New Paper: Drama, delay and protest at Cheng San

ELECTION ’97


One for all: Workers’ Party supporters urging their party on before the results were announced in Cheng San.

JUST one word, said Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, when he arrived at ITE Bishan, the main counting centre for the contentious, all-important Cheng San GRC, at 9pm last night.

Just one word, he said in jest, holding up his index finger, in response to a request from the press.

Of course he obliged with more than a word. But his preface could also have signalled that really, all it took for all that was at stake, for all that Singapore stands for, was just one word from each voter in Cheng San GRC.

Yes, or No.

Yes to everything the PAP had built and plans to build; or no, a slap in the face of reputations – the PM’s and his deputies.

In the floodlit area facing the ITE building, amid the cacophony of conflicting passions, Mohd Razali, 18, had on his cap the letter that would have been scrawled 765,332 times yesterday: X.

X marks the word. And the word from Cheng San voters was yes to the PAP, and yes to the PM.

But was it as simple as that?

DRAMA

Words flew, passionately among both the PAP and WP supporters. There wasn’t much else to do but speculate or pontificate, even agitate.

The almost 6,000 supporters had to grapple with the suspense. The drama came from the passion with which each group tried to shut down the other. And the uncomfortable moments when insults were hurled across barriers.

Cheng San, true to its crucial status, was the last GRC to be decided. It took about six hours before the decision was announced.

DELAY

The supporters, who started streaming in at 8 pm, probably sensed a long night. Armed with drinks and tidbits, mats, radios, and mini-TVs, the two groups became comfortable, each safely within its own sea, separated by barricades 10 steps apart.

The six-hour delay meant time to kill.

Strangers became acquaintances, united for a few hours by a common cause and, for WP supporters, the chance to share their grievances.

“Kiasu” was a word favoured by WP, against the PAP’s more subdued Berjaya (victory, in Malay).

Underdog was another favoured word. “We’re here to prove that underdogs can come out on top,” said one WP supporter, who declined to give his name.

And hate was another. “We hate what they’ve done. That’s why we’re here in force.”

In the PAP half, the word was confidence and the behaviour, composed.

At home, it was frustration for the TV viewers. The second last result, that for Aljunied, was announced at about 1.15 am. Then it was a long wait – about an hour – for the Cheng San result. But there was no word on what was holding up the announcement.

Then at about 1.25 am came a bureaucratic statement from the Election Department. It said: “After the first batch of ballot papers were counted in accordance with legal procedures, a Workers’ Party candidate and two counting agents lodged certain objections which delayed the otherwise smooth progress of the vote counting for Cheng San GRC.”

PROTEST

Protest was the word from WP secretary-general J B Jeyaretnam. It led to the long wait for the final result. “Yes, we have filed a protest,” he said when asked why there was a delay in the announcement of results.

“One particular protest. The Straits Times knows. BG Lee drove in and shook hands with the voters in the compound and he is not a candidate for Cheng San.

“And there were other ministers all around coming in every now and then.”

At 12.55 am, the first sign of a PAP victory could be seen when Mr Jeyaretnam and running mate Tang Liang Hong emerged from the counting office with heads bowed, hands behind their backs.

Was the wait over? Not, as it turned out, for at least another hour.

RESULT

Finally, at 2.20 am, the word was final. “Yes” to the PAP team led by Education Minister Lee Yock Suan, by 53,553 votes; “No” to the PAP: 44,132.

And still there were more words.

Victory, proclaimed Mr Lee. Singaporean, uttered PAP candidate Zainul Abidin Rasheed, in an effort to calm the WP supporters, to remind them that WP or PAP, we are all Singaporeans.

SULK

And Mr Jeyaretnam, who had his running mates sharing at shoulder-distance the stage with the PAP team, had a word pregnant with pretence: Appearances.

“For the time being,” he said, “it would appear that the PAP has won.

“But it’s not the end of the battle because there are a number of things which we have to consider very seriously and perhaps we will present some of these things tomorrow at the press conference.”

He was anxious to get his word in. When the five PAP candidates took turns to speak, he kept asking when they were going to be done so he could speak.

Mr Tang had no word for the English-educated supporters. He spoke in Mandarin, after constantly waving to the WP supporters, who were drowning the PAP speeches with a word of their own:

“Kelong!” they chanted. “Kelong!” they chorused, well after it was all over.

But one word, which perhaps represents the democratic process at its core, came from a 22-year-old Cheng San resident:

“Majority,” said Mr Lim Kah Chye, a technician. “Majority win, what.”

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