Straits Times: Has the opposition gone Awol?

INSIGHT SATURDAY

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says the Workers’ Party team at Aljunied GRC has been absent without official leave. Peh Shing Huei finds out

DURING THE POLLS YOU SEE THEM…

…AND AFTER, YOU DON’T?

ST FILE PHOTO
ONLY TWO LEFT: Out of the WP’s five-member “Team A” that contested the Aljunied GRC in the last election, three are inactive: financial controller Tan Wui-Hua (third from left, partially hidden) is based in Dubai; researcher James Gomez (fourth from left) is working in Sweden; and businessman Goh Meng Seng (far right) is now with the NSP. Only Ms Sylvia Lim (second from left) and Mr Mohammed Rahizan Yaacob (not in picture) are still working the ground.

MR SEBASTIAN Teo believes Singapore politics suffers from a widely held fallacy – that the opposition emerges only when elections roll around.

“When I’m on the ground talking to people, what I hear is the complete opposite,” says the National Solidarity Party (NSP) president.

“The voters tell me that their PAP MPs only shake their hands once every five years!”

Be that as it may, there is a persistent perception in local politics that the opposition parties are rarely heard, much less seen, until the polls come a-knocking.

Is this traditional malaise of the opposition an urban myth or heartland reality?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as leader of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), believes it is the latter, opening the debate far earlier than usual.

At last Sunday’s PAP convention, a member asked how the party intended to defend Aljunied given Workers’ Party MP Low Thia Khiang’s recent declaration that his party intended to gun for a GRC in the next polls. Aljunied GRC was the most closely fought constituency in last year’s General Election.

In his response, Mr Lee said that the PAP MPs there were working hard and quipped that the WP team had gone Awol – absent without official leave.

It was a play on the term The Straits Times had given the WP Aljunied slate when the newspaper gave the label Team A to the five-man team led by party chairman Sylvia Lim.

“Our (PAP) five men are working hard, but the opposition’s five have scattered like monkeys when the tree fell,” he said in Mandarin, using a Chinese proverb.

“One of them has run to Sweden, the other has left the WP. They called it their A team, I say it is A for Awol,” he added.

Ms Lim took issue with Mr Lee’s choice of words.

“I don’t think Awol is an appropriate term to use in the first place, as the WP has no official capacity in Aljunied GRC at the moment,” she tells Insight.

But is it true that the opposition is missing in action on the ground?

Where are they now?

A YEAR and a half after the heat of the election, many opposition candidates have indeed taken a breather.

The WP, which produced the strongest slate among the opposition parties, has seen at least seven of its most prominent young candidates leaving the frontline.

The Team A that garnered 43.9 per cent of the valid votes has lost three of its five men.

Researcher James Gomez, 41, is working in Sweden; financial controller Tan Wui-Hua, 40, is based in the United Arab Emirates; and businessman Goh Meng Seng, 37, left the party late last year and is now with the NSP.

Only Ms Lim and vice-chairman Mohammed Rahizan Yaacob are still working the ground in Aljunied GRC.

Over at East Coast GRC, the second-best performing WP team has lost its firepower.

Lawyer Chia Ti Lik, 34, who led the team to pull in 36.1 per cent of the votes, quit the WP last year after disagreements with party leaders over Internet regulations.

While his team-mate, Mr Brandon Siow, 32, remains in the party’s executive central council as webmaster, he took up a posting in Shanghai with Singapore Airlines not long after the elections.

The party’s youth wing secretary, Ms Glenda Han, 31, is working in Hong Kong, while business manager Lian Chin Way, 37, is not involved in party work.

At the NSP, the fallout rate is just as high.

Only engineer Tan Lead Shake, 38, and business adviser Ong Hock Siong, 60, from among its five-man team in Tampines are still active. Team leader Arthero Lim, 52, is working in China.

Mr Edmund Ng, 34, has left the party and Mr Abdul Rahman Mohamad, 55, is working overseas.

