Parties shift focus back to national issues

PHOTO: The Straits Times

PM Lee puts town council spat in wider context, as rallies touch on issues from CPF to immigration.

SINGAPORE - Venturing into opposition-held Aljunied GRC last night (Sept 4), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spelt out his party's plans for the area, and the country, as part of his pitch to voters there.

Speaking at a rally in the GRC to show the ruling People's Action Party's support for the five candidates it has sent to take on the Workers' Party leadership in the polls, Mr Lee said:

"When we ask you to vote for the PAP, I'm telling you not just that we will look after your town council well, but also that we will look after Singapore well. Because we intend to form the next government, and we intend to take Singapore forward."

He gave a glimpse of the future in Aljunied, noting that the Paya Lebar Airbase occupies a large chunk of the constituency. When the airbase site is moved to Changi after 2030, some 800ha of land will be freed up for homes, offices, green spaces and other developments, he said.

"But you need a PAP government to do that," he said.

After several days of exchanges between the Government and WP leaders over the financial management of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), Mr Lee sought to put the issue in a wider context last night.

He noted that the progress that Singapore has made over 50 years could be demolished very quickly in a constituency.

"It's many years' work, decades of work by good men and women working with you, who made this progress. But it doesn't take long to demolish it, to waste it away."

Over the decades, PAP MPs had transformed the constituency and made it "better and better, year by year". "They also ran the town council well, good service to you, financially sound," he said. "It broke even (and) built up its reserves."

When the WP won the constituency in 2011, the PAP handed it a "working town council" with a surplus, he said. "But unfortunately for the last four years, things haven't gone well at all."

He called on voters in the GRC to back his party's team to "put things right" in Aljunied, before moving on to addressing other issues, including the Central Provident Fund (CPF) scheme.

Fot its part, the WP said that it had "said enough" on the issue of lapses found at the AHPETC, and would leave voters to parse the long-running saga.

Instead, its leaders refocused their campaign on national issues, with candidates at their rally last night outlining policy proposals on immigration, a minimum wage and public transport.

The WP is calling for a dedicated, not-for-profit entity to manage the rail and bus network so that it is insulated from profit pressure and thus works for the public interest, said its East Coast GRC candidate Gerald Giam.

WP chief Low Thia Khiang told the rally audience that if the PAP gets a clear mandate at the polls and senses a free rein from voters, it could reverse popular policies like the property cooling measures.

He also raised the spectre of a goods and services tax (GST) increase after the polls.


Across the nine rallies held by eight political parties last night, opposition politicians took up cudgels against the ruling party's policies on immigration and retirement savings.

Opposition veteran Chiam See Tong, who is not a candidate in the polls for the first time since 1984, made a warmly-received appearance at a Singapore People's Party rally in Toa Payoh stadium.

The 80-year-old urged voters to press the Government to return their life savings locked away in the CPF scheme.

But in Aljunied, PM Lee said that Singaporeans were flocking to the CPF scheme because of interest rates as high as 6 per cent on their retirement savings. Last year, Singaporeans put an additional $500 million by choice into their CPF accounts to enjoy these rates, he said.

"So why when you go to opposition rallies they never mention this? Because if they mentioned this, nobody will vote for the opposition," he said.


This article was first published on September 5, 2015.
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