TODAY: New NCMP Lim says GE was a step forward

TEO HWEE NAK
DEPUTY NEWS EDITOR
hweenak@newstoday.com.sg

IN A country where Opposition parties hover only on the fringe of society and politics, the Workers’ Party (WP) is experiencing a revival.

Even though the party failed to capture more than Hougang at the polls, the WP is harvesting the seeds it started sowing in the 2001 General Election (GE).

In the days since the last votes were counted, the party has been pleasantly surprised at the email requests – numbering more than 100 – from Singaporeans wanting to join the party.

It is no wonder WP chairman Sylvia Lim, who was yesterday officially declared a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, called GE2006 “a watershed election – a sign of better things to come”.

Speaking to Today in an interview, the 40-year-old law lecturer said: “I expect the WP to grow. We will definitely make significant progress. Because of the people we had this round as candidates, I think it has inspired many others, especially younger people, to come forward.

“In a sense, it affirms that taking part in Opposition politics is something that will be soon accepted as a way of life, something normal.”

So as it winds down from the GE frenzy, the party is shifting to high gear on its road to renewal. On the agenda is a review of the organisational structure to put in more responsive structures to cope with bigger numbers.

The party is also considering bringing forward its council election to this year, even though it is not due until next year.

“Many of our newer members have leadership potential and they can certainly be put to good use. We need to find ways and projects to give them exposure to let them show what they are made of,” said Ms Lim. “We have to keep up the potential to try to give opportunities for people to grow within WP, to find that they can make contributions. That’s where people will feel valued and they will stay.”

One impetus for the party’s renewal drive is its crop of younger candidates, whom Ms Lim calls “the next wave”. Thirteen of its 20 candidates were from the post-Independence generation – born after 1965.

“I think to a certain extent the younger generation has also plugged in to what we’ve been doing because they also see younger faces among us. Once you see people of your age group, you tend to be more interested in what’s going on,” she said.

“It augurs well for subsequent elections because we can clearly see that we’ve got people in their 20s and 30s who are prepared and are capable of taking on leadership positions in the party as well.”

During the campaign period, Ms Lim had announced that the “long-term aims” of the party was to contest in more than half the seats available in future elections. Yesterday, she said that it could happen as soon as the next election, if the momentum is kept up.

In the eyes of many, the WP has already emerged a clear Opposition leader in Singapore, next to the Singapore Democratic Alliance – which is reliant on the popularity of 71-year-old Chiam See Tong, who has yet to embark on a renewal drive – and a splintered Singapore Democratic Party dogged by lawsuits and controversies.

Wards contested by the WP monopolised all the top positions in terms of performance among the Opposition in both GRCs and SMCs. Wherever it stood, the percentage of the spoilt votes was also the smallest, as compared to the two wards contested by the Singapore Democratic Party on the other end of the scale. This, according to the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies’ Dr Terence Chong, is a clear indication that voters in those constituencies were less likely to be in a dilemma because of the quality of the candidates.

National University of Singapore political scientist Kenneth Paul Tan added: “The WP candidates … conducted themselves most admirably during the campaign period, not taking the bait during the more difficult moments but standing firm on their principles and responding calmly,” he said.

Not at all coy about the party’s ambitions, Ms Lim said candidly that there is “no point in having a plethora of small parties”.

She added: “I think it’s our responsibility to build up the party, it is more so that it can be a serious counter point to the PAP. So long as the Opposition remains a fragmented bunch of small parties, the PAP is happy with this because there’s no real challenge. But once there is a party that is emerging in strength, it can exert political pressure on the PAP on its own.”

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Straits Times: Gomez saga: Police quiz WP chief

They wanted to know why Gomez applied for a minority certificate, says Low Thia Khiang

BY PEH SHING HUEI & KEN KWEK

POLICE officers yesterday interviewed Workers’ Party secretary-general Low Thia Khiang at his Hougang office for more than three hours in connection with the James Gomez affair.

Two plain clothes officers who emerged from the Hougang Town Council office at 6.25pm told The Straits Times they were there to interview the Hougang MP-elect but did not provide other details.

Police said in a separate statement that they were investigating “a complaint from the Elections Department against Mr James Gomez for alleged offences of criminal intimidation and providing false information”.

“Police have interviewed several persons, including Elections Department officials, Mr James Gomez and Ms Sylvia Lim,” the statement said of the probe by the Criminal Investigation Department.

Mr Gomez has been at the centre of a controversy with the department over his non-submission of a minority candidate certificate.

Mr Low confirmed that police had a 3pm appointment with him to provide a statement as a witness in the case.

“They wanted to know what I told James as secretary-general of the party,” he told The Straits Times.

“For instance, why he went to apply for a minority certificate. And also what I previously said to the press – that this was a mistake, that it was not something James purposely did, and it was not an intentional kind of thing.”