The same is true for its Jalan Besar team, with three members of the quintet – including former opposition MP Cheo Chai Chen – taking a backseat.

Similarly, Mr Chiam See Tong’s Singapore People’s Party has been almost invisible at Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC where it took on Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean’s team last year.

That is not to say the opposition is nowhere to be seen. The WP still sells its Hammer newsletter weekly in places such as Hougang and Aljunied GRC. Members of the NSP – donning luminous orange tops, the party’s new colour – are also seen across the island every weekend selling the party’s newsletter, North Star News.

Presence counts

THE opposition offers a robust defence of why its members need to take a break from politics.

The main argument is that the PAP MPs have a well-oiled machinery to support their grassroots work and, on top of that, they receive a monthly sum of $13,200 for being elected. Opposition candidates find it far harder to juggle earning a living and doing political work.

WP organising secretary Yaw Shin Leong wrote on his blog: “Unlike their paid counterparts, James Gomez and Tan Wui-Hua…have been working hard in Sweden and Dubai respectively.

“Both James and Wui-Hua are doing what is right – by bringing bread and butter first and foremost to their families.”

Ms Sylvia Lim says that it is the reality of an increasingly globalised world that many young people go overseas to earn a living. “It would not be fair for us to stop people taking overseas stints, as each of us needs to earn a living and has to answer to the stakeholders in our lives,” she adds.

“What is important is that the party presence is maintained and potential candidates put in their fair share.”

Dr Terence Chong of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies says it is a “thankless task” being in the opposition in Singapore.

“You have to worry about social stigma, your employers especially if you work in a GLC (government-linked company), and an uneven playing field. If you’re a new PAP candidate, on the other hand, you’re virtually guaranteed of a place in Parliament if you’re in a GRC,” he says.

“Comparing PAP MPs and opposition candidates is like comparing apples and oranges.”

Aljunied GRC resident Mato Kotwani, 20, is not too perturbed that some of the WP candidates are not around.

“If they just gave up and left, it’s not very responsible. But if they left to get on with their lives, I don’t have an issue if they still want to come back and fight at the next election,” says the student.

“Even if they were in Singapore they wouldn’t be able to do very much for the estate because they are not even MPs.”

Indeed, voters take it almost as a given that the opposition is not likely to maintain the same level of presence as the ruling party in the years between elections. How else does one account for the opposition’s ability to attract votes even when members have hardly shown up before the polls?

But the value of working the ground should not be discounted at all, say observers. Visibility is important, they say.

Another reason candidates and their parties lie low also appears to be for self-preservation purposes, to avoid the ruling party unleashing its entire force on the opposition members, thoroughly discrediting a candidate well ahead of the polls.

In short, they have learnt the Chee Soon Juan lesson too well. The Singapore Democratic Party chief’s high-profile sparrings with the Government saw him thoroughly demolished ahead of the General Election in 1997.

As PM Lee said in a dialogue with PAP activists in Nanyang Polytechnic last month on the Gomez issue, time is needed to show up a person.

He said: “James Gomez came from nowhere. He’s not a good guy, but in nine days we don’t have time to prove that.”

Mr Gomez had claimed during last year’s GE that he had submitted his minority candidate form, but video footage released later showed he had not.

It became a major electoral talking point when the PAP’s big guns came out firing at him.

But law lecturer Eugene Tan from the Singapore Management University argues that lying low is not an option for the opposition.

“They cannot have their cake of anonymity and eat it,” he says.

“Their starting point has to be presence, presence, presence since the PAP has the monopoly of the political landscape.”

Mr Teo of the NSP says that it is “ridiculous” to fear being attacked by the PAP. “If we are not doing anything wrong, what is there to hide?”

Winning a GRC

THE nub of the problem for the opposition lies in what some have described as a perverse relationship between process and outcome.

First, no matter how hard they work, the likelihood of victory and being elected is low.

As WP chief Low Thia Khiang said before the last GE, be prepared to lose if you join the opposition.

