TODAY: It’s no joke

Elections 2001

WP’s James Gomez falls at the first hurdle

by Zackaria Abdul Rahim and Francis Kan

WHEN he first said he was contesting the elections, it turned out to be an April Fool’s joke.

But, it seemed that political activist James Gomez (picture) was serious this time around when he was announced as a new candidate of the Workers’ Party.

And, the word was that he would help to realise his party’s dream of winning a GRC.

He had also coined the catchy phrase “New Poor” which was set to be his campaign platform.

All this came to an end yesterday, when the nomination papers that he and his fellow candidates who were vying for the Aljunied GRC were rejected on technical grounds. It was the only team the Opposition had fielded for a GRC that was rejected.

Explaining this, Returning Officer Tan Boon Huat of the Elections Department said the papers were invalid because when delivered, they contained blanks where the candidates were required to state the electoral division they were qualified to stand in.

WP’s secretary-general, Mr Low Thia Khiang, called it “an oversight” and took “full responsibility” for it.

Mr Gomez told reporters how they had tried to remedy the situation by writing in the electoral division that they were standing in. But, this was rejected because they had to be reaffirmed before a Commissioner of Oaths. Mr Gomez criticised the stringent electoral process.

“We wanted to remedy on the spot … we called a lawyer who is a Commissioner of Oaths to rush down,” said Mr Gomez.

But, he said, it was already 12.20pm and the Returning Officer declined his request to extend the deadline.

Mr Tan said: “Everyone knows that they have 11 to 12 o’clock to file the proper documents, there’s no leeway for extension,” he said.

Mr Gomez said “the whole process of recourse was absent”.

Here again, the law is clear. Mr Tan said that returning officers, by law, cannot advise candidates on how to fill out their nomination forms.

When TODAY pointed out that if the candidates were serious enough, they should also double-check that their papers are in order, Mr Low said: “We do … nevertheless, this is an oversight.”

And, that seems to be the mystery of it all. If the nomination papers for WP candidates in Nee Soon East and Hougang – Dr Poh Lee Guan and Mr Low – were in order, why then were these five nomination papers for Aljunied GRC defective?

“We have done our best but we are not perfect,” said Mr Low who had sent a letter of appeal to the Elections Department.

On this, Mr Tan said: “I (had) replied saying that I had no powers to entertain any appeal.”

Besides Aljunied GRC, the Workers’ Party had also indicated interest in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

So, was it a last-minute decision to contest in Aljunied, thereby explaining the blank space in the declaration form?

“It is not a last-minute decision at all,” said Mr Low, and raising his voice, he added: “Certainly it was not made this morning.”

When asked for his comment at a separate press conference, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said: “I don’t know the whole story but I found the whole team was disqualified. I don’t know if it’s another of those April Fool’s jokes.”

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