Two rallies at the edge of civilisation

NSP rally at Admiralty

NSP rally at Admiralty

With eight parties competing — nine if one includes the Democratic Progressive Party whose members teamed up with the Singapore People’s Party in Bishan-Toa Payoh — there weren’t enough nights to cover all parties’ rallies. So, Tuesday night, despite hazy conditions, I decided to hop over to two. The two I chose were in pretty remote locations — a half-deliberate choice because I wanted to see if difficulty of access had a severe effect on crowd size.

In 2011, I attended at least one National Solidarity Party (NSP) rally and if memory serves me correctly it was somewhere in Geylang East which is sort of inner suburbs. There were about 2,000 – 4,000 people present. Nicole Seah was speaking that night — she was one of the stars of the 2011 general election — and I recall she got a very hearty reception from the crowd.

Tonight (Tuesday 8 September) I made my way to the NSP rally about 600 metres from Admiralty metro station. It was in a field with housing blocks on one side and total darkness (secondary forest?) on the other. It felt like the edge of civilisation. As for the crowd size, the top picture says it all.

The speaker (I don’t know his name) was going on about the People’s Action Party (PAP) being all liars. As an example, he cited their boast of having taken Singapore from swamp to global city. But, he pointed out to the crowd, Singapore had a general hospital and a university before the PAP came into office. How could we have been a swamp?

Alrighty, that was entertaining.

But mostly, I was distracted trying to see what I could do to get the white balance on my camera right. The NSP lit their stage with just one lamp, which had a strong greenish hue. If I balanced for the stage lighting, the people in the audience would be discoloured. In the end, I decided to get the innocent people right and leave NSP’s lighting to NSP.

Green hue, poor placement (look at the shadows cast by the other candidates seated at the back of stage) make the party look like a lost cause.

Green hue, poor placement (look at the shadows cast by the other candidates seated at the back of stage) make the party look like a lost cause.

The lamp was also placed lower than the speakers’ faces, and between the coloration and the angle of the light, it made their speakers look ghoulish. Seriously, dudes, this is not the way to run a campaign.

* * * * *

I was out of there by about 8:40pm, taking a bus down to Bukit Gombak, where a PAP rally was in progress at a disused primary school at the corner of Bukit Batok Road and Bukit Batok West Avenue 2. This location too had housing blocks on one side and secondary forest on the other. As I walked towards the location from the bus stop, I found myself going against (foot) traffic. There were only about 4 or 5 persons walking towards the rally site, but easily 40 or 50 leaving the place. Had the rally finished early?

Fortunately not. Why so many people were leaving, I probably would never know. When I reached the rally (around 9:15pm), the last speaker, Amy Khor was at the microphone. She was detailing all the improvements that were coming to the constituency of Hong Kah North: something about lift upgrading and a new market. I briefly wondered: this estate has been here for 25 – 30 years, and they’re only now talking about a market?

She also spoke about financial support for needy residents, but I didn’t really pay attention to the details.

Click to enlarge (stitched from two pictures)

Click to enlarge (stitched from two pictures)

This was followed by how she was going to improve bus services in the area, which seemed to me to be a bit iffy, since route planning comes under the Land Transport Authority and the actual services are run by profit-seeking companies.

The crowd was quite respectable in size, as you can see from the photo above. As always at PAP rallies, there were seats in front which were about 80 – 90% occupied. The seated ones were better equipped with flags and paraphernalia than those standing at the back.

All ready to cheer

All ready to cheer

I strolled around a bit at the back of the crowd as Amy Khor was speaking and eavesdropped on what members of the audience were saying among themselves. They seemed genuinely interested in what she had to offer for estate improvements. For example, when Amy Khor was speaking about an upgrading programme, a woman in the audience asked the man next to her (probably her husband) whether he caught what Khor had said were the block numbers. “Is our block included?” she asked him.

It’s easy to make fun of the fact that PAP rallies devote little time to broader national issues, focussing instead on hyperlocal matters, but doing so may be a kind of snobbery. Estate improvements are important to those living in public housing.

The next picture is interesting. If you can read Chinese, click to enlarge it and try to figure out which groups were making these tributes to the PAP. I believe the yellow one came from a temple. Isn’t it unwise to let religious groups take sides in politics?

Proudly displayed at the PAP rally

Proudly displayed at the PAP rally

Anyway, it was soon over. The emcee led the cheering “Majulah PAP”, and that’s when I noticed another difference between those seated in the front and those at the rear. The front crowd stood up and waved their flags sort-of enthusiastically; those at the back were mostly impassive.

The final cheers to end the PAP rally

The final cheers to end the PAP rally

Or was I imagining the difference?

There is the widely-shared meme that PAP rally attendance is beefed up by bused-in participants. I myself have mentioned it in previous articles. But how true is it?

200 metres out of the field, I found my answer. I saw two buses parked with a third drawing up behind them soon after.

A third bus pulled up a few seconds later.

A third bus pulled up a few seconds later.

Curious, I went up to take a photo of something stuck onto the front bus’ windscreen. But as I raised my camera, a driver and another man came up aggressively at me, asking why I was taking a picture. I ignored them, but also decided not to push my luck and take close-ups of the other buses.