Second, the harder they work, the steeper their climb may be, with the ruling party more likely to come down hard on them.

Hence, it is hard to incentivise talents – especially the top professionals – to plough the ground, knowing that their efforts are likely to come to nought.

Yet, without these top talents, the opposition would lack the most basic ingredient necessary for the GRC breakthrough – something which Mr Low had boldly declared recently as a WP target for the next GE.

It is an uphill climb which analysts believe the opposition must make if it is serious about putting a dent on the PAP’s dominance.

“Commitment on the part of an underdog working in PAP territory has the potential to go down well with voters,” says Mr Tan.

“Otherwise, they cannot hope to make any significant impact if they show up just before an election. Elections are not won at the hustings; they are won through the work done between elections.”

In short, the opposition has no choice. If it wants to win a GRC, it has to attract talents who are willing to make sacrifices and work the ground years before the election.

Therein lies the challenge – finding the talent willing to do the work, not overnight, but over time.

Says Mr Tan: “It’s a long road, but that’s the reality of taking on a political hegemon like the PAP.”

shpeh@sph.com.sg


PAP MPs who went ‘Awol’ – absent with official leave

IT IS common for opposition figures to go away in between polls. But the ruling party has also had MPs who leave the country for study or work.
MPs from the People’s Action Party (PAP) often do so just for months, though.

MP Penny Low (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) left in August for a fellowship at Yale University. She will stay for a semester and is likely to return in January.

She did not reply to Insight’s e-mail.

Her parliamentary colleague, Ms Irene Ng, was also based overseas last year as she worked on the biography of the late member of the Old Guard, Mr S. Rajaratnam.

Says the Tampines GRC MP, who was with the University of Edinburgh: “I timed the three-month fellowship so that I did not miss any Parliament sitting. I returned in October, before Parliament convened.

“I have a very strong and supportive team of grassroots leaders and we keep in touch regularly, through phone and e-mail messages. Requests from residents or problems raised were sent to me, and I replied to them promptly even while away.

“Residents knew I was still serving them during that period, given the close personal attention I gave to each request and problem sent my way.”

Two years ago, Parliamentary Secretary (National Development) Mohamad Maliki Osman spent spring in the United States as part of the Eisenhower Fellowship.

Former Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Umar Abdul Hamid also went away after being elected. The one-term MP pursued a master’s degree from 1994 to 1995 at Harvard University in the United States.

A PAP MP, who spoke on condition of anonymity, tells Insight that it is “not very nice” to go away for personal career advancement.

“It looks bad to get elected and then go off to pursue your own interests,” he says.

But political observers disagree.

Dr Terence Chong from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies says it is “perfectly all right” for people to take sabbaticals.

Mr Eugene Tan from the Singapore Management University argues that such short-term absence is not a problem.

“Penny Low and Irene Ng have their fellow MPs in their GRCs to cover for them during the short absence. If anything, their absence may not even be noticed. Such is the luxury of PAP’s political incumbency and well-oiled machinery.

“I feel that a short-term absence in itself is not an issue if the ward is properly looked after. But the PAP still has to be mindful that they retain their presence on the ground.”

None of the MPs can beat the record set by Dr Chiang Hai Ding, 69.

The former Ulu Pandan MP spent eight of his 14 years as a parliamentarian overseas because he was also a diplomat – serving, among other postings, as Singapore High Commissioner to Malaysia for two years from 1971 and later ambassador to then-West Germany from 1978 to 1982.

He told The Straits Times in a 2001 interview that he left politics in 1984 because it was not fair to his parliamentary colleagues who had to help him take care of his ward.

He joked: “One of them was Mr Phua Bah Lee, whom other MPs used to call “Poor Phua Lee” because he was carrying a heavy load on my behalf at my constituency.”

Straits Times: 9 Hougang blocks to be torn down for estate makeover

Move aimed at better land use, says HDB; part of area will be used for private homes

BY TAN HUI YEE
Housing Correspondent

NINE blocks of rental flats, shops and workshops, and a hawker centre in the opposition ward of Hougang are being cleared by the Housing Board.

