Singapore Democratic Alliance Campaign for the by-election

By Darren Boon

SDA candidate Desmond Lim PE BE

Dedicated Local, Determined Leader.

This is how Mr Desmond Lim, Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), had been portraying himself during his campaign as the candidate for Punggol East.

Many will agree that he has remained determined and dedicated, devoting time, money and energy to increase the publicity on SDA, about himself and what he can do for the residents in this Single Member Constituency. Nevertheless there are also detractors who question if he is on a foolhardy mission.

Mr Lim had previously contested in the same Constituency during the 2011 General Elections. He had won 4.45 percent of all the valid votes cast or 1,387 votes. He lost his election deposit of $16,000, as a result. Mr Lim had also contested in the Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC in the 2006 General Elections.

When Mr Lim threw his hat into this BE there was talk that he would lose his deposit again. To such allegations Mr Lim’s response had been that he was a diehard who believed that he had a role to play for the residents in Punggol East. During his brief speech on Nomination Day on Jan 16 he reminded his “footprints” were all over in Punggol East  since 2005, it made sense for him to offer himself as a candidate.

During his campaign Mr Lim had been meeting with, visiting and speaking with residents as well as distributing flyers. During his walkabouts, it was evident he was a familiar face with local residents and they responded positively to him. Fluent in Chinese and Hokkien, he connected easily with the older Chinese folks in the constituency. He even held a meeting with the residents in the void deck session. All of which was done with much flair and publicity.

And in either a stroke of genius or silliness, Mr Lim has abstained from holding the traditional election rally. He also declined, though invited, using the stage with Reform Party at their rally. Instead, rather innovatively, he has opted to use the Internet and conducted a daily  “online rally” from Jan 21. These videos – four in Mandarin and another in Malay – have been uploaded on YouTube. Mr Lim has heralded a new movement in Singapore – holding rallies that come to voters via mobile devices.

Perhaps working with telecommunications company M1 as its principal engineer has made Mr Lim more in tune with using technology; or because of the severe limitation on resources, Mr Lim’s preferred outreach is through online rallies. He has even embedded barcodes in his campaign flyers which viewers can scan to view the videos. There were plans too for party volunteers to use Bluetooth to wirelessly transfer videos onto residents’ mobile devices when the party’s volunteers went knocking on the voters’ doors.

While these are innovative, his efforts seemed to have attracted derision and criticism from netizens. Primarily over the  content and delivery in the videos, much of which are ‘cringe-able’ because of his (lack of) command over the  English language… It also did not help that Mr Lim had fellow party member Harminder Pal Singh, a motivation speaker, who has better English-speaking skills to offer only a short  introduction in each of the  English videos. It even led to nasty comments from netizens who said that they preferred to vote in Mr Singh as he could speak better.

However, there were some netizens who were constructive towards Mr Lim, suggesting that he holds a rally to reach out to the residents who were not so technologically savvy or advanced. Some even suggested that he brushes up on his speaking skills and ensure that his issues are different from the rest.

The success of this approach is hard to measure other than to use blunt metrics — with each video upload there are fewer viewers of the virtual rally, whilst the number  ‘dislikes’ overwhelmingly outnumber the ‘ likes’.

While Mr Lim did address the issues which some of the residents brought up to him on the campaign trail, he did not make it clear how he would as a lone voice, if elected, would effect for change in Parliament. In the early days of the campaign he also offered a suggestion on the possible use of operation and sinking funds or a scheme in the way of a residents’ cooperative to build facilities and amenities in the ward. These approaches have come from observations and experiences he had gathered when he worked as a  Town Councillor in the Potong Pasir Town Council for 14 years. He also functioned as the secretary of the Potong Pasir Constituency Welfare Funds in 2006, and was consultant to Potong Pasir Town Council in 2007.

Mr Lim also conducted his campaign amid some controversy of hiring the young to help him on his campaign. These volunteers were reported by Yahoo! News Singapore to have come dressed in party colours and bore SDA flags in the supporters’ area outside the Nomination Centre on Nomination Day. They were later found to be part time hires who received an allowance.

In defence, Mr Lim said that the volunteers comprise a mix of paid and unpaid and volunteers and highlighted Section 70 of the Parliamentary Act to state that he had not broken any law. “It is very common and the norm, for any party to engage paid assistance in doing ground work,” he said then.

The proud father of a son is keen to prove to the residents that he is no fair-weather friend. Despite the odds, he is keen to show that he is dedicated to the cause of Punggol East residents and is determined to do his best even if it could mean that he might once again lose his election deposit. He is keen on improving the percentage and numbers of votes and is also confident that this time round he would not lose his deposit.

The voters of Punggol East will give the answer on Jan 26th  on SDA’s Ms Desmond Lim.