kuan Yew had when he drove away the British, the spirit of Mederka!”
The rest of the evening ended with speeches by other RP candidates – Frankie Low, Harn Ho and Andy Zhu. But it was KJ’s second speech that reaffirmed to party’s intention to take Ang Mo Kio GRC, where he reiterated the roots that JBJ and RP has to the former Cheng San GRC. He even mentioned the infamous condolence letter from Lee Hsien Loong to his family. By this time, JBJ was very much alive in the crowd, and they broke spontaneously in chants of “JBJ, JBJ!”
The rally ended with many lining the barricades to shake hands with the candidates and for KJ’s autograph. Many elderly residents actually declared to him, “I supported your father, you have my vote!” Someone next to me noted that KJ had tears welling up in his eyes.
Intentionally or not, the spirit of Singapore’s Indomitable Lion was definitely in Yio Chu Kang stadium tonight. Heart strings are taut, and every attempt was made to connect with the young and old. Amidst all the humourous banter, the real question remains: If we believe in all the policies that RP has defined in their election manifesto, would the team be able to surf high on JBJ’s legacy and garner enough confidence votes in Ang Mo Kio GRC to unseat the Prime Minister? If you were there tonight, you might have wished for it.
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