The board said yesterday that the move was “part of ongoing plans to rejuvenate older estates and to facilitate better land use”.

It will give tenants a chance to move to newer or upgraded homes and “inject new life to the estate and offer new housing options and modern commercial facilities”, said the HDB.

Similar clearing exercises have been conducted in Clementi and Tanjong Pagar.

The selected blocks – 3, 4, 8 to 11, and 11A to 14 in Hougang Avenues 3 and 7 – are about 33 years old. The site occupied by blocks 12 to 14 – which has 60 workshops – will be put up for sale for private homes in 2009.

The remaining land freed up will be developed for residential or commercial use after 2010, depending on market conditions.

The Hougang cluster includes 654 one- and three-room rental flats as well as a hawker centre described by residents as the heart of the ageing community.

“The stallholders are very close to the customers…the community spirit is very strong,” said Ms Nur Aidah Abdullah, 39, who sells drinks at a stall.

The food centre is also a place where local MP Low Thia Khiang, who is the Workers’ Party’s secretary-general, meets his residents. The incumbent MP defeated People’s Action Party challenger Eric Low in last year’s election.

Among the 654 rental flats being cleared, 400 are let out to low-income families. The rest are leased to companies – which use them mainly to house foreign workers – and managing agents, who let them out in turn.

All residents will have to move out in about a year.

Many, like Ms Lin Caifeng, 65, said they will miss the place. “I’ve been living here for 10 years and have friends from all the blocks. If I move elsewhere, I won’t have anybody,” she said.

Unlike HDB’s selective en-bloc redevelopment scheme – which is offered to property owners – relocated tenants are not offered a single alternative development to move to.

The HDB will offer flats in housing estates such as Pipit Road, Beach Road, Geylang Bahru and Ang Mo Kio, but has reserved small clusters of flats so that some tenants can be rehoused together.

Eligible low-income tenants and stallholders will get the standard clearance benefits and aid when necessary.

Tenants who want to continue renting will receive priority in getting flats. Those who choose to buy will be given priority over other buyers.

Tenants will also get a $1,000 allowance to help with the move.

MP Mr Low told The Straits Times by e-mail that he was informed about the plan only yesterday morning.

“I would expect the HDB to provide adequate assistance to residents, market stall holders and shop tenants who are affected,” he said.

The removal of the market and shops will inconvenience Hougang residents, he added.

“Since the market and commercial area, according to HDB, will only be developed for residential and commercial use after 2010, depending on prevailing market conditions, why is there a need to clear them by August 2008? What is the urgency?”

He did not reply when asked how he would help affected residents.

The PAP’s Mr Low said the residents would be better off on the whole after the move: “The kampong spirit may have to be given up. But on the whole, this will be better for them.”

tanhy@sph.com.sg

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KUA ZHEN YANG, KEITH LIN & GOH CHIN LIAN

Posted in 2007 11. Comments Off on Straits Times: 9 Hougang blocks to be torn down for estate makeover

TODAY: Mah’s remarks ‘incorrect’: WP chief

OPPOSITION MP Low Thia Khiang has rebutted National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan’s assertion that opposition MPs could make use of the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) funds to spruce up their estates.

On Saturday, Mr Mah was quoted – in response to reporters’ queries on the barrierfree access programme being extended to the Opposition wards – as saying that it was “not a change of mind”.

But in a press statement, the Workers’ Party chief said Mr Mah’s remarks were “factually incorrect and misleading”. An example Mr Low cited was in September 1995, when the Hougang Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC) did not support his Town Council’s application for CIPC funding to install illuminated car park direction signs. Instead, the CCC submitted an application to HDB “for a similar project” two weeks later. It was only after the CCC withdrew its application, that the HDB gave him the go-ahead for the signs, said Mr Low.

