What young politicians need: a thick skin, and a cause to fight for

What young politicians need: a thick skin, and a cause to fight for

THE SUPPER CLUB / TIN PEI LING

In the 2011 General Election, Ms Tin Pei Ling received some of the harshest criticisms levelled at candidates. Then aged 27, she was deemed too young, inexperienced and lacking in substance. She was mocked for owning a Kate Spade handbag. She was shrugged off as having entered politics via her husband Ng How Yue, who was then principal private secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

She was also belittled for riding on the coat-tails of Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who led the five-member Marine Parade GRC team to victory. But three years later, Ms Tin, who turned 31 last month, was praised by PM Lee for proving her detractors wrong by being able to connect with her residents and solving their problems. She tells Rachel Au-Yong about her trials, how she coped with the stress of being attacked especially on social media, and whether she would contest a single-seat constituency.

How did you feel when PM Lee praised you last weekend at the opening of the refurbished community club in your MacPherson ward?

Pleasantly surprised. My grassroots leaders, volunteers and myself - we were all very touched and pleased that PM did it. As you know, I had a tough start in 2011. If not for my team who stood by me, it would have been difficult to arrive at where I am today. So, by PM acknowledging that we had done at least an okay job - that was a morale booster.

Although you seem to have overcome most of the criticisms, many people are still sceptical about your political mandate. Would contesting a single-seat constituency silence your critics?

Hopefully. But nobody can please everyone every time and so, there may be new criticisms that will emerge. At the end of the day, a politician must be prepared to face such negativity, develop a thick skin and do things for the right reason.

Would you stand in a single-seat constituency, if asked?

I will. Of course, I'd leave the decision to the party leaders, but I'm ready to take on the challenge.

Some say your achievements in MacPherson are no more than those of a good social worker and estate manager. What is your response?

When I decided to put myself forward as a candidate, it was mainly because I felt strongly about the elderly, youth and mental-health issues. But at the end of the day, no policy can be formulated in a vacuum. Whatever the debate, whether it's about a particular law or the grand direction of the country, we cannot divorce ourselves from a good grasp of the ground. That's why I focus a significant amount of my time on getting to know the people on the ground, and to see whether policies have worked or unintentionally hurt them.

When your party fielded you, it said you would be a voice for your generation. But your detractors say they hardly see you play that role in Parliament. What is your reply?

I have raised parliamentary questions, participated in debates and discussed many issues on Facebook and during media interviews, especially about the elderly, the young and mental health. Also, there is a whole slate of MPs who feel strongly about different issues, and who speak passionately about them. That is positive because I doubt any single MP can reasonably represent every Singaporean. I will try harder to make my points more strongly, and perhaps post my speeches and questions I have raised online more often. At the end of the day, I want to contribute constructively to the debate and bring about real benefits for people.

I think there are expectations that the youngest one must always be the one to bang the table. I do bang the table sometimes, but it does not mean that I have to do it publicly or all the time. Different people can take on different roles, and for issues I feel strongly about, I will speak up. The issue I've talked about most in Parliament is the elderly, because I feel passionately about this and I believe the concern as to whether my generation can support them will become more prominent as our parents enter retirement.

What are the top demands of your generation that they want to see fulfilled?

I think I'm Gen Y. There can be a broad range of desires in a generation, because a generation is not just one year, but 10 or more. Take having kids, for example. Some don't want children because they want time for personal pursuits - like climbing a mountain! Others worry about the cost of living, while still others are happy to have kids. But if I were to pick some of their key demands, these would be: having a good education and a meaningful job, fair competition, and being able to support their families (whether it be their children or aged parents).

There's also an increasing desire to participate in decision-making, to have a voice in major issues of the day and to build a fairer society. I saw this very clearly when, as an undergraduate, I chaired the National Youth Forum in 2006. (The biennial forum is for young people aged 17 to 25 years old to discuss national issues.)


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