Sylvia Lim: Living a life of meaning

Sylvia Lim: Living a life of meaning
Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim made history in 2003 when she became the first woman to be elected chairman of a political party in Singapore. The mandate she has set herself is to enhance democratic processes in the country. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Ms Sylvia Lim's life has been an intrepid search for meaning. She nearly dropped out of her National University of Singapore law degree course, unable to see how a law degree would benefit society. Then, in her final year, driving down the Pan-Island Expressway, she saw a police officer directing traffic in the rain.

"That's how law can serve society," she remembers resolving within herself. She decided on a law enforcement career there and then.

When she graduated, her father sent her for a Master of Laws at the University of London, hoping she would banish the thought. When she returned and applied to join the Singapore Police Force, he threw her out of the house. Undeterred, she checked into the Police Academy. "In my heart, I just felt that I just had to do this."

A decade later, distressed that the opposition could contest only a third of the parliamentary seats during the 2001 General Election, leading to the largest number of walkovers for the incumbent People's Action Party in history, she wrote to the Workers' Party (WP) asking to sign up.

Ten days after the general election, she met WP secretary- general Low Thia Khiang for lunch. He handed her a membership form to take home. She filled it in on the spot. He advised her to mull it over as the form needed a photo to be affixed. She whipped out a couple she had prepared in advance.

"I just didn't want to be distracted or waylaid by anything," she relates in steely tones.

Twelve years on, the 48-year- old's decision to throw in her lot with the opposition has opened up political vistas previously unimaginable. Taking stock in her Aljunied-Hougang Punggol East Town Council office in Serangoon North, she reflects that joining the WP "is probably one of the most meaningful things I've done which had the most effect".

"When I joined in 2001, I didn't have any expectations on what we could achieve, especially in terms of electoral success. I just wanted the elections to mean something and do my part to ensure that Singaporeans could still vote."

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