Even then, no CIPC funds were disbursed for the project, he added. – LOH CHEE KONG

Straits Times: WP chief rebuts Mah’s remark on fund access

OPPOSITION MP Low Thia Khiang has disputed National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan’s statement on a fund that can be used to improve estates in a constituency.

Mr Low, the MP for Hougang and the Workers’ Party leader, said that while the funds have always been available, they were for potential People’s Action Party (PAP) candidates and not elected opposition MPs.

He was referring to the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) funds, which Mr Mah said on Friday have always been there for opposition MPs to make use of.

“This is factually incorrect and misleading,” said Mr Low in a statement he issued over the weekend as chair-man of Hougang’s Town Council.

He cited two examples to support his charge.

In September 1995, the Hougang Town Council made an application to the Hougang Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC) for CIPC funding to install illuminated carpark direction signs.

“Contrary to Mr Mah’s statement, the funds that were ‘always there’ were not made available to the town council, as no support was given for the town council’s proposal by the adviser to the CCC,” said Mr Low.

“Instead, the CCC itself submitted an application to the HDB about two weeks later in October 1995 for a similar project.”

As a result, his town council’s application to HDB, the landowner, was held in abeyance by the HDB, said Mr Low.

It was only in September 1997, after the CCC withdrew its application, that the HDB gave the town council the go-ahead for the signs, he said.

“No CIPC funds were given for the project.”

The CIPC, which reports to the National Development Minister, gives funds for minor improvements to estates.

However, access to the money is possible only through the CCC, a grassroots organisation whose adviser is always a PAP representative.

The other case was in 1991, when Mr Low was first elected. The CCC withdrew its application to build a covered walkway from a bus stop to the nearest block in the ward.

“The Hougang Town Council later completed the project without any CIPC funding,” he said.

“Thus, the correct statement should be that ‘the CIPC funds had always been there for the potential PAP candidate in opposition wards to make use of’,” he added.

Weekend TODAY: What are their GRC chances?

A lot will depend on what the PAP will do during polls

P N BALJI
balji@mediacorp.com.sg

THE only surprise in the announcement that the Workers’ Party wants to win a GRC, and that too in the next elections, is that it came from its secretary-general, Mr Low Thia Khiang.

For a politician well-known for holding his cards very close to his chest, unveiling his party’s ambition way before the next election shows that the veteran politician can, well, surprise.

He must have realised that motherhood statements for such a grand occasion as the party’s 50th anniversary won’t do. A spark of vision was needed to get the ground excited and talking. Having said that, grabbing a Group Representation Constituency (GRC) is the logical next step for a party that has worked hard to make its presence felt in a political environment monopolised by the People’s Action Party (PAP).

Now that the die has been cast, the obvious question: So, what are the WP’s chances of grabbing a GRC? Looking at its performances in the three very close GRC fights in the last 20 years, the party appears to have a fighting chance. Political watchers think so, too.

These three battles in Eunos (1988), Cheng San (1997) and Aljunied (last year) had a couple of things in common: each had a controversial contestant, former Solicitor-General and law society president Francis Seow in Eunos, lawyer Tang Liang Hong in Cheng San and political activist James Gomez in Aljunied.

With the PAP big guns blazing away at these men, in the process making them into larger-than-life figures, voter interest was piqued to the extent that these political combatants could exploit their underdog status to the fullest.

In the most recent case, it was a question of not knowing when to stop the firing. Mr Gomez was exposed, video recording and all, after he claimed that he had sent in his minority status certificate to the Elections Department with the video footage showing otherwise.

The pressure was piled on Mr Low to take action, which he did in his characteristic matter-of-fact way – getting Mr Gomez to make a public apology.

If the matter had ended there, the Workers’ Party, helmed by new face Sylvia Lim, might not have got the 43.91 per cent of the votes cast in Aljunied.

Having a fighting chance in a GRC will also mean having a personality to lead the team. In 1988 in Eunos, it was an articulate and urbane Mr Seow; in 1997 in Cheng San, it was a thundering J B Jeyaretnam; and in Aljunied last year, it was a relatively unknown Ms Lim, but she had her gender and her status as a law lecturer as assets.

