PAP has run out of ideas for Bukit Batok, Dr Paul Tambyah charges

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The following is the transcript of Dr Paul Tambyah’s Speech at the Bukit Batok by-election rally on 1 May 2016.


Friends, fellow Singaporeans

Today is May Day. The day we recognise the struggles of workers who fought for their rights for years. Singapore used to have a dynamic trade union movement but it was crippled many years ago. The last local strike was one sanctioned by the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong when he felt that workers were being treated unfairly. Tragically, we no longer have union leaders like him.

One of my heroes is Eleanor Roosevelt the author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which Singapore signed on to 50 years ago when we joined the UN. She is quoted as saying “Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about events, small people talk about other people”. After one round of rallies, what is the PAP talking about?

On Nomination Day, DPM Tharman met me and we both agreed that we would keep the campaign clean and fair and focused on issues. What has happened thus far? There has been very little constructive debate on the issues and instead, the PAP has been launching venomous attacks on the person of Dr Chee based on distorted accounts from 15-20 years ago.

We believe that you can criticize what a person says or what a person does which reflect their values but do not attack the person. We believe that it is fair to ask what happened to the plans such as the hawker center that Mr David Ong promised the people of Bukit Batok, but it is not right to attack him personally. Similarly, it is ok to criticize Dr Chee for asking PM Goh about Singapore’s promise to President Suharto 15 years ago but attacking his character on that basis is uncalled for.

The Prime Minister in his statement last night, said “”Anyone standing for public office should be prepared to have his past actions examined, transparently and honestly,” We totally agree and would welcome the opportunity to examine the assets of all the PAP ministers and MPs. Of course, with the successive leaks of the Panama papers and other related documents, the Prime Minister may have his wish fulfilled sooner rather than later.

A person is not solely defined by his or her actions or words although they often do reflect his or her values. We are not one-dimensional people as Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat seems to think. Both Mr Murali and Dr Chee are someone’s son, someone’s husband, someone’s father. As far as we can tell, they are both men of good character.

Despite the PAP’s attempts to smear Dr Chee, anybody who has met him in Bukit Batok, Holland-Bukit Timah and all the other places he has visited knows this for a fact. For the last couple of years, Dr Chee has been in the spotlight with the mainstream media following him around, trying to trick or trap him on camera into saying something wrong.

People can see his character well from what he has said and done in recent years without the biases of the pre-social media era. But this election is not about Dr Chee or Mr Murali’s personality, it is about the issues that they propose not character assassination.

Since 2012, the SDP has put up our policy proposals for public debate. We started with an evidence based comprehensive healthcare proposal and have moved on to offer concrete well thought out proposals on a number of major issues including housing and town council management. We would like them to be debated fully. We had hoped that this would be so in this campaign and are disappointed by the distortions and smears that are coming out of some very senior PAP people.

To be fair, the PM and Ms Grace Fu may have been misled by the Wan Bao headline in her rally speech. Wan Bao has since responded and amended their online version of the report but refused to apologise! The Straits Times has also come up with the ridiculous statement that character does not matter. We have asked them for a correction but I am not optimistic.

To re-state our point – criticize the speech, the action, the policy and the values they represent BUT do not attack the man. To give another example, at a forum organized by the Institute of Policy Studies, I publicly disagreed with the PM on his comment that Israelis are smarter than Singaporeans. I pointed out that I think that Singaporeans are smarter than Israelis, at least we know how to live in peace with our neighbours. I did not call the PM unpatriotic for putting down Singaporeans.

Furthermore, neither me, nor anyone in the SDP would use the same kind of language to criticize the Prime Minister that the former director of the National Neuroscience Institute did. That saddened the Prime Minister and it shocked many of us too. We could have used Dr Lee’s published allegations to expose the hypocrisy of the Prime Minister’s statements on character but we will not. That is not who we are, that is not how we promised to run this campaign and that will not help the people of Bukit Batok.

The Prime Minister also made some puzzling allegations about racism based on some comments made by anonymous posters on a SDP facebook page. He did not provide any evidence to back up his claim so perhaps this was another mistake – this time from the Zao Bao reporter who may have mistaken some of the comments of provocateurs for official SDP postings.

I hope that the reporter will do his homework and determine who those people are who are allegedly making comments on SDP facebook pages. As Dr Chee pointed out, he has never tolerated racism of any kind. In fact, in the last general election, during my party political broadcast, I said right at the start “The SDP is a competent, constructive compassionate party. We aim to build a democratic society based on justice and equality.

