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Bukit Batok By-Election – time for a new carrot?

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By: Dr Wong Wee Nam
The nomination for the Bukit Batok By-Election has closed. The battle for the hearts and minds of the  people has begun. There are no surprises. It’s a straight fight between Mr Murali Pillai from the People’s Action Party and Dr Chee Soon Juan, the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party.
The by-election was called because the MP, David Ong, had to resign because of some personal indiscretion. It is a big blow to the PAP because they always pride themselves of choosing people with impeccable record to be their MPs. Alas, stringent selection process can sometimes fail and with two successful failures, it is increasingly difficult for the PAP to market their candidate as flawless.
This time round, the voters are likely to focus on the qualities of the candidates and who can serve his needs better when they go to the polls. After all, in a by-election, they are not voting for the next government.
The real change-maker?
The choice of Mr Murali, who was defeated in the Aljunied GRC, by the PAP as their candidate was a surprise. When he was introduced at a press conference, he did not stand out. In fact, Mr Thaman Shanmugaratnam, who introduced him, was the outstanding one.
One of the first things Mr Murali said was he would focus on the elderly and the needy. Really a motherhood statement.
On March 2011, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan has reiterated the government’s position on helping the needy: “avoid a permanent, unconditional, needs-based social safety net.” In simple English, it means there is no need for any kind of permanent, unconditional social safety net for the needy. The problem of helping the needy, as he explained, is first and foremost, the job of social workers, not politicians.
Has Mr Murali got the clout to change things?
Dr Chee Soon Juan has this to say about Mr Pillai’s strategy: “When you have MP after MP after MP in Parliament and still these poverty issues continue… how does he (Mr Pillai) bring this issue to his superiors in Parliament? If he was really interested, he would have brought it up a long time ago.”
Dr Chee has spoken or written about the poor and needy many times over the years but he was ignored because he was not in Parliament. This time he hopes the voters of Bukit Batok will give him a more effective voice that the government cannot just brushed aside by voting him into Parliament.
“We (the SDP) don’t want residents to be dependent on handouts,” said Dr Chee. “We want to empower them. That’s the difference. The more they are dependent on handouts, the more the power can be used as an overlord to them.”
Trotting out the old carrot
Some days later, Mr Murali unveiled his $1.9 million plan for Bukit Batok.
He reportedly said, “This plan that we are presenting is part of the PAP Jurong Town Council…If we don’t have the mandate then we don’t have the ability to carry on, because we wouldn’t form the town council. That’s the rules.”
Dr Chee responded to Mr Pillai’s ‘upgrading carrot’, opining that “building infrastructure for Bukit Batok should be based on the needs and wishes of the residents of Bukit Batok, and should not be an election issue.”
Blogger Andrew Loh said likewise. “The detailed planning and implementation of plans for each town is a joint effort of many government agencies. Indeed, commonsense would dictate so. It cannot be the work of just one town council. How could it be? Murali or the Jurong Town Council can suddenly, out of the blue, dictate to the URA what parks they want, just like that? Who are you fooling?”
Responding to Mr Murali’s “veiled threat”, Worker’s Party MP for Aljunied GRC Pritam Singh, wrote in his Facebook page that there is “no doubt HDB will not withdraw NRP funds committed for the NRP at Blk 140-149 Bukit Batok West Ave 4, regardless who wins, based on the post-2011 precedent of Eunos Spring. It would be opening itself up to a judicial review of administrative action in Court if it did.
Writing in his Facebook, another WP member and Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leon Perera has asked if this is the way to build a nation.
“The People’s Action Party candidate for the Bukit Batok by-election has said that S$1.9 million worth of infrastructure upgrading plans for the ward cannot be carried out by the Town Council if his party is not elected. To me, that recalls the painful memory of the votes for HDB upgrading message in the 1997 General Elections. It’s good that we build necessary infrastructure to upgrade our towns. But is a campaign message like this any way to build a nation?”
Such comments are unprecedented. In the past, the Worker’s Party like to stay out of other people’s business. This is really a great change. Even Chen Show Mao has chipped in with a tongue-in-cheek Facebook post to support Dr Chee. “Good luck to Dr Chee. Good luck to Mr Murali. More important than either of them — Best of luck to Singapore. Since both are lovely men by most accounts, why don’t we send one of them to Parliament and keep the other in Paya Lebar where we live?”
This is a good sign. People are now speaking up because they want to see fair play. They want voters to vote freely without undue pressure being brought upon them.

Editor’s note: This article was written soon after Nomination Day (Apr 27) and was submitted to an online publication. They refused to publish it. TISG publishes it now mainly to highlight how SDP’s bid for Bukit Batok seem to have united the opposition (with the exception of Mr and Mrs Chiam See Tong), which seemed to have been fragmented until now.

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