Who will the opposition party’s GRC heavyweight be at the next elections? The obvious choice is Mr Low, but moving out of single-ward Hougang, after having been its MP for 16 years, will be a big gamble and even a blow to his supporters. They have, despite the many carrots thrown at them, stood by his side.

On this one, Mr Low was not prepared to show his cards, despite the five questions put to him by The Straits Times in an interview published last week. To each question, he danced around with non-committal answers.

The only other person they have at this moment is Ms Lim. She is chairman of the party and fought a bruising battle in Aljunied, giving her much exposure.

But the PAP, known to relish a good fight, is not going to sit back, especially when it comes to a GRC. It won’t want a repeat of the repercussions of 1981 when Mr Jeyaretnam exploited the unhappiness of some 700 families over the demolition of several Blair Plain blocks of flats, carried out to make way for the expansion of the port, to break the PAP monopoly and win the Anson by-election. Twenty six years on and the Opposition presence, although very small, has continued in Parliament.

With the PAP Government delivering unprecedented economic growth and promising an inclusive approach, the loss of a GRC seems doubtful. But then, politics is a devil you never know. Anything can go wrong in an election campaign.

Detesting a fishmonger’s handshake or not working the ground as a coffee-shop MP or not knowing when to pull the brakes when attacking an Opposition candidate … any of these can make the difference between victory and defeat.

Really, the GRC fight is for the PAP to lose, not for the Workers’ Party to win.


WORKERS’ PARTY EYES GRC: WHAT THEY SAY

“Numbers alone don’t always give a clear picture. For example, PM Lee’s Ang Mo Kio GRC won 66.1 per cent of the vote … below the national average of 66.6 per cent. Does this mean that PM Lee is an unpopular PM? No, there were other factors at work. And so too with the WP’s recent slide in numbers. In 1997, we had the Asian financial crisis, while in 2001, we had Sept 11 and a global recession. In troubled times, people tend to vote for the incumbent if it has a good track record.

“When times are good, voters may start to think beyond the economic imperatives and consider other issues like alternative political voices, greater opposition in Parliament … or even to respond to tougher post-election policies like GST and transport fare increases.”

Dr Terence Chong, Fellow, Regional Social and Cultural Studies, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, when asked about the WP’s dip in the share of votes in the GRCs it has contested since 1988.

“The circumstances in each GE are different, and so it’s not realistic to put too much weight on the swing of votes for either the PAP or the Opposition Party contesting in a ward. I believe the WP has a fighting chance of winning a GRC in the next GE, especially if there is no significant redrawing of constituencies, especially those that are ‘lower hanging fruits’ for the Opposition.”

Mr Viswa Sadasivan, political observer

“Their intention of winning a GRC is no state secret. They cannot really expect the PAP to make it easy for them or to give them an advantage. If the WP were in Government, I do not expect them to (give opposition parties advantage) because it is not in the nature of political parties to do so.”

PAP’s Charles Chong, Member of Parliament for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC

– LEONG WEE KEAT

Straits Times: $100k offered but Low wants $381k to improve Hougang

BY PEH SHING HUEI

OPPOSITION MP Low Thia Khiang finds the $100,000 offer from his PAP opponent to improve Hougang for the elderly and handicapped “grossly insufficient”.

He urged the Government to spend $381,000 – an estimate which his town council believes is necessary for building ramps and handrails in the ward’s HDB estates.

“I am confident that this is affordable, as just a year ago during the General Election campaign, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong had said that $100 million for upgrading Hougang constituency had been set aside,” he said.

The statement he issued came a day after The Straits Times reported that for the first time, Singapore’s two opposition MPs and their PAP rivals are working together.

They are teaming up to create a barrier-free environment in Hougang and Potong Pasir, an upgrade that is part of a nation-wide project to make HDB estates elderly- and disabled-friendly by 2011.

