Six months on the ground

Six months on the ground
(From left) Former Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Seng Han Thong, Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam, Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Yee Chia Hsing, Workers’ Party (WP) Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) Leon Perera, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Sun Xueling and WP NCMP Dennis Tan at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Cabinet at the Istana on 1 October 2015.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - The excitement of last September's General Election has died down, and the new Members of Parliament have settled into a rhythm of visiting residents in their homes, attending community events and running weekly Meet-the-People Sessions.

They have also made their parliamentary debut at the opening of the 13th Parliament on issues close to their hearts.

For instance, Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo, 38, suggested a more family-friendly flexible work arrangement for mothers, while Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Saktiandi Supaat, 42, highlighted the need to raise awareness of SkillsFuture initiatives in the Malay-Muslim community.

All this was on top of their day jobs, which are no less demanding.

But what do they make of their performance and their political journey so far?

The Sunday Times quizzed all the new MPs on their biggest gaffes in the last six months, the loss of their political innocence and which Harry Potter House they would put themselves in.

Is it the just and loyal house of Hufflepuff, or that of Gryffindor, reserved only for the bravest?

As the MPs, often thought of as strait-laced political figures, reflect on the past six months, their responses to the somewhat cheeky questions provide a glimpse into their personalities.

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Sun Xueling, 36, once visited 160 households in her ward wearing high-heeled shoes, while Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Yee Chia Hsing, 44, wishes he was Sun Wukong, the speedy mythological monkey god who can create several clones of himself.

Several new MPs did not respond, or declined to respond, to the questions.

The latter include Acting Education Ministers, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Ng Chee Meng, 47, and Sembawang GRC MP Ong Ye Kung, 46, as well as Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Chee Hong Tat, 42, Minister of State for Communications and Information and Health.

Fengshan MP Cheryl Chan, 39, who has been media-shy since the elections last year, said via her branch secretary she could not take part due to her hectic schedule.

Her election opponent Dennis Tan, 45, one of three Workers' Party (WP) Non-Constituency MPs, declined to respond. So did his WP colleague Leon Perera, 45.

Photo: PAP HQ

TAN WU MENG, 40

MP for Jurong GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

In politics you have to be innocent, yet worldly - being able to believe in and bring out the best in people while knowing some folk may have selfish or even harmful intentions. I remember an old lady with cancer. She sold her HDB flat and transferred the proceeds to her daughter for safe keeping and moved in with her. Her condition improved. But the daughter evicted her the first day of Chinese New Year. When family members do not treat each other with basic decency, it's heartbreaking.

My biggest gaffe was...

On the first night of Chingay, we all got drenched despite the ponchos, including my four-year old daughter. Her spare clothes were wet. I should have put them in a Ziploc bag.

What in the last six months do you think people remember you for?

Wearing my heart on my sleeve.

The most surprising thing about politics I have found out is...

How you start to live, breathe, sleep, thinking about Singapore all the time - it's a tone our leaders set. Experiences at work can provide perspectives on how to make Singapore better: looking after patients, listening to the challenges doctors and nurses face.

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

Gryffindor.

If you could turn back the clock on the campaign last year, what would you do differently?

I prefer to focus on shaping our "Days of Present Futures" (to paraphrase from X-Men).

Photo: The Straits Times

AMRIN AMIN, 37

MP for Sembawang GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

It's more a gradual process. I started involving myself with grassroots work in 2003. I had a bit of time to learn and settle in.

My biggest gaffe was...

It's been good so far. People have been very kind and encouraging.

What in the last six months do you think people remember you for?

Being part of an awesome Sembawang GRC "boyband" team. (The five MPs are all men, aged 37 to 63.)

The most surprising thing about politics I have found out is...

It is full of surprises, pleasant and not so pleasant, and you have to greet both with grace. I remember these lines from Rudyard Kipling's poem If: "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those imposters just the same... If you can fill the unforgiving minute, With 60 seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth..."

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

Hufflepuff. I identify with their values of hard work, patience and dedication.

If you could turn back the clock on the campaign last year, what would you do differently?

I try my best at each stage and move on from there.

Photo: Berita Harian

YEE CHIA HSING, 44

MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

I still believe that I have managed to hold on my political innocence.

My biggest gaffe was...

Thankfully, nothing big. But I started my Facebook presence with both profile and page, so now I have to maintain both accounts.

What in the last six months do you think people remember you for?

I hope residents remember me as a friendly and hardworking MP. In my maiden speech, I spoke about the difficult market conditions local small and medium enterprises are facing. Some residents who run small businesses thanked me for speaking up for them.

The most surprising thing about politics I have found out is...

Residents are very welcoming. Not only during house visits, but when we appear unexpectedly, like handing out oranges during Chinese New Year at a bus stop. A resident driving past stopped to say "hi".

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

I can't really tell which House is which. Given that it is the Year of the Monkey, I wish I was Sun Wukong, the Monkey God who can call on multiple clones of himself. On Valentine's Day, I had five Chinese New Year community events and was out all day.

If you could turn back the clock on the campaign last year, what would you do differently?

Nothing much. Think our campaign went smoothly.

Photo: The Straits Times

DANIEL GOH, 42

Non-Constituency MP

I lost my political innocence when...

I witnessed egos clashing between opposition party figures and the way too many of us treated the voters like ground to be fought over rather than people we should be engaging.

My biggest gaffe was...

Not waving back to someone who recognised me and waved, and waving back to someone who was actually waving to someone else, thinking she recognised me.

What do you think people remember you for after the last six months?

The professor who would be the willing duckweed in Parliament. (Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang said in January that NCMPs have difficulty sinking political roots in a constituency and were like "duckweed on the water of a pond".)

The most surprising thing about politics I found out was...

We have so many political pundits concerned with the winning and losing of elections rather than thinker-doers who would listen more, reflect on ways to advance our democracy and act to do so.

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

Ravenclaw, according to my friends. I am no Potterite, but am a Trekkie, and I admire Spock, for his wisdom is derived from the tension of logical reasoning and being in touch with one's emotions, all in the service of humanity.

If you could turn back the clock on the campaign, what would you do differently?

Smile a lot more - I tend to retreat into deep thought with a resting wizard face.

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