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ESM Goh urges cool heads before vote, national unity after

Mr Goh said he was heartened that there has been robust contest in the current election


EMERITUS Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong put on the elder statesman hat on the last day of electoral campaigning on Wednesday as he reflected on the importance of choosing the next set of leaders and on maintaining unity after the polls.

"At this stage in the campaign, we want to cool down temperatures, get people to focus on the day after the election," Mr Goh said at a press conference with the People's Action Party's (PAP) other candidates for the five-member Marine Parade group representation constituency.

Mr Goh, who has been a Member of Parliament since 1976 and was Prime Minister from 1990 to 2004, shared his experience in past elections.

The most important task after the elections are over is to rebuild national consensus, he said. Mr Goh compared the voting community to a piece of fabric that the different political parties tug at during the elections.

"In election times, who pulls that piece of fabric? ... The PAP says it's mine, I've been in charge of this fabric for so many years. It's mine. Other parties will say, it's not yours, I want to have a share of it."

That conflict is healthy for a democracy during elections, but must be toned down after the polls, he said.

"The day after, life goes on. You've got to rebuild consensus," Mr Goh said, adding that it typically takes about a year for the country to move on from the last election.

He said he was heartened that there has been robust contest in the current election, and that the race and religion cards have not been played as campaign strategies. If Singapore's democratic system forces all parties to raise their standards and pick quality candidates, that will benefit all.

"Then our system is robust," he said.

But Mr Goh, who could not help throwing in a bit of campaign rhetoric, stopped short of giving Singapore's democratic system a rousing endorsement, saying that his judgement still hinged on the outcome of the elections.

For the system to work, the people must be able to discern "between fact and rhetoric", Mr Goh said.

Mr Goh's comments came amid intense campaigning in the eastern districts, where polling outcomes were close in the last election in 2011.

Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, who is anchoring the PAP's team in Marine Parade, said it is important for Singapore's leaders to keep the country relevant, to avoid short-termism and to be able to translate values into action.

On the Workers' Party's statement that it would be able to manage the Marine Parade Town Council, Mr Tan stressed that running the Town Council is a complex matter that extends beyond just dollars and cents, and remarked that residents can decide for themselves who would best manage their district.

Mr Tan also said that the team decided to forgo rallies in favour of walking the neighbourhoods so that the candidates could directly engage with residents.

"We felt that opportunity to just connect with our residents was important," he said.

Mr Goh shared that, following his interaction with residents during his campaign walks, he has advised the team to do more to improve private estates, for example by improving elder access.

Mr Goh's underlying message for the country was to think rationally, and with a long-term view, about selecting its next set of leaders.

On Thursday, when Cooling Off Day rules ban parties from campaigning, voters should "cool down the temperature, listen to all the arguments, examine the candidates from all parties, and then decide for yourself".

The election takes place on Friday.


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