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S’pore better off if PAP did not infiltrate all aspects of life here: Sylvia Lim

[Photo: Andrew Loh]
[Photo: Andrew Loh]
“Since we are in Jalan Besar GRC, let’s talk about football!” said Workers’ Party (WP) Chairman Ms Sylvia Lim yesterday, at their second rally of the season. The crowd cheered and horns blared their approval.

If rallies were a football game, the WP’s first rally in Hougang on 2 Sept was a defensive move, with candidates focused on refuting PAP’s accusations about the AHPTEC saga.

A day later, at their second rally at Boon Keng, the tactic had changed to a forward-looking stance. None of the candidates mentioned AHPTEC, and to the crowd’s delight, they were back in their element, engaging the audience with their observations of daily life, and explaining the party’s proposals, ranging from education, to immigration, and Parliamentary reform.

But back to football.

As a nod to the Jalan Besar Stadium, Ms Lim spoke about Singapore’s football history, when the team was fourth in the Asian Games in 1966, and when Singapore beat Penang to become the Malaysia Cup champions in 1977.

“And I am so proud that the man who headed in the winning goal is here with us tonight… as my personal driver,” she added, a playful reference to her partner, Mr Quah Kim Song. The crowd chuckled.

Ms Lim grinned, and paused. She had a big point to make.

“In those days, the Football Association was headed by people who were not politicians. They were passionate about the game, and relied on their own networks to bring in coaches and technical expertise. They even poured in their own money at times, to achieve their dreams.”

wp 02But today? Singapore’s football ranking has plummeted from 70th in the world in 1993, to 157th in 2015. “I am not belittling the efforts of our current footballers or coaches,” she clarified. “It is the structure I am questioning.”

“The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Constitution now states that all council members shall first be appointed by a cabinet minister, before being confirmed by an election. For the last 20 years, the minister decided to place a PAP MP in charge of the Football Association! Looking at how our rankings have nose-dived over the last 20 years, is this policy working? The Sports Minister should be committing hari-kari!” she exclaimed, a sarcastic reference to Minister Khaw Boon Wan’s mention of hara-kiri as a form of governmental accountability.

In fact, on 1 Sept 2015, FIFA told the FAS to put its internal elections on hold over possible government interference.

“It is embarrassing that it takes an international body to highlight a problem that has been simmering for so long,” said Ms Lim.

SylviaRallyHer point was made. One key difference between the WP and the PAP is that “unlike the PAP, we do not think the Government should infiltrate every aspect of life,” she said. “The PAP places government representatives in all areas of Singapore life, including sports, business and professional groups. The PAP wants Singaporeans to be dependent on them - but there is more than enough talent in the private sector to drive things. In fact, Singapore may be able to achieve better results, if the PAP would get out of certain areas,” she added.

But even with an uneven playing field, Ms Lim has her eyes set on the goal - to have more WP voices in Parliament, and to change the style of governance one day. To this end, she made some promises to Singapore.

“The Workers’ Party does not want your voting rights to be eroded. We would never threaten you to get your votes,” she declared. “We recommend in our Manifesto that both GRCs and Nominated MPs should be abolished - and if the Workers’ Party ever comes into power, we would abolish both schemes even though it would favour us. We believe Parliament should have a strong Opposition entrenched in it,” she said, to long applause.

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A team effort

In tandem with Ms Lim’s speech, the other WP candidates had also shifted focus from local municipal issues to emphasise national issues.

“The PAP would have you believe that what is at stake is whether your estate is clean and well-maintained. In introducing most of its candidates, the PAP made little mention of national issues. My fellow Singaporeans, we need to ask the PAP: If this is a local election, when will the national election be held?” thundered Mr Leon Perera (East Coast GRC).

He continued: “When will the PAP hold an election about how our older Singaporeans will be able to afford to retire? When will the PAP hold an election about what the size of our population will be? When will the PAP hold an election about how we manage our trains? This election is about our country!”

His fiery rhetoric set the tone for the night’s speeches on a range of national policies proposed by the WP, such as more flexible working arrangements and an increase in paid childcare leave regardless of marital status (Mr Ron Tan, Nee Soon GRC); equitable funding for all schools and WP’s Teach for Singapore proposal (Mr Bernard Chen Jiaxi, MacPherson SMC); a 10-year through-train programme from Primary 1 to Secondary 4 (Mr Adrian Sim, Jalan Besar GRC); Educational Credential Assessments for all Employment Pass and S Pass holders (Mr L Somasundaram, Jalan Besar GRC) and others.

Several candidates also cited the example of the Population White Paper - which was heavily debated, rejected by all WP MPs, but still endorsed by the PAP majority - as proof of the need for more diversity in Parliament.

Others did not mention specific proposals, but spoke instead on broad issues of diversity and empowerment. One of them was Ms He Ting Ru, who was welcomed to her maiden rally speech with rousing cheers and crowd murmurings of “聪明” - clever, they called her. She spoke passionately about wanting different voices in Parliament, wanting the freedom “to speak up responsibly without fear” even when disagreeing with the Government, and “empowering our citizens to create a society which looks out for the vulnerable.”

Crowd engagement was also high on the score cards for some speakers.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) first spoke in Malay, and then wowed the crowd by personally thanking the Eunos voters in a 3-minute-long Mandarin speech, a commendable first attempt.

“我们无论是什么宗祖, 说的什么语言, 我们都是新加坡人!” he declared - regardless of race or language, we are all Singaporeans. “谢谢, kam siah, Terima Kasih, Thank you, நன்றி!” he concluded.

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A dignified finish

In contrast to his Teochew speech on 2 Sept which was peppered with jokes, WP Secretary-General Mr Low Thia Khiang’s speech on 3 Sept was a firm, dignified finish.

“We have not disrupted the workings of the Government, and have upheld the dignity of Parliament. We have fulfilled our promise to be a rational, respectable, and responsible party,” he told the crowd, to loud applause.

And reminiscent of the National Day and SG50 celebrations, he urged the crowd to look to the past, present and future.

“As we celebrate fifty years of independence, we should look at Singapore now and consider: where do we go from here? For many years, the PAP has interpreted and defined what is the national interest, and what is in the best interest of the people. They have also decided on policies unilaterally as the Government with a huge majority in Parliament.”

He continued: “Being in power for so long, the PAP equates Singapore to the PAP Government, and the PAP Government to the PAP. Because of this mindset, they paint the opposition and critics as trouble-makers and rebels. We must stop the PAP from becoming more self-absorbed!” The crowd roared in approval.

“The future is in our hands to make. We must remind the PAP that there is a distinction between what is national interest, and what is the PAP’s party interest. Workers’ Party supporters are as loyal as any supporter of the PAP. We must hammer home the message that the people are the masters of Singapore, not the PAP!”

The rally ended, and the battle to win a strong mandate continues. Game on.