BB BE: Of bulldogs, show dogs and barking dogs

Apr 30, 2016 11.00AM |

by Bertha Henson

WHY does the People’s Action Party (PAP) trot out the women to do the blasting? So Ms Sim Ann tackled Dr Chee Soon Juan’s past in her infamous “chut pattern” speech during the last General Election. Both sides were vying for Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency (GRC) seat.

Now you have Ms Grace Fu doing a similar speech, although in a less supercilious manner in the Bukit Batok by-election. In fact, a colleague described her as a “sweet bulldog”. Reading her doesn’t do her as much justice as listening and watching her. The little asides, tentative manner was even a little motherly, like an adult admonishing a child gently, oh so gently.

She stood out as the best speaker on the PAP side last night, although she is likely to be criticised for getting “personal”, like taking a swipe at Dr Chee’s unemployed status. It was masterly. She insinuated that Dr Chee could well be a full-time MP because he had no job to lose. But that wasn’t her thrust (because that would be oh, so bad), it was how his lack of work experience was “a relevant factor” when voters weigh the credentials of the rival candidates.

As far as I know, he hasn’t held a steady job for many years. Let me be clear. I’m not criticising his position to not hold a full-time job for so long. That is his personal choice. But the work experience, or the lack of it, is a relevant fact when we consider the credentials of the candidate.

She recounted the internal Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) dispute which led to veteran politician Chiam See Tong’s ouster from the party he founded.

Will there be a referral letter from Mr Chiam See Tong? You know, the sifu (mentor) who recruited him into SDP. And what will Mr Chiam write about him?

The SDP must surely expect that some of Dr Chee’s past would be dragged out for public consumption, in the hope of triggering memories of long-time residents who might well have been part of the old Bukit Gombak constituency that the SDP was briefly in charge of after the 1991 General Elections.

Where were the people who used to staff Bukit Gombak Town Council? Are they in the transition team which SDP announced? Again, she referred to the past, the more recent past, when the SDP offered to campaign jointly with the Workers’ Party (WP) in the Punggol East by-election – with the SDP in Parliament and WP running the town council should they knock out the PAP. “If you are so confident, why do you make a statement like this?”

Then, after a couple days of the SDP demanding answers from the PAP on a $24 million programme set aside for Bukit Batok, she threw a question back to the SDP:

“Beware of anyone who plays the racial card, asking Chinese residents to vote for Chinese only. We know some people have gone around saying this. I hope this is not the position taken by SDP and hope they will clarify this position.”

This is interesting. It is (almost) tantamount to accusing SDP supporters of seeding racist sentiments on the ground. The SDP isn’t silly enough to do this (or be caught doing this) but it would be hard put to restrain its fans from doing so. It will probably respond in the right way, although it is also likely that it will call on Ms Fu for evidence.

So where was the showdog in all this? Mr Murali Pillai? He was colourless compared to Dr Chee who managed to talk about town council, transparency, and parliamentary representation.

There were interesting anecdotes about his relationship with the late MP Ong Chit Chung and his days in Hwa Chong Junior College. His personality seemed to have been subsumed by the PAP with his constant references to the party and the fact that Bukit Batok is next to Jurong GRC, which is anchored by strongman Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam. “DPM and the fellow Jurong MPs will take care of Bukit Batok because we are part of the family,” he said.

You could almost expect DPM Tharman to take to the stage but he was a no show. Good move by the PAP – or people would have thought that he was standing for the by-election instead of Mr Murali.

Dr Chee, on the other hand, had plenty of both bark and bite.

He accused PAP MPs of outsourcing town council work and “smiling all the way to the bank” for working a part-time job. In one of his more memorable lines of the night, he said that when he heard Mr David Ong had resigned, his reaction was: “Who is David Ong?”

But he pulled his punches when discussing the former Bukit Batok MP’s alleged affair, even though some people had advised him to capitalise on it, he said. “You never kick a man when he’s down, there’s no honour in that. For all I know, David Ong is a good guy, but sometimes good guys make bad mistakes. Who hasn’t?”

“Let’s leave Mr Ong alone for him to find his life again and let his family heal again,” he added.

The old Chee Soon Juan came through when he fell back on his liberal script: “Our political system must allow the people the freedom to speak, to express themselves without getting sued by the Prime Minister, without the media filtering what we say and constantly portraying the People’s Action Party (PAP) as a party of heroes.”

But even Dr Chee is conscious of the need to assure residents that if elected, his town council is up to the mark. He said his transition team of four accountants, three estate managers and six lawyers will “make sure that the new SDP-run (Bukit Batok) Town Council works without a hitch, all from Day One” and would publish within the first 100 days a comprehensive report of the handover, a clear budgetary plan, its first interim financial report, its workplan for the first 12 months, and estate maintenance strategies.

“We do this because we not only want to match the current levels of management of PAP-run town councils, we want to surpass them,” he said.

The fight is now about an established party’s track record versus an opposition’s promises to do better.


Featured Image by Najeer Yusof.

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