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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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)….