15 mins into counting, Ong Ye Kung knew PAP had lost

SINGAPORE - Considered to be ministerial material, Mr Ong Ye Kung, a member of the People's Action Party (PAP) team for Aljunied GRC knew quickly that the PAP had lost the contest.

He told Li Xueying of The Straits Times that it was just 15 minutes into the counting of the votes that he knew the battle was lost.

His ward, Kaki Bukit, was the furthest from Workers' Party (WP) stronghold of Hougang, and so was regarded the "strongest" among the five wards in Aljunied GRC.

But when the "vote count was 50-50, I knew it was over," he told The Straits Times

The 41-year-old assistant secretary-general of NTUC admitted that the election loss was a blow, even though he was prepared to lose.

"It's a blow, though you psyched yourself up to be prepared for it...But today, I felt better than yesterday. And tomorrow, I will feel better than today."

He had turned down PAP invitation to him to stand for the general election in 2006 because of a personal dilemma.

His father, former Barisan Sosialis MP Ong Lian Teng, who later resigned from Parliament to protest against the PAP's "undemocratic acts", was initially uncomfortable about him joining the PAP.

So was his wife, Diana.

But he changed his mind later, after he had long discussions with his family and they gave him their blessings, he told The Straits Times.

He said that it took a lot for him to say yes to the PAP, but he did it so that he could champion the cause of workers better.

Known for being an effective policymaker, Mr Ong was seconded in 2008 from the elite administrative service to the labour movement. Now, he is remaining at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to continue his work for workers.

But he does not want to dwell on whether he will remain in politics. "Politics is about serving the people, and you can do that with or without politics."

Does he feel let down by the PAP for fielding him in Aljunied GRC? Is it surreal to see some new candidates less qualified than he entering Parliament because of easier contests?

Mr Ong replied to The Straits TImes: "Part of the blow includes those questions that one might ask. And I know some people feel that way for me personally. But part of the resilience (that comes from the experience) is to shut those thoughts out. "You can ask, why is it like that? Why me? But I saw it as a privilege. I fought alongside George Yeo, somebody I'm honoured to learn from."

He is aware of the national tide of desire for alternative voices in Parliament. In fact, it was something he had alluded to during the Young PAP's 25th anniversary celebrations on April 17, when he said the PAP Government has a system "that enables changes from within, that enables change of mindsets".

On hindsight, he felt he could have stressed that more during the campaign. He firmly believes that policies must be implemented with "heart and judgment", and not just by going according to rules.

Whether or not he returns to politics, he has been changed by the "defining" experience. "It's almost like you got a virus and you develop the antibodies for it! Something in you is better, in your instincts."

On Cooling-off Day, he spent quiet time at his father's niche in Mandai. His father died two years ago.

The son might have lost this contest, but he knows his father would have been proud of him because he had entered politics, albeit on the opposing team, for the same reason: "It was not about power, but the motivation."

He told The Straits Times philosophically that both he and his father had ended up on the losing side - in his case, for now at least. "It's a funny twist of fate, isn't it?"