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WP stacks its credibility, renewal against PAP

It is fielding 28 candidates; close contest expected for East Coast GRC

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The shadow cast by the financial issues of the WP-run AHPETC has loomed large over the entire campaign. The party has been quick to take the initiative to keep the lid on it.

Singapore

THE Workers' Party (WP) campaign in the General Election reflected its current position as the de facto leader of the Opposition in Singapore, as well as a fight to prove its credibility - both as a party that can provide rational alternatives to existing policies of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), and as a steward of public monies.

The shadow cast by the financial issues of the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) expectedly loomed large over the entire election campaign, given the litany of lapses highlighted in the Auditor-General's Office report on the town council and by the High Court.

Against this backdrop, WP is fielding 28 candidates in Friday's polls, with a close contest expected especially for the East Coast group representative constituency (GRC) against the PAP. In 2011, the team that included Gerald Giam and Png Eng Huat lost, but with a 45.2 per cent vote share. The electoral boundaries of the GRC have now been redrawn, with the Fengshan ward carved out.

The WP team in Aljunied - comprising party leaders - meanwhile will try to retain their seats in Parliament as representatives of the five-member GRC.

On Wednesday, WP chief Low Thia Khiang again called for a more balanced Parliament. He took pains to introduce all the WP candidates in Mandarin at the final rally at Bedok Stadium, praising the credentials of candidates such as Leon Perera. He also highlighted the diversity and analytical strength of the candidates.

Closing the campaign in the tradition of past elections, WP chairman Sylvia Lim led the team and the crowd in a recital of the national pledge.

The party had been quick to take the initiative to keep the lid on the AHPETC issue. In its first rally, the Aljunied GRC incumbents took the AHPETC issue by its horns, and said the town council had "turned the corner".

Pritam Singh went further during WP's first rally at Hougang - which Mr Low described in his Teochew speech as his marital home - and charged that the design of town councils was a "political tool" to arrest support for the opposition. This stance was reiterated by WP candidates during the hustings.

This week, Ms Lim charged that the PAP used civil servants to "nail down" the opposition.

Old numbers also got a fresh twist, giving the AHPETC saga a new spin. There were barbs traded between WP and PAP over Hougang, and whether the ward reported a deficit position when it was merged into the Aljunied ward in 2011.

Then, the two parties split hairs over the financial position of Punggol East in 2013. Mr Low this week refuted a statement made last month by PAP's Charles Chong that Punggol East had a surplus before it became part of AHPETC after a by-election. Mr Chong, who is contesting in Punggol East, told the media that Punggol East had a surplus of approximately S$1 million. WP's Mr Low challenged this, and said the Punggol East town council had a S$280,000 deficit.

WP issued a late statement to say a flyer stating that the sinking fund of S$22.5 million which was transferred to AHPETC is "now unaccounted for" is "incorrect and a malicious attempt at discrediting the Workers' Party". WP also said that Mr Chong's statement on Wednesday evening that WP misquoted him was "misleading".

Ms Lim on Wednesday called this "unfinished business".

Even as the fierce exchanges over the town council issue went on, WP sought to brand itself as a "rational and responsible" Opposition - something echoed by many WP candidates from the get-go.

The party introduced its new candidates before Nomination Day in clockwork fashion, and several were eager to underscore the point that the party did not oppose for the mere sake of opposition.

The campaign theme - "Empower Your Future" - pushed the line that Singaporeans should break out of a system where the government would "cast a long shadow over every aspect of life", as Mr Low put it.

WP candidates cited many proposals in the party's manifesto, with national minimum wage, and zero growth in foreign workers the most talked-about policy alternatives to the PAP. The minimum wage proposal sparked a lively exchange with the PAP, which said it would hurt companies and reduce jobs.

Mr Giam then said late into the campaign that it was the government that was causing pain to businesses by tightening foreign labour "suddenly".

The party's biggest claim is that it had forced the government to be more responsive to voters by winning a GRC for the first time in 2011, following up with a call for its position as the opposition to be entrenched in Parliament.

This started a competition over analogies, with Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong comparing the WP to a rooster "boasting that its crowing causes the sun to rise".

WP's Yee Jenn Jong, who is contesting in Marine Parade GRC against the PAP's Mr Goh, retorted: "The rooster does not crow to make the sun rise. It crows because it is morning and it's time to wake up."

And if WP is a gambling ship - as ESM Goh called them - then PAP is the doomed Titanic, argued Mr Low.

As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for voters to support PAP candidates, including those who would make up the next slate of ministers, WP also sought to evoke a sense of urgency over party renewal.

Ms Lim elevated the issue to one of national importance, as she warned that the PAP may fail. Buy some insurance against that, she said, and "build up another party which can take over if the PAP fails".

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