From Bishan and Toa Payoh

From Bishan and Yio Chu Kang (Sorry, photo is a little shaken because that was the moment the men came aggressively at me)

Here’s the mystery: This Bukit Gombak rally was only one of six that the PAP was holding tonight, and they were busing them in all the way from Yio Chu Kang? Surely they could have sourced bodies from somewhere closer? Surely the Yio Chu Kang folks had a rally closer to home? Where’s the logic in that?

Saying good night to each other before boarding the buses

Saying good night to each other before boarding the buses

Tomorrow is the last night of the campaign. I haven’t done a Worker’s Party rally yet, but should I? It’s going to be well covered by others and unless I get there really early, I won’t find a good vantage point. It may be more fun to cover the Reform Party in Ang Mo Kio. But then again, there’s Gilbert Goh likely to speak there (he’s one of the candidates)….




5 Responses to “Two rallies at the edge of civilisation”

  1. 1 yuenchungkwong 9 September 2015 at 02:53

    PAP presumably has a national crowd that is mobilized to go to rallies anywhere. There are a few assembly points around the city where buses originate from, and return to afterwards. The people you saw leaving early would have got there on their own by public transport, as did those standing at the back. They show little enthusiasm, but at least they took the trouble to go.

    Even before the election was called, I was already saying to friends “NSP wont survive past this election; not sure it would last until it”. In 2011 it received a crowd of well qualified candidates (including Nicole Seah – I have several photos of her campaigning in Reform Party Yellow that broke off from Reform Party after the SDA fiasco (which also caused SPP to leave SDA), but it was a flash in the pan. It was actually RP that started the trend of attracting better qualified opposition party members in significant numbers, but the beneficiary turns out to be WP.

  2. 2 Alan 9 September 2015 at 12:43

    I travelled all the way from the west to attend my first WP rally @ Aljunied Serangoon stadium last night and the mood was overwhelming good. The whole stadium was almost full, the grand stand seats were mostly taken even when I reached the stadium early at 6.30pm and the street besides the stadium were lined with people by the time the rally started. The people all seem to be in jovial mood and many came prepared with their own packet dinner, snacks and drinks. It was almost like a picnic. Rest assured there is no sponsored food or drinks from the organisers unlike the PAP ones.

    In fact many people dipped into their own pockets to pay for the WP flags, umbrellas, party manifesto, plastic hammers, etc. as can obviously be seen through the crowds. This is something what I would call as pure from the heart, not those fake ones from Kee Chiu. PAP must be in denial mode to keep on trying to fool us as if we have not had enough of PAP’s trickery.

    Judging from the mood, I must say the WP still command a good rapport from their supporters despite all those nasty PAP allegations. I think the more PAP wants to depict them as devils, the more pissed off the people are. Especially the part when LTK and SL revealed in their speeches how the PAP manipulated their way to terminate the Town Council software and the PA basketball facilities from their authority to give it to the PAP CCCs, there was a lot of booing and jeering at PAP dirty political tricks. Just imagine how despicable PAP can be when LTK revealed that he as MP has to seek the CCC for certain approvals which was not the case before.

    I think the quality of the majority WP speakers are quite good and obviously have good academic credentials as well. If all goes well, I think WP will wrestle a few more seats from PAP. Slow and steady, I think WP is our alternative answer and solution to PAP’s arrogant leaders. Even if they lose, never mind. Rome was not built in a single day.

  3. 3 Richard Lee 9 September 2015 at 13:13

    I’m perfectly happy with free PAP buses & nasi lemak. If I then vote for someone else, PM Lee will understand his nasi lemak was not good enough to buy my vote.

    So I make no apology for posting PM Lee’s quote from 2006 yet again. It really DOES sum up PAP’s campaign & policy for this GE.

    The only slightly new wrinkle is drumming up fear that PAP may not just lose another GRC or two but might actually be voted out.

    PM Lee tells us why they must continue to rule.

    “Suppose you had 10, 15, 20 opposition members in Parliament. Instead of spending my time thinking what is the right policy for Singapore, I’m going to spend all my time thinking what’s the right way to fix them, to buy my supporters votes” – PM Lee, may06

    Seen anything from PAP that isn’t covered by this? New policies? Defence of old policies? Modifications to White Paper?

    Oh! I forgot. ESM Goh, the real architect of modern Singapore, defended his 1994 “Competitive Salaries for Competent & Honest Government” and explained what he does to merit multi-million Dignity.

  4. 4 Squirrel 9 September 2015 at 13:16

    When the RC people came to visit our family, they “forced” my mom to take picture with them (and put on a fake smile). I told mom be wary, she may become popular overnight with her “smiling photo” photoshoped with other minister lording over her and placed them all over the lamp post in Singapore.

  5. 5 Sam 9 September 2015 at 17:34

    I am surprised that Societies such as Zhu Lin Si and Fu An Miao are allowed to show support for any political party. I thought it is standard requirement to the ROS that associations and religious societies are required to have in their constitution a provision that prohibits involvement in political activities. Perhaps, when you are the PAP, you are given more gray area and leeway to work in.

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