Now that the rallies are over and the rather awkward “Cooling-Off Day” is set to take place in less than an hour, it seems a good time for the Hougang voter to consider the numerous issues that have been raised in the by-election hustings.
Local election, or national election?
Can an election that affects approximately 24,000 voters, less than 2% of the population who were eligible to vote in the last General Election, possibly just be considered “local”? A Deputy Prime Minister of the PAP government, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, seems to think so. He urged the voters during the introduction of his party’s candidate, Desmond Choo, not to “trivialize” the election process and to vote for the party who has stayed behind to help the residents instead of a party whose MP had run away in the face of allegations of adultery, Yaw Shin Leong.
Non-constituency MP Gerald Giam, however, who is also one of the members who have actively been assisting with WP candidate Png Eng Huat’s campaign, believes that for a country like Singapore it is “impossible” not to talk about national issues regardless of the size of the election, simply because Hougang is not a “small town” relative to the rest of the country. “If the People’s Action Party (PAP) government does not want to talk about national issues, then very well, we will,” he said to the cheering crowd who attended WP’s first rally last Saturday.
But national issues inevitably crept up in the discussions, even for the PAP: in this evening’s rally Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan spoke about the difficulty of “pleasing everybody”, with some people wishing flat prices were lower, while some warned him that flat prices cannot go down. He also spoke about the track record of the PAP, and how they have managed to keep the country afloat amid the economic crises engulfing Europe and the USA.
What exactly should an MP do?
A recent online article spoke about the dilemma that the Singapore voter faces during an election: he or she would preferably have an MP who can “provide” for his or her constituents, in terms of providing “carrots” such as lift upgrading or other facilities. But the MP must also be a significant (and independent) voice in Parliament. These are often perceived to be mutually exclusive characteristics. The Hougang voter might look at Desmond Choo’s short, but significant, record in the constituency and think about how he might be just as good an MP at “providing” compared to a competing MP. But given that he serves the ruling PAP – the party who have dominated since Singapore’s independence – it might be difficult for voters to imagine how he can be “independent” yet toe the party line at the same time.
The voter who wants a voice that can raise national issues in Parliament may hence find it hard to vote for the PAP, especially when former MP Yu-Foo Yee Shoon spoke during the rally just this evening and contended that the role of an MP is really too keep the constituency clean (which, she also contends, the PAP has done a significantly good job).
But the MP leaves the day-to-day management of the town council to a facilities management firm – he or she is not actively involved in the cleaning and maintenance of the constituency. If anything, the MP personally can take very little credit for the spruceness of his district. This would seem to render Mdm Yu-Foo’s statements invalid.
Democracy – and how each party interprets it
WP continually emphasised in their final rally that democracy is all about “the people’s choice”, which is probably closest to the what the Greeks originally intended the word demos kratos to mean. While the ordinary person also understands the word democracy in this manner, it was rather strange to attend the final PAP rally this evening to catch Education Minister Heng Swee Keat explain, in Mandarin, that democracy really means good governance. Even for the staunchest of PAP supporters, the misconstruing of the two terms must surely be too far-fetched.
The NCMP issue of “dishonesty”
While it may be true – especially when one observes the history of several elections – that the NCMP position is often ridiculed by the opposition but often much desired after the election, the issue of “dishonesty” by Png Eng Huat may seem to be rather unfair in the eyes of WP supporters. DPM Teo Chee Hean’s allegation that WP has not been honest that it hasn’t put its best man forward seems legitimate on the surface but his position becomes untenable when one considers this: despite Png being the “third choice” with just one person expressing support for him to be NCMP, the “first” and “second” choices, Yee Jenn Jong and Gerald Giam, are already in Parliament. Surely the next best man to step forward for such a position would then be the “third” choice…?
DPM Teo was conspicuously left out of the lineup of speakers in Desmond Choo’s final rally at the Hougang Stadium, and some might think that perhaps even the PAP realizes that his accusations of dishonesty might have gone too far.
Hougang grassroots: WP against the People’s Association?
The role of the People’s Association (PA) has been controversial, and came to a head soon after GE 2011. Desmond Choo, in an instated role of grassroots adviser in the Hougang constituency for PA, claimed that the PA has had difficulties applying for permits to hold grassroots events in Hougang. The spat between the PA and the WP have led some to question the PA’s political neutrality – and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong only served to fuel the controversy when he said that grassroots advisers have “to be somebody who can work with the Government and help the Government achieve its goals on the ground”.
How will the voter perceive the apparent political advantage of the PA that is wielded by the PAP? It seems highly possible, at least for the WP supporter, that this depicts a gross injustice against WP, and will only serve to strengthen his or her resolve to support Png. But it could also be interpreted by the fatigued swing voter that the only way such controversies will end is to vote for the PAP.
Come 26 May…
We hope that through this article, for the Hougang voter, that we have identified the crucial issues that have emerged throughout the last year and during the by-election hustings. Hopefully this will provide a well-rounded perspective on which candidate in Hougang the voter should choose.