By Priscilla Chia
Photo credit: Lisa L.
Against the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) heavyweights in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) team may look ordinary – but that is part of their charm.
“My fellow candidates are very real people,” declared Mr Benjamin Pwee, gesturing at his SPP team Mr Bryan Long, Mr Law Kim Hwee, Mr Abdillah Zamzuri and Mr Hamim Aliyas, and describing their humble backgrounds. “Send us into Parliament so we can represent who you are!”
That they are regular people who have faced tough challenges just like the ordinary Singaporean was a common refrain echoed by all the candidates who spoke at SPP’s rally yesterday at Toa Payoh Stadium, to a crowd of approximately 3000.
Mr Abdillah Zamzuri recalled how he had to set aside his desire to be a professional footballer, and that he did not go to university because his family just did not have the money. “As a heartland guy, I play soccer in void decks, lepak in coffeeshops… Maybe you have a story like mine - so close to achieving your ambitions, but having to set it aside. I share your ambitions, your creative pursuits, your entrepreneurial spirit!” he declared. “I will speak for you in Parliament!”
Such everyday concerns were also highlighted by Mr Bryan Long, who spoke of his absentee father, and his concern about Singapore’s long working hours, while Mr Law Kim Hwee described many people’s difficulties with medical expenses and concerns about CPF.
Most of the candidates also took this opportunity to introduce various proposals, further expounding on the eight-point SPP-DPP Joint Team Manifesto for Bishan-Toa Payoh which was released on 3 Sept.
Mr Abdillah spoke about his love for the performing arts, and proposed starting a performing arts group for the residents in the constituency so that young people are given a platform to pursue such interests. He also suggested having more social media education for youths to be more socially responsible and “social-media smart”.
Mr Bryan Long spoke about the school system in Singapore, and highlighted how the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is a source of stress for many parents.
“If every school is a good school, then why do we need the PSLE?” he asked. A self-described “late bloomer”, he concluded his speech by advocating for the abolishment of the PSLE to avoid pre-judging students as “lower ability”, and also the need to provide adequate childcare support.
The general need for checks and balances was emphasized by Mr Ravi Philemon (Hong Kah North SMC) who was there to show his support for the team. “If companies need independent auditors, how much more Parliament, to ensure good governance?” he asked the crowd, to approving applause.
This point was reiterated by Mr Hamim Aliyas, who said, “Voters, you need us in the opposition party to check and verify, to work with the Government of the day constructively and collaboratively for the sake of Singapore!”
Continuing the legacy of Mr Chiam
But the loudest cheers were reserved for Mr Chiam, who arrived mid-rally. The 80-year-old former MP of Potong Pasir cut a frail figure, but it was clear that he had lost none of his spirit, as he shook the hands of those who surged forward to greet him, before being helped out of his wheelchair to join the team on stage.
Mrs Lina Chiam was also given a rousing cheer when she made her speech. “In the same way that you have placed your trust in Mr Chiam, support me and my ready team in Bishan-Toa Payoh, Mountbatten, Hong Kah North!” she declared. “We have an army of young professionals, grassroots leaders, and many others to add to the spiciness of the rojak we all love!”
Mr Chiam sat quietly, listening intently to all the speeches. Towards the end, he indicated that he wished to speak. The microphone was passed to him, and there were hushed moments before the team realised, and Mr Pwee announced, “He wants to stand!”
The crowd erupted in applause, as Mr Chiam was helped to the podium to thank everyone for their support. They fell silent, straining to catch his faint voice, occasionally cheering, and then falling silent again. They could not hear most of it, but no matter – it was their beloved Mr Chiam, and that was enough.
But Mr Chiam is not running for elections this year – the first time since 1976 – and it is unclear if the current SPP team will have the same support. One rally-goer, Mr Goh, told TOC that he was here to “check out” what the Party had to say, but felt that the rally “was ok but not much of a deal”. He added that it was a “commendable effort on the part of Mr Chiam, who has given his life to this country”.
Another rally-goer, Mr Tan, recognised the limitations of the SPP, such as their lack of resources, but came with his group of friends to support SPP nonetheless as they felt that “SPP has the heart”. They also felt it is important to have opposition members in Parliament to be a check against the incumbent.
So what are the SPP’s chances? “We are honoured to continue with Mr Chiam’s legacy… and the only way that this can continue is if you put us into Parliament [to] continue the legacy and work of Mr Chiam!” said Mr Pwee, reminding the audience that the SPP team had a close 43.6% of the votes in the 2011 General Elections.
“I ask for 7%, 8% more. Give us a 50.001% to cross that line, and send us into Parliament!” he shouted, fist in the air. The crowd cheered.