He also told the officers that he had made it known previously that it has been standing practice in the party that non-Chinese candidates likely to be standing for election must apply for a minority certificate.

He told members “long ago” to do this, and he had also said the same thing before the 2001 General Election.

“There was also an election seminar which I held some time last year,” he said, referring to an internal party event. “I told them, and James Gomez was present, that all of you (non-Chinese) should go and apply.”

He said the complaint by the department against Mr Gomez was possibly for “criminal intimidation of a public servant”.

Mr Gomez became a focal point of last week’s election campaign, after claiming he submitted a minority candidate certificate to the department. When a security camera recording showed he did not hand in his form, he said he was “distracted” and apologised. But People’s Action Party leaders said the apology was inadequate.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng issued an 11-page statement detailing how Mr Gomez “stage-managed” the incident to damage the Government and discredit the Elections Department.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew called Mr Gomez a liar and challenged him and the WP leadership to sue him if that was untrue.

Mr Gomez was stopped from leaving the country on Sunday afternoon and taken to the Police Cantonment Complex where he was questioned for nearly eight hours. He was heading back to Sweden to resume work at the Stockholm-based think-tank, International IDEA.

Yesterday, Mr Gomez appeared relaxed when he visited the Hougang Town Council office with Ms Lim, who is the WP chairman. He said he was taking things in stride and waiting for the next development. He is unable to travel as his passport has been impounded and has not been told when or whether police intend to interview him again.

Ms Lim, who led the WP’s team which included Mr Gomez that contested Aljunied GRC, was also interviewed on Sunday for about three hours as a witness in the case.

Mr Low said he was not aware of any other WP members being called up by the police.

The police statement yesterday said that “no arrest has been made and no persons detained in police custody. The police are in the process of reviewing the evidence and interviewing all relevant persons”.

shpeh@sph.com.sg
kenkwek@sph.com.sg

Posted in 2006 05. Comments Off on Straits Times: Gomez saga: Police quiz WP chief

Sunday Times: NCMP post likely to go to Sylvia Lim

LAW lecturer Sylvia Lim, who led the Workers’ Party’s team in Aljunied GRC to the best opposition performance this year, looks set to be the next Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP).

Ms Lim, 41, and her four teammates – Mr Tan Wui-Hua, 39, Mohammed Rahizan Yaacob, 49, Mr Goh Meng Seng, 36, and Mr James Gomez, 40 – obtained 43.9 per cent of the vote in the hotly contested GRC.

That made them the best-performing losers in this year’s general election, and eligible to be offered an NCMP seat. If offered, the team will have to decide who should take it up.

Ms Lim and her team lost to the People’s Action Party (PAP) team of Foreign Minister George Yeo, 51, Ms Cynthia Phua, 47, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, 45, Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, 58, and Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, 47, who won 56.1 per cent of the vote.

Technically, any member of the WP’s Aljunied team can take up the NCMP offer. But as de facto leader of the team, Ms Lim looks the most likely candidate. But she was non-committal when asked by The Sunday Times last night, replying via an SMS message: “We’ll think about it.”

The NCMP scheme allows the top opposition losers at the polls to become MPs but without representing any particular constituency.

Mr Steve Chia of the Singapore Democratic Alliance took up the NCMP position in 2001 after emerging as the top loser in that year’s polls, with 34.7 per cent of votes in Chua Chu Kang.

Yesterday, Mr Chia failed in his third attempt to win a seat in Parliament. He was defeated in Chua Chu Kang by the PAP’s Mr Gan Kim Yong, 47, who took 60.4 per cent of vote.

Mr Chia’s performance was the second-best among the top losers in the opposition slate with 39.6 per cent. But the 35-year-old businessman said last night he was quitting politics.

“The main thing that’s on my mind is to find a good job and take care of my family,” he said.

Channel NewsAsia: WP wins Hougang, loses contests in 3 GRCs and 3 SMEs

SINGAPORE VOTES 2006

By Dominique Loh


Opposition leaders Low Thia Khiang (L) and Sylvia Lim (R) of Workers’ Party

SINGAPORE: The Workers’ Party had the best showing among the opposition parties in the General Election 2006.

It garnered 16.34 percent of the valid votes – a sharp improvement over its 2.7 percent showing in the 2001 elections.

The party challenged three Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) and four Single Member Constituencies (SMCs), but was only able to win its stronghold of Hougang, held by incumbent Low Thia Khiang.

Despite having lost all their contests, save one, the Workers’ Party teams were cheered by supporters when they turned up their gathering centre in Yio Chu Kang Stadium.

Its Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang retained Hougang with 62 percent of the valid votes, despite the PAP’s pledge of a $100 million upgrading plan for the constituency if its candidate Eric Low was elected.

The WP team that contested Aljunied GRC had the best showing among all the opposition parties, garnering 43.9 percent of the votes.