In the 2006 elections, SM Goh had pledged $100 million to improve Hougang but only if the People Action Party’s (PAP) candidate, Mr Eric Low, won the poll. But the PAP man lost to incumbent Low Thia Khiang, the Workers’ Party (WP) leader.

Similarly, the PAP’s man in Potong Pasir, Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, lost to incumbent Chiam See Tong of the Singapore Democratic Alliance.

Yesterday, Mr Sitoh told The Straits Times that a joint committee has been set up for the project, with representatives from his grassroots and Mr Chiam’s town council.

In Hougang, Mr Low Thia Khiang said yesterday that a proposal from his town council was submitted to Mr Eric Low in July, and he has not heard from him since.

The WP leader added that contrary to what Mr Eric Low had said, he has not accepted the $100,000 offer from the Government.

Mr Eric Low was reported telling The Straits Times that he has funds of about $100,000 to build ramps and handrails in the ward.

But yesterday, he clarified that the sum was an estimate from him and it is Mr Low Thia Khiang’s “prerogative” to ask for more.

“The Minister for National Development will have to approve it. I’m just the supporter,” he said.

As the adviser to the Hougang grassroots, Mr Eric Low, and not Mr Low Thia Khiang, has access to the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) fund, which will be used for the barrier-free works.

The CIPC, which reports directly to the Minister for National Development, disburses funds for minor improvements to estates.

On the point that Hougang’s town council had submitted a proposal, Mr Eric Low said he had not replied to it because he needed to go through the plans.

“Some of what he has submitted is for rebuilding, which is cyclical works. I won’t support that,” he said, adding that he did not want to get into a slinging match with his opponent.

“This is for Hougang residents. I don’t want to make it a political thing.”

Straits Times: Mystery posters attack WP for being ‘wayang’ party

BY PEH SHING HUEI


PHOTO: WAYANGPARTY.WORDPRESS.COM
SHADOWY STUFF: One of the posters referred to wayang kulit, a form of shadow puppet theatre. It is not known who is behind the posters.

THE Workers’ Party (WP) has unidentified enemies who are attacking it in both cyberspace and the heartland.

Posters and pamphlets slamming the opposition party were mysteriously put up and later distributed on Saturday outside the Fortunate Restaurant in Toa Payoh, where the WP was hosting its 50th anniversary dinner.

But the party has reacted to it calmly, saying that it will not pursue the matter yet and will wait and see if the slurs escalate.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim told The Straits Times yesterday: “It’s fair game to have criticisms when you enter politics. You just can’t please everyone.”

The posters, in attacking the WP, called it a wayang party, a derisive term suggesting that it is a party that is all show with no real substance.

One of the posters, with pictures of sets of teeth, read: “Open your mouth, wayang party!!! Has the WP lost all its teeth?”

Another said: “Stop the wayang kulit now. What has the WP done since GE2006?”

Meanwhile, in cyberspace, a blog has been set up to challenge the party but its author has said he is not responsible for the posters and pamphlets.

The blog urged netizens to join the Anti-WP Coalition “to serve as a watchdog on WP, the PAP’s watchdog”.

WP leader Low Thia Khiang said in media reports last week that the opposition here should be a watchdog and not a mad dog.

The person behind the blog goes by the online moniker of “thinknothing”.

A netizen with the same nickname has been posting on online forums, attacking the WP for being subservient to the ruling People’s Action Party.

Responding to an e-mail from The Straits Times, “thinknothing” said he wanted to be known only as Mr Lim and that he works in the aviation industry.

He had said in online forums that he is not responsible for the posters. But he told The Straits Times that he set up the blog to put pressure on the WP to be more “proactive and vocal”.

“Right now, they are simply not performing up to the standards expected of an opposition party,” he said.

Ms Lim said the party is also in the dark about the identity of the mysterious critic or critics.

The pamphlets were distributed on Saturday by teenage boys who, when asked, were unable to reveal the person who gave them the task, she added.