Choo himself has been rolling out various plans for the constituency, particularly since the former Member of Parliament, the Workers’ Party’s Yaw Shin Leong, was sacked from the WP for refusing to explain to the party’s Central Executive Council (CEC) the alleged marital affairs he was involved in. Yaw’s Hougang seat was declared vacant from 14 February.
As mentioned by a friend, Choo has:
1. Set up a mobile TCM clinic or free clinic corner for the elderly residents – 22 February 2012
2. Introduced ‘Weekly’ Coffee Session – started on 25 April 2011, restarted on 22 August 2011. It only became weekly from 5 March 2012 onwards.
3. Conducted visits to private estates – started on 23 March 2012
4. Introduced free Teochew porridge to Hougang residents every Sunday morning – started on 28 March 2012
5. Set up a job placement hub for Hougang residents – launched on 14 April 2012
6. Held block visits/ Zone parties with residents – started on 15 April 2012
7. Began a scheme to provide free hearing aids for Hougang elderly – started on 25 April 2012
8. Introduced monthly legal consultations – starting on 15 May 2012
Choo has also said he intends to lobby for a wet market in the ward. When queried on these, Choo “maintains that his plans are not electioneering tactics, but long-term schemes that will be carried out 'with or without the by-election.”
Before we all start jumping in protest, it is perfectly alright for MPs to raise municipal and local issues, given the current political system in place.
However, as writer Kirsten Han said in this article, if municipal and local issues are all that an MP has to be concerned about, “if every voter were to vote according to local constituency-based issues, then who’s keeping an eye out for Singapore as a whole?”
That, truly, is the nub of the issue when we cast our votes.
Too often, an election – whether a general election or a by-election – is pared down to its very bones. That voters should only be concerned about what is immediately before and around them. This has given rise to elections where voters are asked – and threatened – to vote in the ruling party in order to have upgrading for their flats, to have “Olympic-sized swimming pools” in their neighbourhood, or even new car parks in their constituency. Some may even get to choose what colour their HDB blocks will be painted with – if they choose the “right” party.
As Kirsten wrote, this wanting to present municipal issues as the most important considerations voters should care about is not limited to the ruling party.
Opposition parties, too, have dangled such carrots. I remember one opposition leader, not too long ago, offering to fight for all trees along expressways to be removed because, he says, drivers had complained to him that they cannot see the number of the blocks which are near the expressway blocked by the trees.
Yet, as all parties would say and have said, elections are serious matters. And indeed, they are. Which is why it is of utmost importance that would-be MPs and MPs reveal and explain their positions on national issues as well. For example, what is the position of Choo and his opponent in the Hougang by-election, WP’s Png Eng Huat, on issues such as immigration, foreign labour, public transport, education, healthcare, retirement, wages, jobs, etc.
Indeed, what are their positions on the death penalty and the mandatory death penalty, human rights, rights of domestic workers, civil liberties and so on.
Some may say that these are heavy issues which would require in-depth discussions. That may be true but anyone who wants to be MP – to represent the people – must be aware of these issues and at least be able to articulate his position on them. They may even say these have already been spelt out in their respective parties’ manifestos. This may be true – which only means that the 2 candidates should have no problem articulating them and presenting them to the voting public.
This is because when elected, an MP has a vote in Parliament. And his belief and knowledge of these issues will inform how he votes – on behalf of his constituency – when policies affecting or involving these issues are raised in Parliament.
And how he votes will therefore affect the country as a whole.
So, the importance of an MP goes beyond the municipal. It is thus disingenuous for anyone, let alone a DPM, to say that the by-election is or should be a “local one” and nothing more. If all that Hougang voters – or any voter in a by-election, for that matter – are voting for is a town manager to take care of the drains, wet markets, playgrounds, etc, then perhaps we have cheapened the roles they ought to play, and have dismissed them as incapable of something greater, something more.
And if so, what really is the point of voting them into the highest law-making institution in the land?
Do you need an MP in Parliament to argue for all trees along expressways to be chopped down?