Ms Sylvia Lim, Workers’ Party candidate for Aljunied GRC, said: “I think the showing is a credible one, of course in your heart you sometimes harbour hopes that you might win but we know that winning a GRC is not an easy thing, so I think we are quite satisfied.”

During the hustings, the Aljunied team was at the centre of a controversy involving the non-submission of a minority candidate certificate form by one of its members, James Gomez.

He has been accused of discrediting the Elections Department by claiming that he had submitted the certificate but was caught on security camera putting the form away in his bag.

Over at East Coast, its team bowed out to the PAP slate – taking only 36 percent of the votes.

And its team for Ang Mo Kio GRC received only 33.3 percent of the votes – losing to the PAP team anchored by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Despite the losses, Mr Low Thia Khiang is keeping up a brave front.

He said: “For the Workers’ Party with the results and the election, even with 33 percent in Ang Mo Kio, it shows that we have a bright future and with the renewal process it’s carrying on, I believe we are on the right track.”

In other single seats, the Workers’ Party failed to win Joo Chiat – with its candidate losing to the PAP’s Chan Soo Sen with only 35 percent of the votes.

Its candidate Lian Chin Way secured only 34.6 percent of the votes in Nee Soon Central, losing to PAP’s Ong Ah Heng.

Its candidate for Nee Soon East, Dr Poh Lee Guan, also lost to the PAP’s candidate Ho Peng Kee – taking only 31.2 percent of the valid votes. – CNA/de/ls

Posted in 2006 05. Comments Off on Channel NewsAsia: WP wins Hougang, loses contests in 3 GRCs and 3 SMEs

Weekend TODAY: Near D-Day, East Coast candidates emphasise different issues

GE2006

DERRICK A PAULO
derrick@newstoday.com.sg

THE final fusillade between the People’s Action Party (PAP) and the Workers’ Party (WP) teams in East Coast was fired on Friday as campaigning drew to a close.

Incumbent anchor Minister S Jayakumar issued his third press statement to counter his opponents’ comments about upgrading in the area, whose boundaries have shifted for this General Election.

The shifts have not inflated the PAP’s figures on upgrading, which were given on Wednesday as 97 per cent, Professor Jayakumar told reporters after a lunchtime walkabout at Block 58 in Bedok.

He was responding to WP candidate Perry Tong, who spoke to Channel NewsAsia on Thursday and asked if the figure included new intended upgrading facilities.

In addition, he noted that 40 blocks from Kaki Bukit have been moved from East Coast to Marine Parade which, he said, have not been upgraded.

To this claim, Prof Jayakumar said that 90 per cent have been or are being upgraded. Under the new boundaries, close to 100 per cent of precincts would have been or will be upgraded.

The WP team has been arguing in its campaign that it is providing the spark for upgrading to be awarded to the constituency, and Mr Tong had highlighted Blocks 213 and 214, in particular, where there had been none – although these were earmarked in March for lift upgrading.

“Mr Tong now changes the subject. He asked lamely why ‘there are no signs of impending commencement of works’. Anyone with common sense and (who is) in touch with the ground will know that lift upgrading cannot be done within a month,” said Prof Jayakumar on Friday.

“They will collapse just like Mr Tong’s and the WP’s baseless claims.”

With that, the back-and-forth came to a close between both parties. Mr Tong did not comment further on Prof Jayakumar’s latest rebuttal but told reporters: “The only thing we can be accused of is that we have been consistent.

“Prior to, and at the beginning of our campaign, we said that we would start campaigning on municipal issues and move on to national issues. We’ve moved on to national issues; our opponents have remained stuck.”

In its final day stumping for votes, the WP team for East Coast distributed to residents a one-page write up – which it had prepared independently of its party leadership – which touched on policy proposals relating to employment, transport and healthcare – but nothing on upgrading.

These were raised by candidates in its team during the election rallies and to the press, but “were not given the due coverage” due to “distractions”, said team leader Chia Ti Lik.

Among the proposals is the provision of free bus services within the CBD area to reduce private vehicle usage and congestion – a concept taken from authorities in the American city of Portland, Oregon.

On the PAP side, Mr Raymond Lim – the second minister in its East Coast team – described the WP as a party that “promises the sky because it knows it never has to deliver”.

“I think they’ve been a terrible disappointment. They said when the campaign started that they’d like to raise the level of debate, but what’s clear is they’ve tried their best to lower it,” said Mr Lim.

Posted in 2006 05. Comments Off on Weekend TODAY: Near D-Day, East Coast candidates emphasise different issues

Weekend TODAY: An unusual contest in Ang Mo Kio

GE2006

For PM, it’s a rare electoral test, for young WP team, an indication for the future

JASMINE YIN
jasmine.yin@newstoday.com.sg


YOUNG FACES: WP’s Ang Mo Kio team member Lee Wai Leng (left) and team leader Yaw Shin Leong face a tough challenge on PM Lee’s turf.

