Singapore

Bukit Batok by-election rallies: Relaxed, then sparks fly

First day of rallies raises topics like being a full-time MP, Neighbourhood Renewal Project

One gamely did the Gangnam Style dance with a supporter. The other autographed copies of his book.

The People's Action Party's (PAP) Murali Pillai and Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) Dr Chee Soon Juan held their first rallies to fight for the Bukit Batok Single-Member Constituency seat yesterday.

And just like they were on Nomination Day on Wednesday, both candidates appeared relaxed as they made their way to the podiums.

Once there, however, sparks flew as the PAP slammed Dr Chee's track record and plans, while Dr Chee warned the crowd that their future is dire as the Government's policies are not working.

Hot-button issues that have been debated by both candidates over the past few days - becoming a full-time MP, the $1.9 million three-generation park and the Neighbourhood Renewal Project - were brought up again by both candidates and their invited speakers.

Both rallies, which started at about 7pm, were joined by a diverse group of speakers, from Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob to academics, and even residents of Bukit Batok.

The SDP's rally, held at a field at Bukit Batok Industrial Park, drew not just Bukit Batok residents but others who were curious as well - some coming from all the way from the East.

A heavy afternoon downpour made the field muddy, but the cheering crowd was undeterred, and steadily swelled to fill about half the field by 9pm.

The PAP's rally, held at Bukit Gombak Stadium, saw a smaller crowd of vocal supporters dressed in white cheering "PAP" and "Murali" as the rally kicked off.

As the crowd streamed in, Mr Murali appeared upbeat and was even spotted gamely dancing the famous Gangnam Style with a supporter.

They exchanged high-fives before the supporter told Mr Murali: "Make sure you win, defeat Dr Chee!"

Two Bukit Batok residents took to the stage before Mr Murali spoke.

CHILDHOOD SONG

Introducing himself in four languages, he worked the crowd and even burst into several lines of a childhood song halfway though his speech after spotting some friends in the audience.

He said: "My pledge to Bukit Batok residents, I come with a lifetime of experience and lessons learnt from my mentors and my friends. I will work for you with all my heart.

"When there is a clash between my personal interests and Bukit Batok residents' interest, I will always put Bukit Batok first."

The third PAP speaker, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, started her speech with an apology on behalf of the party.

She said: "This by-election is caused by the resignation of a PAP MP. On behalf of the party, we are deeply sorry to have caused this to you.

"But this is something we have to do because PAP is a party that believes in party discipline and setting the right example as role model for lawmakers in Singapore."

Besides lauding Mr Murali's character as sincere, humble and committed, Ms Fu also fired salvos questioning Dr Chee's track record and the SDP's lack of experience running a town council.

She also took a swing at Dr Chee's plans to become a full-time MP without "actually giving up a full-time job".

In her speech, Madam Halimah, MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee, reminded Bukit Batok residents that a by-election was equally important for their futures and urged them to vote for Mr Murali.

She also brought up Dr Chee's actions in the 2001 elections, where he used a megaphone and shouted at then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, describing it as "one of the most shocking experiences of (her) life".

On the SDP stage, emcee and SDP member Jaslyn Go constantly urged the audience to buy SDP's merchandise and books - which include umbrellas, soft toys and flags - to support the party.

Ms Go also said that Dr Chee earned his living from his books and dedicates his time to SDP.

Most in the crowd were there to see Dr Chee, who spoke last and addressed the crowd in Malay, Tamil, Mandarin, Hokkien and English.

Dr Chee spoke about the party's plans for the town council and how a transition team - which includes auditors, estate management experts - has already been formed to ensure a smooth transfer of the town council if they get elected.

The SDP chief lived up to his reputation as a tough speaker, attacking the Government on issues such as ministers' salaries, the Town Council's failed investments in Lehman Brothers products in 2008 and study grants for foreign students.

GENTLE

But he was gentle with his opponent, Mr Murali, calling him a "very decent chap" and told his colleagues and supporters to refrain from personal attacks.

"We can disagree but let us disagree gentlemanly and with civility," he said.

His colleague, National University of Singapore lecturer Dr Wong Souk Yee, called Mr Murali "a nice guy who probably cares for the residents" but questioned if he would be able to speak up for their interests in Parliament.

SDP's line-up also included Professor Paul Tambyah, businessman and Bukit Batok resident Logan Nathan and SDP's 2015 General Election candidate for Bukit Batok, Sadasivam Veriyah.

Dr Chee even spoke up for former Bukit Batok MP David Ong, calling on others to leave him and his family alone.

He said: "You (should) never kick a man when he is down. There is no honour in that... Someone once put it so beautifully: To err is human, to forgive is divine."


ON BEING A FULL-TIME MP

Mr Murali says that you don't have to be a full-time MP to do the job. He's right. If you contract out the running of the town council and if you get all the volunteers to do your work for you... Work part-time, get full-time pay, not bad right?

- Singapore Democratic Party's Dr Chee Soon Juan

Dr Chee hopes to be a full-time MP. But you should note that he's not actually giving up a full-time job. As far as I know he has not held a steady job for many years... I'm not criticising his decision to not hold a full-time job for so long... But the work experience, or the lack of it, is a relevant fact when we consider the credentials of the candidate.

- Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu


ON NEIGHBOURHOOD RENEWAL PROGRAMMES

While the Government provides funds, the conceptualisation, the design, the ideas... All these ideas are proposed not by URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority), it's by the town council. So this is not a URA plan, or an HDB (Housing Board) plan. The funds come from the Government, but the plans and ideas come from the town council. So if SDP does not even understand this, something as basic as the role of the town council, I think the learning curve for them will be very very steep.

- Ms Grace Fu

He was quoted saying that he will have mandate to carry on (with the three-generation park) 'only if we are returned at the by-election'. I find this absolutely appalling. So I called him out...then Mr Murali said that the 1.9 million project is a funding-neutral project. It is not really dependent on whether PAP wins or loses. If we wanted to be nasty about it, we will start attacking Mr Murali, either for being confused or flip-flopping.

- Dr Chee Soon Juan


ON RUNNING TOWN COUNCIL

Already we have formed a transition team that will ensure smooth handover process from the PAP team should we be elected. The team comprises four accountants, three estate managers, six lawyers to help us with this transition phase... In addition, we will not appoint a managing aide as this will add another layer of expenses to the residents.

- Dr Chee Soon Juan

Jurong-Clementi Town Council, if Mr Murali is elected, will function for Bukit Batok from Day One. There will be no disruption to town council operations, no need to transfer sinking funds to another town council, no need to set up a new system.

- Ms Grace Fu

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