Equality to us means that all the top schools are open to all children regardless of language stream or ethnicity, where parents do not feel compelled to spend thousands of dollars on tuition just to ensure that their children get a good education. Equality means a national minimum wage for all workers local or foreign so migrant workers are not exploited and local workers are not afraid of being replaced by cheaper, less skilled workers. Equality means equal treatment for all religions in the workplace and military.”

Dr Chee has been prosecuted for speaking up for the rights of Muslim children in local schools, he has been outspoken in the defence of the basic human rights of all Singaporeans. In fact, when Ms Grace Fu made her allegations about campaigning on racial grounds without providing any proof, many of us were wondering if she was referring to the strategy used by the PAP six months ago when Dr Chee and the SDP fielded the excellent Mr Sadasivam who did unexpectedly badly against Mr David Ong despite his own extensive grassroots experience in the nearby Ayer Rajah constituency. We sincerely hope not. If that is the case, that is indeed disgraceful and we hope that she clarifies her position quickly.

Ms Grace Fu also made some puzzling comments about Dr Chee’s career as a politician and author. I am puzzled by those comments especially as she is the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth. She does not seem to believe that someone can make a living from doing academic research for international institutions of higher learning and publishing books for which people queue up for hours to get him to sign.

Perhaps that is the reason why the National Arts Council Singapore which is under her own ministry withdrew its support from the only Singaporean book ever to make it to the best seller lists of both the New York Times and Amazon – Sonny Liew’s book the art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. Perhaps to her, being an author, or a politician, is not a real job. If that is the case, I am a little worried about the future of the arts in Singapore under her ministry.

The last PAP rally was also troubling in that the PAP seems to have run out of new ideas for Bukit Batok. Six months ago, the PAP proposed a 24 million dollar plan which included a new hawker center, new child care centers and a new elder care center. Now we hear nothing about that. Food is an important issue to all Singaporeans and it would be good to hear an update on what has happened to the new hawker center proposed in August 2015.

Mr Murali began his campaign by proposing a $1.9 million program but now he admits that is actually part of the $24 million program proposed last year. Apart from the health cooperative which I would be happy to debate. We have not heard anything new.

I have no doubt that Mr Murali is a good man. A friend, Remy Choo who worked with him on a major case involving a charge of illegal importation of endangered rosewood told me that he is a very good man. The PAP activists of Paya Lebar have told us how for the last five years, Mr Murali served with dedication and distinction as PAP branch chair for Paya Lebar. Like most of the other PAP candidates, he has been very successful in his career, rising to the head of commercial litigation at one of Singapore’s most successful law firms. If elected, he be just like yet another of the 82 PAP MPs largely silent.

On the other hand, if Dr Chee is elected to parliament, no one can deny that parliament will be changed beyond recognition. For one, the PAP MPs will work a lot harder. Watching the recent Committee of Supply debates on television, it was striking how many empty chairs there were on the PAP benches – perhaps they were all away at their part-time jobs in the business and corporate worlds.

In contrast, when the Aljunied Hougang Town Council issue was being discussed, parliament was packed with PAP MPs looking for opportunities to score points by criticizing the Worker’s Party. You can be sure that when Dr Chee gets into parliament, the PAP MPs will be on their toes.

Just last Monday, there was a major MRT breakdown which affected 20 MRT stations. According to reports in both the mainstream and social media, there was only one MRT station which benefitted from PAP activists bearing flashlights to help direct residents to safety. You know which MRT station that was – Bukit Batok MRT station – where Dr Chee was campaigning. Coincidence? I don’t think so!

As the residents of Paya Lebar know, they get two for the price of one – they can seek out their MP Mr Chen Show Mao and if that doesn’t work, they can seek out Paya Lebar grassroots advisor and PAP branch chairman Mr Murali. I am sure that Mr Murali will do the same for the residents of Bukit Batok – having served here for sixteen years. He will continue to serve as a PAP activist and leader in Bukit Batok even if Dr Chee is elected to parliament.

All that aside, Putting Dr Chee in parliament gives each and every one of you residents of Bukit Batok an opportunity to have an independent voice in parliament – to have one more voice to ask the government why they are intent on flooding our already strained infrastructure with 6.9 million people, to ask why our education system needs to put so much stress on students, teachers and parents and still cannot produce enough talent that we need to import skilled professionals to fill critical roles in our economy.

If and when Dr Chee gets into parliament, he can ask the hard questions about CPF – about when we are ever going to see our hard earned CPF money back.

You have seen our town council policy, you have heard about our social programs, you have met some of our town council transition team. Now is the time to vote for a strong independent voice in parliament. Now is the time to vote for Dr Chee.