IT IS a foregone conclusion to many: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will emerge victorious at Ang Mo Kio GRC today – his first test at the polls since assuming the leadership in 2004.

Nevertheless, when the Workers’ Party (WP) announced their intention to contest the People’s Action Party stronghold, many sat up.

After all, it is not every election that the Prime Minister faces a challenge in his own ward – and by a mostly young and well-educated team, no less.

As the nine days of hustings drew to a close yesterday, however, some have been left wondering: Has the promising Ang Mo Kio GRC contest been reduced to a mere sideshow?

Not only has the battle in the 159,872-strong ward been overshadowed by the James Gomez saga, the WP team led by 30-year-old e-business analyst Yaw Shin Leong has also been keeping a quiet profile.

This is despite analysts’ initial predictions that the team would enjoy the exposure just by challenging the PM. It has been dismissed by Ang Mo Kio incumbent Inderjit Singh as a “token team”; the People’s Action Party (PAP) also does not seem to think much of the competition.

PAP chairman Lim Boon Heng has set a target of “at least 80 per cent” for Mr Lee’s six-man team.

When asked about that target during a community walkabout yesterday, Mr Lee laughed and said: “He sets very high targets. It’s his job to set stretch targets and we try our best.”

While he did not want to be drawn into giving a figure, Mr Lee had said last Friday that he would “try our best to make sure it costs them some money”.

Candidates who get less than 12.5 per cent of the vote will lose their $13,500 deposit.

Calling many of his constituents his “old friends”, Mr Lee said yesterday: “I think the voters are supporting us. We’ve got our message across to voters that this election is about the future and I think voters understand the people they choose will help them to win, help Singapore to win, to move forward.”

But the WP team, with an average age of 32.5 years despite the inclusion of 52-year-old Gopal Krishnan, has made clear from the beginning that they never thought they would win the ward.

During the WP rally at Ang Mo Kio GRC on Thursday, Mr Yaw only urged voters to give his team a mandate of a “decent percentage” of votes.

Political analyst Ho Khai Leong, however, believes that the results from Ang Mo Kio GRC would be significant, as it marks the first time that “Mr Lee’s constituency has been challenged”.

“This is a constituency of great interest because the challengers are so young. Mr Lee has been talking about the concerns of the young and the post-65ers, so having a young group to challenge him certainly creates some spark there,” he added.

Added political observer Seah Chiang Nee: “I think this is a learning curve for them. I don’t think anyone or the WP is expecting them to perform miracles. As long as they go in, do the best that they can, work hard from it, I think it will augur well for the party.”

The PAP team is also taking no chances despite its opponent’s inexperience.

Said PAP MP Mr Inderjit Singh: “I think for each one of us, it’s very important. We’re fighting it as if it’s the most important battle and the reason is because this is the Prime Minister’s GRC and we want to score as high a percentage of the votes as possible.

“I think it’s a very significant battle.”

Weekend TODAY: WP candidates, including Gomez, are clean: Low

GE2006

LEE CHING WERN
chingwern@newstoday.com.sg


OOI BOON KEONG
Mr Low and Mr Gomez at a recent rally.

WORKERS’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang said that it was under his instructions that his embattled candidate, Mr James Gomez had applied for the minority certificate.

Apart from accusing Mr Gomez of trying to “fix” the Elections Department by claiming that his certificate had gone missing, the People’s Action Party has asked why he needed to apply for one if the plan was to field him in Aljunied GRC. The constituency requires only a Malay candidate to be fielded on a slate, not an Indian one.

“I had asked all WP’s minority candidates to apply for one, in case of strategy issues,” said Mr Low. “This is the reason why James went to apply for the cert. As this episode caused much distress to the Elections Department unwittingly, I asked James to apologise and this, he did.”

Mr Gomez did not submit his form but initially accused the Elections Department of misplacing it.

He then said that he did not submit the form because he had been distracted by his busy schedule in the run-up to Nomination Day.

In his final rally before the polls, Mr Low asserted that he had “spoken at length with James and found no evidence to prove that he is dishonest in this context”.

Hitting out at Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo for comparing Mr Gomez to a thief stealing at a supermarket, Mr Low said: “It is unfair for George to use the analogy of a thief on James. What has James stolen from the Elections Department?”

He went on to criticise the PAP for making personal attacks on WP candidates.

“Right from the onset of the campaign, I have instructed all our candidates not to make any personal attacks or baseless allegations against the PAP. I believe we must have a more civilised political culture and political engagement must be based on facts and debate and not namecalling,” he said.

The past nine days of campaigning has reinforced his confidence in his candidates, said Mr Low.

“The PAP is unable to dig up any skeletons on our WP candidates. Why? Because there are none. They are clean,” he said. – ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LIN YANQIN