Sunday, March 26, 2006

DANGLING THE UPGRADING CARROT: SM GOH AIMS TO WOO POTONG PASIR VOTERS

With elections imminent, the ruling incumbent, PAP, and the respective opposition parties have been campaigning and appealing for voters in recent weeks.

As in every General Elections, the focus this time round is no different: Potong Pasir, the longest-running opposition ward, long considered the last bastion of the opposition movement.
Run by Mr Chiam See Tong and his party, Singapore People's Party, Mr Chiam has been the mainstay at Potong Pasir for almost 20 yrs.

Having won 4 consecutive elections on the trot, he is considered the grandmaster of the opposition movement. The underlying strength of Mr Chiam's prowess cannot be doubted.

However strong Mr Chiam is though, he is still mortal. He is now 70 yrs old; with no credible person to take over his mantle, the ruling party must be sensing and probing for signs of weakness.

Almost on cue, the PAP has assigned one of its strongest bulwarks of the PAP: That of current Senior Minister, Goh Chok Tong.

Losing almost no time at all, SM Goh expresses his concerns with regards to Potong Pasir:

Excerpts from Channel News Asia:

Channel NewsAsia
Sunday March 26

SINGAPORE : Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has expressed concern that Hougang and Potong Pasir residents will lose out on upgrading if they do not vote for the People's Action Party.

He has also suggested that the party whip be lifted in Parliament for the PAP MPs if they are elected in these wards.

Mr Goh has been tasked by the Prime Minister to help win back the two opposition seats in the upcoming General Election.

Mr Goh says: "To my right, I see across the estates of the 1990s and to my left, we have the estates of the 1950s. How can I come out of the 50s' zone?"

Upgrading and rejuvenating Hougang constituency were some of the key issues raised by some 500 residents and grassroots leaders at a dialogue.

Mr Goh says he is not there to offer residents upgrading but to hear what they want.

He is worried that the opposition wards of Hougang and Potong Pasir would be left behind.

Mr Goh says: "I do not want the two constituencies to be left behind, especially Potong Pasir, an old estate. Five years down the road, assuming Chiam do win, there will be no upgrading.

"After that, we got to ask ourselves whether the estate is worthwhile upgrading. I'm talking about Lorong 8. By then, the estate would be around 35 years old and the lease is only 99 years, so economically, is it worthwhile?

"My own view is Hougang should be upgraded, otherwise another five years, another 10 years, it would become rather derelict compared to other estates in Singapore."

To address concerns by Hougang residents for an opposition voice in Parliament, Mr Goh says he will push for the party whip to be lifted so that PAP's candidate Eric Low can speak up, if elected.

Mr Goh says: "You have a choice - if having opposition is more important, then vote opposition - but if there is a way to get my views put to parliament to somebody, then vote for your interests, vote for upgrading - and your views can be put across in Parliament and if you vote for Eric Low, I can tell PM to let him be the opposition in Parliament."

The Party whip ensures there are sufficient party members in Parliament to support the party's position and that MPs vote on party lines.

The Whip was lifted in 2002 for all PAP MPs on matters of conscience and certain other issues, except those affecting the Budget, the Constitution, no confidence motions and issues of national security.

Here, SM Goh offers two options:
1. Voting for an alternative voice (i.e Opposition) at the expense of upgrading.
2. Votiing for the PAP, and grab the upgrading carrot.

Anyone who has visited Potong Pasir will agree that it is one of the few "ghost town" estates: The buildings are indeed old, and public transport is severely limited. That, it seems, is the price Potong Pasir citizens have paid for voting for the opposition party.

Given the immense sacrifice borne by Potong Pasir residents, there really isn't much of a choice for the voters this time round. The estate is in urgent need of massive upgrading, and the opposition ward hasn't had the finances it needs to implement an effective upgrading scheme.

If Potong Pasir buckles, the opposition movement shall indeed sink into quagmire. With no opposition parties in Parliament, there will be a dearth of alternative voices in parliament. Sure, there will always be the NMPs, but NMPs are not exactly MPs-elected, hence cannot be expected to voice their concerns with as much fervour as elected MPs.



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