Singapore GE2020: WP's Pritam Singh says Covid-19 makes campaigning more challenging for the opposition

SINGAPORE – Restrictions on campaigning due to the coronavirus crisis will make this general election more difficult for opposition parties, Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh said on Tuesday (June 30).

“It’s always an uphill battle, but now I think in the situation of Covid-19, it will probably be more challenging for us,” he told reporters gathered in Hougang for the party’s first interview after Nomination Day.

“We have to devote resources not just on the ground, which is still the main thrust of our campaign but also… on social media.”

Mr Singh, 43, added that while the WP is up against an opponent who is more well-resourced, it will continue to fight hard in this election.

The WP is fielding 21 candidates in six constituencies for the July 10 general election.

These are Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC, where the WP is incumbent, as well as East Coast, Marine Parade and Sengkang GRCs and Punggol West SMC.

Mr Singh said the PAP’s move to field Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in East Coast GRC was “an important signal that they take our challenge in East Coast very seriously”.

“I would say we take their challenge equally seriously and that’s why we’ve put together a strong slate of candidates in the East Coast team.”

A number of WP candidates are taking part in elections for the first time. In Sengkang GRC, for example, three of its four-men slate are new faces.

Only lawyer He Ting Ru, 37, had run for elections previously, as part of the WP team contesting Marine Parade GRC in 2015. The other members of its Sengkang team are economist Jamus Lim, 44, equity research analyst Louis Chua, 33, and social activist Raeesah Khan, 26.

Mr Singh said the party has full confidence in the younger candidates.

He said: “I think they will do well for the Workers’ Party and I think they will prove to voters that they’re no pushovers.”

He added: “They will be prepared to fight for the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans not just in Parliament but in the constituency, and in their town councils as well.”

Meanwhile, non-constituency MP (NCMP) Dennis Tan, 49, the party’s candidate for Hougang SMC, thanked voters in the constituency for supporting the WP.

He said: “I’ve always appreciated the Hougang voters’ understanding of the importance of having a strong authoritative voice in Parliament for 29 years.”

Hougang SMC, won by former WP chief Low Thia Khiang in 1991, is the longest-held opposition constituency in Singapore.

Mr Tan said he has learnt many things about the single-seat ward from his predecessors, Mr Low and Mr Png Eng Huat, the WP’s incumbent Hougang MP.

He added: “I look forward to serving them in Parliament and speaking up for them, the past five years in Parliament has given me more confidence.”

Mr Tan also addressed the argument that the opposition need not fear a wipe-out as the enhanced NCMP scheme guarantees at least 12 opposition MPs in Parliament.

The ruling People’s Action Party’s Indranee Rajah made this point on Monday during an interview, saying that NCMPs had the same voting rights as MPs.

Acknowledging that NCMPs have the same speaking rights as elected MPs, Mr Tan added: “But I think we Singaporeans must be very careful that they do not fall into this trap of thinking that NCMP is a solution for an alternative position.”

He said NCMPs may find it tough to sink their roots as opposition parties may not be allowed the same rights to use facilities and organise grassroots events.

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