Each and every election in the past 30 years has seen the Workers’ Party (WP) romp home on the back of the Hougang Spirit.
The People’s Action Party (PAP) tried and tried but could not break the Hougang Spirit.
After 30 years, the PAP still wonders why the people of Hougang just wouldn’t budge.
What exactly is the Hougang Spirit?
The PAP struggles to get it.
Born and bred in Hougang, I have some inkling – but only barely so because much of it flies in the face of logic.
At first, the PAP tried the carrot and stick approach: no lift upgrading and no estate upgrading if you vote opposition!
The people of Hougang spoke: never mind, we shall not be cowed by threats, our vote is sacred.
What makes this truly remarkable is that the people of Hougang are as heartlandish as they come. The HDB flat is their prized possession yet they are willing to forgo upgrading, which could mean seeing the value of their homes going down.
Threats didn’t work, seduction didn’t work
The PAP then tried sending in the big guns to campaign – from the Prime Minister to cabinet ministers. Teochew candidates were parachuted in to contest.
The people of Hougang spoke: no point coming around at this time with seductive tactics and sweeteners, we will stick with the Teochew MP we already have.
That Teochew Member of Parliament for 20 years was Low Thia Khiang who came onto the national spotlight in 1991 when against all odds, he defeated the incumbent PAP MP Tang Guan Seng.
In 2011, Low moved from Hougang to helm the WP team at Aljunied GRC.
The current Hougang MP, Png Eng Huat, earnestly works the ground. Supporters greet him by affectionately chanting huat-ah! (to prosper).
The bond that WP has forged with the residents is exceptional – Low attended practically every funeral wake in the early years, commiserating with grieving families. The residents in turn would show up at the meet-the-people sessions just to offer him food and boiled tonic drinks because they could see him working his heart out for them.
So if we have to distill the Hougang Spirit, it is is borne out of sacrifice, stubborn resistance and resilience.
Come what may, resist temptation, even if there is the threat of having to pay a price.
Stubborn refusal to switch to the other side
The overtures of the PAP are seen as forbidden fruit – one you succumb to a bite of the apple, you have sold out, you have given up the power in your hands – the voting power.
This is where we have to salute the resilience of the Hougang Spirit – staying the course is never easy when you look around and see fellow Singaporeans enjoying better facilities and infrastructure upgrading ahead of you.
The Hougang Spirit not only stands for something. Just as important, it also stands against something – it is a repudiation of small-minded petty politics.
The idea that the country should be divided into two camps, with the PAP camp getting precedence in tangible benefits over the opposition camp, is abhorrent. It makes a mockery of the much touted one people, one nation, one Singapore.
The Hougang Spirit is also a repudiation of those who put on sheep’s clothing to win hearts and minds at a time of their choosing. Words to placate and appease can be camouflaged. But not sincerity.
The Workers’ Party kopitiam
Only in Hougang does a coffee shop become an unspoken opposition homeground during an election.
Blk 322 Hougang Ave 5 is the place to be on election night. You will hear a roar to match the roar of a football stadium. It means that the people of Hougang have once again thumbed their noses down at the PAP.
The feeling is priceless – it’s a badge of honour to carry on the mantle as Singapore’s opposition stronghold.
As they say in Teochew – pak see boh siang kan – get whacked until die, never mind, never give up.
So the Hougang Spirit lifts the people again and again to carry the torch of democracy.
But the flame is fragile. Hougang cannot do it alone.
The rest cannot simply watch and cheer Hougang on. One day, Hougang will fall from the opposition’s hand and be wiped off the electoral map.