Straits Times: Election fever hits some opposition parties

Recruitment drives and ward visits stepped up; PAP takes note

BY AZHAR KHALID AND SUE-ANN CHIA

ELECTION fever appears to have infected some opposition parties, with symptoms such as more intense ground activities recruitment drives for candidates.

And this has not gone undetected by the men and women in white.

The Straits Times understands that a confidential People’s Action Party report circulated to its MPs early this year had commented on how opposition activities “have intensified”.

The National Solidarity Party (NSP), for instance, started gearing up for election late last year, said Mr Steve Chia, a Non-Constituency MP and central executive committee member.

“We knew then that there was going to be a political handover and the new prime minister could call for an early election,” he said.

While he is now expecting it to be called after the presidential polls next September, the NSP is not taking any chances. It has been holding almost monthly tea receptions to reach out to potential members and stepped up constituency visits to once a week recently.

Mr Chia said the areas targeted are those which were contested by the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) – a grouping of opposition parties which includes NSP – in the 2001 polls.

These are: Chua Chu Kang, Bukit Timah, Jalan Besar GRC and Tampines GRC.

But he lamented that it has been difficult to sustain the pace of visits due to a lack of resources and manpower.

The leader of SDA and veteran Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong said that likely changes in electoral boundaries made planning difficult.

Still, his Singapore People’s Party announced on its recently revamped website that it was looking for new candidates and volunteers.

As for Mr Chiam himself, the 69-year-old said he is not retiring and is focused on retaining Potong Pasir, which he has held since 1984.

A third member of the four-member SDA, the Singapore Malay National Organisation (PKMS), has been a lot quieter, with the party content to wait for directions from Mr Chiam, said party president Borhan Ariffin.

Over at the Workers’ Party (WP), members have been pounding the streets, almost on a weekly basis.

According to the information posted on its website, it has conducted close to 100 visits, covering 17 constituencies ranging from its Hougang stronghold, helmed by its chief and MP Low Thia Khiang, to wards led by heavyweight ministers.

These include Ang Mo Kio GRC, which is headed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and Sembawang GRC, led by Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan.

Aljunied seems to be a target Group Representation Constituency (GRC) for the WP.

It has made 17 visits there so far, 11 of which were to areas in Hougang, which fall within the GRC’s boundaries.

As the GRC surrounds Mr Low’s Hougang ward, the aim is to make campaigning easier for the party should there be electoral boundary changes before the next polls.

Next on the WP’s target list: Jalan Besar GRC, which it has visited 16 times, 10 of which have been in the Geylang Bahru area.

But party executive council member Yaw Shin Leong would not confirm if such activities, started soon after the 2001 polls, have escalated recently. He was equally coy about the nature of these visits.

Instead, he referred The Straits Times to its website, which has a notice for volunteers to help out in ground campaigns in the east which it plans to ramp up.

The website also shows pictures of WP members – including top office-bearers like Mr Low and chairman Sylvia Lim – out and about on various activities, including door-to-door visits, market and food centre tours, and selling or distributing party flyers and newsletters.

Unlike the WP, some opposition parties, such as the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), have not revved up their election engines.

Assistant secretary-general Wong Hong Toy said that the party has not called a central executive committee meeting since party chief Chee Soon Juan returned in mid-September after months abroad.

Said Mr Wong: “Nothing has been discussed. So far, party activities on the ground have been on an ad-hoc basis.”

But he insisted that the SDP is prepared if elections are called early.

Straits Times: Lack of challenge PAP’s doing, counters WP chief

WORKERS’ Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang responded yesterday to Minister Lim Swee Say’s remarks that he had not been challenged by the opposition during the 1997 and 2001 General Elections.

Mr Low, the MP for Hougang, said in a statement last night that such a situation was a result of the ruling party’s own doing.

He also challenged a point Mr Lim made at a forum with young Singaporeans on Thursday night – that there is a level playing field here for the opposition parties.

Mr Lim, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and MP for Holland-Bukit Panjang GRC, said during the forum that it was not his fault that he had never been challenged at the polls.

The implementation of Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) and the redrawing of electoral boundaries were not aimed at reducing the opposition’s chances of contesting elections, he added.

But in his statement, Mr Low said the “constant expansion” of the GRCs resulted in the opposition being unable to muster enough resources and manpower to keep up.

The redrawing of boundaries just before polls also made it hard for them to prepare, and laws restricting political donations made the difficulties they already faced in raising money worse, he added.

Such rules, which he said Mr Lim professed to be fair, weaken the opposition’s ability to compete, the WP chief said.

“This results in many citizens not having the opportunity to vote at General Elections and PAP candidates subsequently getting the ‘mandate’ to enter Parliament,” Mr Low said. This is especially apparent in GRCs.

“Is this by chance? Is this the result of the so-called fair competitive environment, the will of the people or the will of the opposition parties?” he asked.

“I can’t speak for all opposition parties, but I can say at least that this is not the fault of the Workers’ Party.”

He said his party had worked to ensure that there was a robust political system here, providing checks and balances to the Government and, by so doing, protected the people’s interest.