A tale of two rallies and Opposition solidarity

~ By Kenneth Jeyaretnam ~

Saturday night I stood in the historic field where many of the Cheng San rallies in 1997 were held. This brought back memories of my father who was then the WP Leader and his confidence then that the 50,000 crowd on the last night indicated a landslide. Of course he didn’t give sufficient weight to the PAP’s bully boy tactics and their use of state resources to both buy votes and intimidate voters. He also did not reckon with a subservient Elections Department which did nothing about PM Goh’s and DPM LHL’s presence in the polling stations on Polling Day or with an AG who declined to take any action.

Despite a greater worldwide awareness of the fraudulence of elections held under these conditions e.g. in Putin’s Russia, it seems that the PAP still are not confident of their popularity without continually reminding voters of the consequences of not voting for them. Use of state resources to buy votes was a constant theme of both the WP rally and, without even of a hint of irony, of the PAP’s. Last night it looked like rain so I thought why risk it and I followed the PAP rally on the various media. In the end it didn't rain but their rally was still a damp squib.

I was pleased that Sylvia, LTK and Png all did not beat about the bush in condemning the PAP’s use of state resources to buy votes. What was funny was that at the PAP rally last night the PAP speakers felt no sense of irony in continually reminding voters that they hold the purse strings. They even had the effrontery to say that Desmond Choo had done more for the residents of Hougang (with public money) then the WP had!

 This is why the PAP always try to make the campaigns about local issues rather than national ones because, like slave-owners in the American antebellum south or feudal lords, they want to remind their serfs that they do not actually own their housing but hold it on ninety-nine year leases from the government.  Singaporeans are made very aware that renewal of these leases on favourable terms is at the mercy of the government.

Well done Gerald Giam for returning the focus to national issues in his speech. But his lines on the necessity for competition in public transport seemed bizarre in that WP made an elction manifesto out of calling for nationalisation of public transport. Maybe, like Cedric Foo, WP has been reading my blog and noting my dismay over WP policies that would not have looked out of place in their 1959 manifesto. They appear to have done a notable flip flop.

Chen Show Mao’s speech was a disappointment. Admittedly I could not follow his Mandarin speech but his short speech in English sounded like a bland corporate mission statement rather than a hard-hitting political speech. There was not one criticism of the government. Indeed he talked about embarking on a courageous journey together!  It seemed to be a blurring of the lines and a total misunderstanding of what democracy is about. Either he has been muzzled to such an extent that he has lost all focus or he is merey biding his time until he can run for President.

It was left to Pritam Singh to make probably the hardest hitting speech of the night. While the PAP had been attacking the speck in the WP’s eye, Pritam brought the argument back to the beam in the PAP’s by reciting the long list of PAP Ministers and MPs who had been disgraced and jailed or forced to flee for corruption. The most famous case was Teh Cheng Wan who committed suicide to evade justice and where JBJ was sued and had to pay heavy damages for demanding a public inquiry into the circumstances of his suicide.

The elephant in the field was of course JBJ and the WP MPs studiously avoided all reference to him even as they hailed the historic breakthrough at Anson. This became purely a WP victory as though the man had played no part and the same was true when they talked about PAP intimidation of voters at Cheng San.

Pritam Singh is nothing if not a marvelous manipulator of the emotions. During GE 2011 he paid tribute to JBJ in one of the WP National election broadcasts at a time when I guess every minority vote counted. Four months later, a group organised a nonpartisan inclusive and diverse JBJ memorial dinner with speakers from all across the political spectrum. They invited Pritam but he was too busy to attend and too busy to even send a message to be read out. As indeed were all the WP which was really rather shameful.

By contrast the PAP rally was a shameful affair. It consisted of two strategies. These were smearing Yaw Shin Leong and WP's handling of that fiasco and claiming the election was about local rather than national issues to reinforce their continual reminders that they control the purse strings when it comes to upgrading even though the money belongs to the state. I thought I would fall over when I heard Peh claim that it was the PAP who put rice and meat in our bowl rather than the hard work of the individual voters. And when Denise asked what the WP had done for the residents she contrasted them with Desmond Choo whom she said would be able to do more for residents. Not surprising if he is appointed grass roots adviser and has the resources of the PA behind him as well as control of the HDB.  Speaker after speaker, without any sense of irony, asserted the PAP’s divine right to use state resources for partisan political ends! Desmond Choo even asked where the WP candidate would be if he loses. We can be certain of one thing. He will not be appointed grass roots adviser!

Naturally I am endorsing the WP campaign. It is an easy decision as RP has been consistent about not contesting this by election.  I attended last night’s WP rally at Hougang not because I support the Workers’ Party philosophy or manifesto. But to show the Reform Party’s solidarity with the Workers’ Party and the Opposition generally in what is a grossly unequal battle.

I dislike the bully boy tactics the PAP seem incapable of not using as well as the crucifixion of Yaw Shin Leong over personal issues. After all how many PAP Ministers and MPs are divorced or separated? And as Pritam Singh pointed out, several have been removed from office and from Parliament for real crimes not just sexual peccadilloes.

Naturally I have reservations over whether the WP can ever spread their appeal beyond their Teochew heartland. Also over whether they will be prepared to stand up for real change and not appear to be so desperately striving for the label of “respectability” from their opponents.

However it is vital that the PAP be stopped from taking back Hougang or even chipping away at the WP majority.They need to be kept permanently on their toes and on the run and a big WP win will do that.  Too often the Opposition have won a seat democratically in an election only to see it removed later.  The need for the WP to be returned with an increased majority is vital given the PAP’s continued blatant use of tactics that when used in other countries have been labelled as fraud.

If we had an independent Elections Commission perhaps this would be stopped but as long as it remains an arm of the Prime Minister’s Office things are unlikely to change.

I look forward to the next two WP rallies.

This article is published by The Online Citizen, 20 Maxwell Road, #09-17 Maxwell House, Singapore 069113.