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Hougang’s choice

I wrote the column below on Friday for publication in print on Saturday. Until someone thought maybe not, since its cooling off day etc and some rules might be contravened. I half wondered about putting it up on this blog then but thought maybe not…I’ve no idea how cooling off rules apply…and yes, I got cold feet. Well, everything is moot now that WP has won. Anyway, this was what I wrote before the polls.

Mr Low Thia Kiang exploded onto the political scene like a bolt from the blue. No one knew of him, when he was announced the MP for Hougang in the 1991 General Election. His only statement then was to take a dig at the People’s Action Party slogan of The Next Lap. His election that night, he said, marked the beginning of the next lap. Then he slipped away.

Conventional wisdom then was that Mr Low did everything right. He went under the radar, avoiding public scrutiny, media publicity and, just probably, the gunsights of the PAP. He worked the Hougang ground. The public at large did not know of him – but the Hougang voters did.

His election and that of Messrs Ling How Doong and Cheo Chai Chen led to some soul-searching on the type of MP that Singaporeans want. Perhaps, the earthy type? Enough of a heartlander to grip a fishmonger’s hand? Someone who can banter with the slippered crowd over kopi-o?  In other words, someone like the majority of voters staying in an HDB flat, who work hard for a living and even harder for their children. Those big election issues of the past – like the need for an Elected Presidency, the establishment of town councils – seem to give way to the importance of a good man on the ground.

So how will Hougang voters vote tomorrow? Is it still the earthy type they want? If so, I wouldn’t know the difference between PAP’s Desmond Choo and WP’s Png Eng Huat. If the PAP had wanted a minister material type person, it would have fielded Ong Ye Kung. If the WP wanted some one who could speak up in Parliament, it would have “legitimised” Gerald Giam. Both parties, it seemed, wanted to go for a man of the people, who has been around the Hougang ground.

But this is 2012. And Hougang is the ONLY battleground.

National opposition sentiment will put pressure on the Hougang voter to stick with the WP, which is adhering to its old catchphrase of a First World Parliament. Loyalty to Mr Low must have played some part in the resounding vote given to his protege, Yaw Shin Leong,  in last year’s general election. Now, with Mr Yaw in seeming disgrace, that loyalty is being tested.

The PAP is getting wiser too. It isn’t making too much of Yaw’s exit from Parliament or WP or even whether Png was sincere about rejecting/being rejected over the Non-Constituency MP post offered to his party. Its man is insisting that he is his own man although methinks he doth protest too much…

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I am not a Hougang voter, but I am offering those 23,000 or so voters this check-list of questions.

a. Is one more opposition MP in Parliament going to do this country any good? Whether as an additional voice? Or simply to strengthen the Opposition’s hand in some way?

b. Do you want Hougang to remain the pre-eminent ward of the opposition (now that Potong Pasir has gone to the PAP) and mark its place in history? Is this a laudable or naive concept that you have?

c. Do you think you will get the best of both worlds with WP in charge of you and a PAP man wooing you continuously? In fact, have you been enjoying such treatment?

d. If the answer to the above is no, do you resent the PAP for making you the last in line for HDB goodies and will vote against it to make a point? Or have you had enough of being last in line?

e. Does your loyalty to Mr Low and WP extend to his successors, especially since the last one has upped and gone? Or this really doesn’t matter since Mr Low is just next door in Aljunied?

f. Between Mr Choo and Mr Png, who’s the more like-able, personable man? Who will give you the time of day? Who can get you what you want?

g. Do you think the PAP’s efforts at creating a “new normal” looks like a real enough effort to be rewarded by you? Or do you think it’s just hogwash and is further justification for an extra Opposition voice?

h. Are you annoyed at the rising cost of living? Income inquality? Influx of foreign talent? Annoyed enough to vote the WP because you want them to “ventilate” for you? Is it more important that you have an outlet for your frustrations? Will things really change ?

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I am glad I am not a Hougang voter. Because frankly, I wouldn’t know how to answer these questions either.

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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