No choice but to keep going

No choice but to keep going
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Twice, he contested in Punggol East SMC and lost his electoral deposits.

In the 2011 General Election, he won 4.5 per cent of the votes.

In a by-election two years after that, in a three-cornered fight between the People's Action Party, Workers' Party and SDA, Mr Lim's vote share dwindled to just 0.6 per cent.

It seemed like he was courting doom, but Mr Desmond Lim Bak Chuan, of the Singapore Democratic Alliance, had just one goal in mind - keeping the party alive.


"We knew that we would definitely lose the deposit. We did a survey (on ground sentiments). But no choice... If SDA did not contest in Punggol East, we would be easily wiped out in the following election," the 47-year-old said.

By contesting in Punggol East, the party would at least still have a presence in the political arena, he explained.

Here is a man who has been trying to strike it out in politics for the past 23 years, with little success.

And he is determined to soldier on until he achieves his goal of becoming a Member of Parliament, despite knowing full well that it will be a long, arduous and sometimes thankless journey.

The determination seems to come naturally for the steely-eyed man, who started talking only when he was seven, dropped out of primary school because he could not cope and pursued a different academic path, and is still struggling with his command of English.

"Yes, I'm not good in English," he readily concedes. "But that doesn't mean that I cannot serve. That doesn't mean I don't have the ability or capability to make things happen."


When his friend spoke of a party on a Friday night in 1992, Mr Lim gamely agreed. Even as they arrived at a block of flats in Boon Lay, the 47-year-old assumed it was a mobile disco, an "in" thing in his student days.

But as he entered the flat, he was confused by the setting.

"There were no disco lights, just a bunch of senior men sitting around," he said.

It turned out to be a party meeting for the Singapore Justice Party (SJP), made up mostly of marine shipyard workers.

Mr Lim decided to join them as he saw SJP as an alternative union movement to the NTUC (National Trade Union Congress), he said.

The party now comes under the Singapore Democratic Alliance, which Mr Lim leads.


When Mr Lim's wife failed to dissuade him from staying in politics, she laid down the ultimatum.

"Fulfil three criteria and you can continue. First, don't let it affect our family life. Second, don't compromise our quality of living. Third, when I call for you, you must be there," she told him.

Mr Lim shared that his wife had felt indignant on his behalf about the personal attacks. She was also concerned about their 3½-year-old son's feelings when he grows up and realises that his father is being laughed at.

"But I told her there's no fairness in life, so let's move on. Of course, she will nag. After all, a wife is a wife," he said with a laugh.

"But at the end of the day, she's still okay with it because she respects my decision. I have proven to her that despite my setbacks, our lives haven't really been affected," he added.


Determination and believing in yourself are traits that make a good leader, Mr Lim said.

"I would say that without determination, honestly, one will easily give up when there are setbacks. In life, there is no smooth ride. If I don't have confidence in myself, I will not be able to deal with setbacks in life," he said.

Then, there is the heartware - having the right values and a passion for helping people.

Mr Lim spoke about "the spirit of Chiam See Tong", which is to never reject someone in need. It is a value that has stuck with him from when Mr Chiam was still SDA's leader, to whom Mr Lim was his able assistant for town council matters and Meet-the-People sessions.

"We don't conduct means testing or ask for their bank statements when helping the needy. If they want to take advantage of us, so be it."

This article was first published on September 9, 2015.
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