A lot has been said – in print and in cyberspace – about the departures of Ministers George Yeo and Lim Hwee Hua following their team’s defeat in the recently-concluded General Elections (GE). While Mr. Chiam See Tong has signalled his intention to remain in politics in stern preparation for the next GE, The Straits Times special report (May 14, 2011) is a timely reminder of what Mr. Chiam has done and significantly accomplished over the past twenty-seven years as an elected Member of Parliament (MP). More importantly, it puts into perspective his struggles and challenges as the longest-serving Opposition MP, and his unchanging desires to lead and serve.
As a young Singaporean, even though I have not had the privilege of meeting Mr. Chiam vis-à-vis, reading about his endeavours, selfless dedication and listening to his speeches reaffirms the belief that he is worthy of emulation by all aspiring politicians. Individuals – particularly staunch supporters of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) – might disagree with Mr. Chiam’s propositions on socio-economic policies and his insistence upon a strong Opposition in Parliament; however, it is difficult not to appreciate his dogged political determination, patient on-the-ground engagement, as well as his unwavering commitment to his constituents.
His dogged political determination is evident through his continued perseverance despite his initial defeats at the polling booths, and consistent pursuit of a strong and credible Opposition presence in the government. Although some voters might perceive his views as being too radical or idealistic, Mr. Chiam has always approached debates in a civil and gentlemanly manner; a respectful demeanour that has been considerably constructive. His rhetorical abilities and analytical skills have certainly value-added Parliamentary sittings, as he sought to address issues with regard to healthcare, public transportation et cetera.
But what has truly distinguished his sensitivities as a parliamentarian would be his patient, on-the-ground engagement in Potong Pasir. Notwithstanding the fact that he does not enjoy the grassroots network and support managed by his PAP counterparts, Mr. Chiam adds the personal touch in his interactions: be it offering his condolences at a wake in the void deck, or a letter of welcome to new residents. Anecdotal reports point to the competent and efficient management of the local Town Council over the past couple of decades, with the effective construction of sheltered walkways and various amenities. The absence of a proper air-conditioned office has not stopped him from conducting his weekly Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS) at a void deck, with makeshift, yet practical cubicles and furnishings.
The spirit of service before self – comprehending that politics is really about servant-leadership – is reflected in his back-to-basics, unwavering commitment to his constituents. Two strokes and other physical impediments may have affected his speech and mobility, but it has only strengthened his resolve to work for his people. I trust that he has been a good and responsible role model for all politicians.
Mr. Chiam may be down, but he is far from out. Thank you, sir.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.