Life after GE: Cynthia Phua

Yes, she regrets losing in Aljunied GRC in last May's General Election (GE).

But victory over the Workers' Party would have brought a different kind of heartache.

If she were still an MP, Madam Cynthia Phua would have been absent from her father's side when he died.

"So I'm glad I was able to take care of him in his last days, after doctors diagnosed him with stomach cancer in late December.

"If I had been working as an MP, I would not be able to care for him," she said.

One year after that historic outcome - it was the first time the opposition had won a GRC, with 54.7 per cent of valid votes - the memory of defeat still stings.

"I was shocked when the results were announced," Madam Phua, 54, recalled.

"We expected a close fight, but we didn't expect to lose. I was very disappointed."

She was so upset that she could not bring herself to talk about what happened with her teammates initially.

"We wanted to let our emotions stabilise first. Also, I had to be strong in front of all the activists."

It took her months to get over the defeat.

"The pain is always there. I felt very, very disappointed," she said over the phone last Friday.

Everyone had worked hard. We tried to serve the people, yet the voters did not look at what had been done for them.

"They were looking at the opposition representation they wanted."

When asked about talk that the Serangoon division polled lowest among the five wards in Aljunied, Madam Phua said: "The results were very close across the board."

The mother of three only felt better after a study stint at Harvard University.

During the time abroad, she reflected on what happened.

"I knew what I had to do next. I decided there and then I would not go into politics again."

That was last October.

Three of her teammates thought likewise.

Barely a week after the GE, Mr George Yeo (former foreign affairs minister), Mrs Lim Hwee Hua (former second minister for transport and finance) and Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed (former senior minister of state for foreign affairs) announced they would quit politics.

The decision freed Madam Phua to spend time with her ailing father, 86.

Out of six siblings, she was the closest to him. Her housewife mother died in 1994.

"He would turn up at the MPS (Meet the People session) and wait till it ended after midnight to chat with me. He made me feel very guilty about not spending enough time together," she said.

Never mind that he would nag her about her work.

"He always asked me, 'Why are you doing this (MP) job? Why work so hard'

"I would tell him, never mind. Since I'm already in it, I may as well do it well."

Her father, a former mechanic, suffered lung problems for many years.

But he didn't know he had stomach cancer.

Worried about his age and frailty, the family kept his illness from him.

But Madam Phua remembers his final day clearly.

Told he was faring poorly on March 20, she rushed home.

Her last words to him that night: "I told him not to worry. Financially, we're doing okay and the children are doing okay. If you have to go, go."

Her father died just after midnight.

Now that she's left politics, life remains pretty much the same.

"There are still many functions to attend, this time as a friend, not as an MP."

One year ago: Cynthia Phua
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