WP’s string of rock concert rallies continue at Jalan Besar
Yesterday (3 Sept) was only the second day of hustings, but Workers’ Party (WP) rallies are turning out to be the place to catch a large group of people clad in largely light blue.
Despite 2015 being WP contesting the area for only the third time ever (the first time was in 1988, and the second time was in 2011, when the constituency was known as Moulmein-Kallang), Singaporeans nonetheless turned out in droves to check out their Boys in Blue.
This is what I saw.
7 p.m: I arrive right on the dot to hear a WP emcee introduce himself. The padang is half filled, though there doesn’t seem to be as many people as there were in Hougang yet. That’ll probably change soon enough.
There are also some happy looking younger people in long-sleeved shirts and leather shoes. Their expression will probably change soon enough.
7.10 p.m: Terence Tan starts speaking. He’s a tall, bald lawyer, who seems proficient in both Mandarin and English. His speech is peppered with both languages, often repeating himself in the other language. His sentences are too long and detailed to be powerful though.
His speech is largely rebuttal over PAP claims of how Singapore is doing perfectly well.
We should be thankful, the PAP say; active aging, they say. Some even actively age, apparently, by exercising with cardboard!
There is an uncle near the front who wants his friend to meet him. I doubt his friend will make it to the front.
7.13 p.m: Foo Seck Guan appears. He’s the guy who was known as Kenneth Foo in the media during the lead-up to Nomination Day, but was introduced in his Chinese name after being nominated.
He is now exclusively known as Seck Guan.
Uncles and aunites get excited as he steps up. “Huat ah!”, “Yandao (handsome)!” they chant. Well, I suppose he’s not bad looking.
Seck Guan is a much more engaging speaker, introducing himself as “Ah Guan” in Hokkien.
7.15 p.m: Seck Guan takes offence at ESM Goh Chok Tong’s comment about PAP being about check themselves.
That doesn’t make sense. Do the PAP think we grew up drinking gong gong (stupid) milk?
7.20 p.m: Seck Guan segues into Nee Soon GRC, where he is up against Law and Foreign Minister K Shanmugam. Boos immediately echo out. Seck Guan calmly raises a hand and says: “We are civilized, we don’t jeer them,” to a chorus of laughs.
7.24 p.m: As I move from my spot to explore the padang further, I run into a WP volunteer who visited my home. I’m surprised he recognizes me; he seems pleased to see me at a rally.
7.30 p.m: He Ting Ru is introduced to excited cheers. She greets and introduces herself in Teochew, then Mandarin to even louder cheers. She seems uncomfortable, and quickly moves to English. The cheers are less excited.
Her speech is undulated by nervy tics and various small movements of excitement. She needs a little more experience in speech giving.
7.43 p.m: MacPherson candidate Bernard Chen Jiaxi is introduced. He introduces himself as the son of a coffeeshop helper and part-time cleaner, who eventually made it to Oxford University.
A woman beside me translates the Mandarin speech into English for her friend.
7.57 p.m: Bernard moves into WP’s plans for education.
He introduces a Teach for Singapore Scheme, where trainee teachers with strong leadership and motivation will be put through a further year of training before assigned to underperforming schools.
Doing so will improve the standard of underperforming schools and students.
Sounds like a nice plan, but there is muted applause.
8.07 p.m: An uncle with permed hair seemingly wearing one ring on each finger eyes me suspiciously as I scribble notes. Does he think I’m an enemy sympathiser? Is it because I’m wearing white? WHY IS HE LOOKING AT ME LIKE THIS?
8.08 p.m: East Coast GRC candidate Mohamed Fairoz takes the stage. I don’t understand much Malay, but I know enough to know his greeting of “Assalamualaikum” is responded with “Waalaikumsalam”.
Fairoz’s English speech concerns the “fear factor” when Singaporeans are involved in opposition politics.
Over the years, I have had friends, colleagues, and family members who have advised me not to get involved in opposition politics.
However, when his first child was born, he realised that a Singapore dominated by the voices of the PAP is not one he wants his daughter to grow up in.
8.19 p.m: Leon Perera is introduced. He says he will greet the audience in Malay and Mandarin, to audible “wah!”s from the crowd.
His Mandarin is passable (although my Chinese teacher would disagree), and he seems to be doing an impression of the “LKY Jab” — after Lee Kuan Yew’s trademark hand movements while speaking.
8.26 p.m: I spot some people wearing the SPP polo tee in the crowd. The audience doesn’t seem to pay much attention to them.
8.29 p.m: The first Jalan Besar candidate — Redzwan Hafidz — finally takes the stage to loud cheers.
He talks about alma mater Pasir Ris Secondary School, a neighbourhood school that has provided two WP candidates this GE. “That means every school in Singapore is a good school,” he says.
Redzwan also thinks that increased WP presence in the parliament is a good thing.
When the PAP lost Aljunied GRC in 2011, they started listening.
When the PAP lost Punggol East SMC, they started improving.
And let them lose Jalan Besar GRC, maybe they’ll start repenting!
The crowd agrees.
8.35 p.m: I’ve taken to speaking to some of the people in attendance. My first encounter is with an uncle who is showing off his newly bought WP-branded umbrella.
“It’s supposed to cost $12, but I gave them $20!” he says.
I ask him about his change.
“The rest…aiyah, give them lah!”
8.40 p.m: A second uncle I speak to bemoans the massive turnout.
“I should have brought a selfie stick to see above all these heads!”
I should have done that too.
8.48 p.m: I seem to have missed a candidate’s speech while talking to the uncles.
Anyways, Frieda Chan, a social worker who ran in Moulmein-Kallang in 2011, is up. She introduces herself in fluent Teochew before settling in English.
