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Political parties go into overdrive during busy weekend

Controversial town council saga involving the WP continues to dominate hustings

Mr Tharman used his first rally speech of the campaign on Saturday to respond to policy proposals put forth by some opposition parties.


DURING the only full weekend of the ongoing nine-day election campaign, tens of thousands of Singaporeans thronged 12 different stadiums and open fields for rallies by seven different political parties.

Throughout Saturday and Sunday, most of the 181 candidates involved in the general election (GE) were out and about from dawn to dusk as they stepped up the pace to meet and greet as many residents as possible.

The usual issues such as immigration, healthcare and the cost of living cropped up during the debates and discussions at the various venues, but one topic - the controversial town council saga involving the Workers' Party (WP) - continued to dominate the hustings.

Just when it seemed that the opposition party had made clear its intention not to dwell on the matter any further, it was WP chief Low Thia Khiang who launched into a fierce tirade over this very issue at a rally on Saturday night.

He charged that the People's Action Party (PAP) had handed over the Punggol East town council with a S$282,000 deficit after the WP won the 2013 by-election. At one point, he even held up a page of the accounts that indicated this amount to back up his claims.

On Sunday morning, the PAP's Zainal Sapari - a candidate for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC - explained that the same set of accounts showed a S$303,372 amount claimable from a community improvement fund, which would result in a net surplus of over S$21,000. Mr Low, however, did not mention this point during his speech at the rally in Punggol.

Also weighing in was Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who revealed that the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council had handed S$22.5 million in cash to the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council after the by-election.

Mr Teo stressed that it was the WP's duty to answer to the residents whether that sum of money - including sinking funds and project funds - had been properly accounted for.

At the WP's rally on Sunday night, Mr Low reasserted that Punggol East had an operating deficit of over S$280,000 in April 2013 and said he was waiting for the PAP's response.

Meanwhile, Singapore's other deputy prime minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, used his first rally speech of the campaign on Saturday to respond to policy proposals - everything from a minimum wage to free healthcare and a monthly cash allowance for seniors - put forth by some opposition parties.

Mr Tharman, a candidate for Jurong GRC where he is leading the PAP's five-member team, urged voters to look past the "false promises" and recognise the immense burden it would cause on the average Singaporean.

There hasn't been a country that has succeeded in providing something for every citizen without raising taxes for the middle-income group, noted Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister.

He said that the government was starting on its new path - to maximise opportunities, have a fair system in place and giving a fair deal to the middle class - from a position of strength.

Singaporeans can be optimistic because the country is starting off with reserves, not debts, and he added that the current society was one where people could come together despite their differences.

The perennial hot-button issues of foreigners and employment also came to the fore over the busy weekend.

John Tan, a Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) candidate for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, wanted to see Singapore implement a citizens-first employment policy.

"We are not against foreigners who can contribute to our talent pool. We are against the indiscriminate opening of the employment floodgate," said Mr Tan, a social psychologist.

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan also joined his colleagues in accusing the government of not doing enough to manage the influx of immigrants.

"(We) understand that Singapore needs new immigrants. The question is how do we manage the flow of immigrants. The way the PAP has handled the matter thus far has been disappointing," he said.

He likened the problem to that of a lifeboat: if everyone jumped on board at the same time, the boat would sink. But if done in an orderly fashion, the boat would be able to accommodate everyone safely.

The WP's Daniel Goh, a university sociologist and candidate for East Coast GRC, said on Saturday that economic growth fuelled by foreign workers benefited only the top 10 per cent of the population.

This led to a sharp rebuttal the next day from one of his opponents in that very GRC, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, who described Dr Goh's view as "completely wrong".

"When wage increases, when there is low unemployment, when we create better career opportunities, it is not only for the top 10 per cent," said Mr Lim, a former labour chief. "Whatever manpower policy that we have, including foreign worker policy, must make sure it serves the interests of low-wage workers, PMEs (professionals, managers and executives) and back-to-work women."

The PAP and SDP candidates gunning for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC traded barbs over the opposition party's numerous alternative proposals, including one that plans to nearly halve the country's annual defence budget.

Christopher de Souza, one of the PAP's incumbents, described the idea as naive, dangerous and opportunistic, adding that such a plan, if realised, would jeopardise Singapore's sovereignty.

There are a total of 10election rallies scheduled to take place on Monday, the highest number of the campaign so far. This includes the first lunchtime rally at UOB Plaza in Raffles Place, which the SDP is organising from noon to 2pm.

In the evening, the PAP is holding three rallies, while the WP, SDP, Singaporeans First, Singapore Democratic Alliance, National Solidarity Party and People's Power Party are having one each.