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SDP's Tambyah, PSP's Cheng Bock rue lack of room to engage, debate PAP

Dr Tambyah: "We need to engage on the issues, rather than the name-calling and using dubious laws like Pofma."


IT IS a shame that the ruling party is not more open to discussing opposing viewpoints, several opposition leaders said on Wednesday as the nine-day campaign for Singapore's general elections drew to a close.

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chairman Paul Tambyah said that his "biggest regret" this election is the People's Action Party's (PAP) "inability to engage on issues".

Speaking to reporters during a visit to Bukit Panjang, where he is contesting, the infectious diseases specialist said: "We need to engage on the issues, rather than the name-calling and using dubious laws like Pofma (the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act), and things like that. So if there's one thing I would change, it would be to actually have a debate."

Dr Tambyah's comments over the PAP government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in migrant worker dormitories have resulted in correction directions issued by the Pofma office to several media outlets that published his statements.

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Dr Tambyah and Progress Singapore Party (PSP) chief Tan Cheng Bock had offered to debate with the PAP on appropriate responses to the pandemic, but the latter did not oblige.

Dr Tan is a medical doctor and a former PAP parliamentarian.

"Dr Tan and I offered to debate with Minister Chan Chun Sing, and then he wanted to know what we were going to say. This is... so typical of the PAP," Dr Tambyah said with a laugh, while addressing reporters at Fajar on Wednesday. "It's like, you know, I'm going into a football game and I want to know the opposing team's line-up and their strategy and how they're going to attack us."

Both Dr Tambyah and Dr Tan had made public their disagreement with the government's move to call for an election amid the pandemic.

While acknowledging that his team has run a "really outstanding" campaign despite atypical restrictions, Dr Tambyah is not optimistic about the outcome.

A majority of voters would probably not have seen any of the party's materials, he said.

The SDP was the first political party to launch its manifesto - in September 2019. Among other things, it has been campaigning to suspend a planned increase to the goods and services tax and for retrenchment benefits.

The party, which is fielding 11 candidates for the polls, was out in full force on Wednesday covering extensive ground across Bukit Batok, Yuhua, Bukit Timah, Bukit Panjang and Marsiling.

Party chief Chee Soon Juan said that he hoped that everyone can pay attention to real issues in this last hurrah. "(There are) these issues going forward, it concerns you, and you're not going to be able to address any of these issues if you keep paying attention to mudslinging," noted Dr Chee.

Over in West Coast GRC, PSP's Dr Tan said that he felt "very sad" for Singapore that there is little room for policies to be thoroughly debated.

"I think a debate is important, honestly, because it reveals how we may be wrong in some areas, they may be also wrong in certain areas. I always believe we must have a platform so we can talk. There is no need to say, if you are not with me, you are against me," he added.

Dr Tan, who is leading PSP's West Coast team, spoke to reporters while on an evening walkabout in Clementi on Wednesday. "I am very sad for this country. We are not talking… If you throw statements at us, what can we do?"

Although it was set up a year ago, PSP is fielding the largest opposition slate with 24 candidates.

When asked to comment on his odds in West Coast, Dr Tan seemed more upbeat than Dr Tambyah. "We all fight to win, why will you fight to lose? So we feel we have a good chance, judging by the ground reception and the vibe we got from residents. I hope we'll do well," he said.

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