8.52 p.m: There is a man selling inflatable hammers. “You can fight with your kids,” he says. “Its fun!” he says.
I somehow doubt that.
8.54 p.m: Frieda is now talking about elderly friendly measures. Jalan Besar contains the neighbourhoods of Whampoa, Bendeemer, and Lavender, where the elderly make up large parts of the population, so she knows what she’s talking about.
Here are her proposed measures:
- Reduce speed limit in areas where pedestrian traffic is heavy
- Roads leading to areas with reduced speed should be demarcated with road surface paint and made narrower
- Countdown timers for traffic lights so the elderly can gauge how much time they have to cross the road — because “sometimes the tongkat takes a while”
- Prioritise street-level crossings over overhead bridges
- Allocate space for convenience and coffeeshops for every two precincts
Another auntie eyes me up suspiciously. Is it just my face?
9 p.m: L Somasundaram, who also ran for Moulmein-Kallang in 2011 takes over. He speaks in Tamil first.
A man beside me randomly starts clapping. His Chinese friend seems surprised, and they have a short exchange.
Friend: “Eh, you know Tamil ah?”
Man: “I know lah..”
Friend: “I only know one word. *curses in Tamil (I know this curse word too)*”
Ah, the multiracialism in Singapore in truly amazing.
9.03 p.m: Soma — as he’s told us to address him by — talks about how he greets residents in 3 languages.
His attempt in Mandarin garners some enthusiastic applause.
His Malay greeting is met with less noise.
His Tamil greeting ends in silence.
9.16 p.m: Aljunied candidate Pritam Singh is introduced, and quickly demonstrates his ability at language by speaking in first Malay, then Mandarin.
The audience erupts.
His Mandarin speech is about race, where Pritam reflects on his position as a minority MP, while emphasising the importance of racial harmony.
The enunciation isn’t the best, but the crowd lap it up anyway.
9.25 p.m: This is the moment everyone’s been waiting for — WP Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang takes the stage to a standing ovation.
Low hopes that everybody in the understood Pritam’s Mandarin. Somebody nearby shouts (in Mandarin) “[His Mandarin] better than mine!”
I somehow doubt that too.
9.27 p.m: For the second night in a row, Mr Low speaks about AHPETC, a clearly unpopular subject with those who turned up.
I believe you all know, that in the past few months, the PAP have been creating a hoo-ha about AHPETC. *boos* In the parliament, we spent 2 days debating the AGO’s report, and we’ve done our fair share of explaining. *more boos* However, the PAP has taken the opportunity to execute personal attacks, and engage in mudslinging! *boos till the cows come home*
Low later explains that prior to joining AHPETC, Hougang Town Council (HTC) never had any financial problems while under the WP. In fact, before merging with Aljunied Town Council, HTC was operating with a profit of $80,000.
His Mandarin speech ends off with a rally for voters to reject PAP’s brand of mudslinging and dirty politics.
9.34 p.m: WP chairman Sylvia Lim is next. She wastes no time in talking about PAP, suggesting the incumbent does not respect the votes. This comes to the bigger point of WP’s proposal of abolishing the GRC system — “a system that allows new candidates to enter parliament under the protection of a minister,” says Lim.
9.36 p.m: Lim segues into football, given the rally site’s proximity to Jalan Besar Stadium. She provides us with a throwback to the glory days of Singaporean football, eventually culminating with Singapore’s Malaysia Cup victory in 1977.
Somebody chants the name of legendary Singaporean footballer Quah Kim Song, in reference to Lim’s current partner.
Lim catches the chant, smiles wryly, and continues.
“…and I am so proud that the man who headed in the winning goal is here with us tonight, as my personal driver!”
The crowd goes wild, doing their best impression of football fans in 1977.
She emphasises her point that football should be run by people who play football, not politicians who know nothing about sport.
Lim also bemoans Singapore football team’s drop to a new low in the world rankings. “Just like our media!” somebody shouts.
9.45 p.m: Sylvia Lim ends her speech, and Low Thia Khiang reappears.
“Teochew ah?” somebody asks.
Somebody is about to be disappointed.
Low’s speech in English is much like PAP’s manifesto — he opts for track record, pointing at WP’s performance, and the difference they have made in parliament after being elected.
We have not disrupted the workings of the Government, and have upheld the dignity of the parliament. We have fulfilled out promise to be a rational, respectable, and responsible party.
He concludes his speech like every other WP candidate so far — “Empower Your Future!” — before having to confirm the next rally location.
“We’ll see you tomorrow at..Nee Soon?”
10 p.m: The rally comes to an end right on the dot at 10pm. I drag my tired and hungry body out of the padang, straight into an ice-cream cart. A lifeline!
I speak to the ice-cream auntie. Contrary to popular belief, business hasn’t been good today. She arrived at 7 pm, so all the spaces on the grass had already been taken up, and was forced to set up shop on a pavement on the fringes of the padang.
“Inside people sell $1.50, business so good; I sell $1, also nobody want to buy.”
Well auntie, the early bird catches the worm!
Final thoughts: The rally started off slow, but eventually gained pace as the crowds swelled and speakers got more experienced. WP candidates held nothing back, taking potshots at the PAP, inciting the emotions of the crowd.
The crowd is absolutely amazing. They boo; they cheer; they chant. These uncles and aunties are basically every rock star’s dream audience. Who knew Singaporeans had it in them? People always say Singaporeans are uncaring and apathetic — try telling that to the WP candidates who had crowds rush to the railings just to shake their hands while leaving.
Unfeeling? Not in your wildest dreams.
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