Mon, Jun 22, 2009
The New Paper
'I've got thick skin'

By Elysa Chen

THIS veteran politician is known for his forthright comments, when approached by the media, even if it draws flak.

Unruffled by it all, Member of Parliament for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Charles Chong, said: 'If you can't stand the heat, don't get involved in politics'.

The affable MP, who has been in politics for 21 years, has been the target of certain netizens who are quick to take potshots at his frank views

When he spoke to The New Paper over the phone from northern Thailand, where he was visiting a refugee camp, Mr Chong said he did not mind the criticism if it draws the attention away from others who are less able to withstand it.

He said: 'I might be a punching bag for many netizens, but in these hard times, frustrations have got to be vented on someone or another.

'It will be sad if people vented their frustrations on other new Singaporeans who are here to find a better life. As a politician, I can stand the heat.'

He was referring to the recent online reactions to his comments that Singaporeans are more prone to complain than new immigrants.

Speaking to the media last week on key programmes in Punggol, he had said: 'When you ask Singaporean residents for feedback, they will complain that they have to wait more than 15 minutes for the bus.

'But when you ask new immigrants, they are happy that the bus comes in under 30 minutes.'

His observation sparked off several online responses, including some criticising foreign talent (FT) in general.

Many postings were vulgar or personal .

Online flak

One of the comments came from oli9, who wrote: 'If FTs are much better, it's pretty obvious they would've stayed in their home country. Only the crappy ones tend to QUIT their own homeland to become pretentious Lords of other countries.'

Earlier this year, Mr Chong drew fire when he used the term 'lesser mortals' in connection with those who criticised Mr Tan Yong Soon's family holiday to the famed Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris, despite the recession. (See report below.)

Despite bearing the brunt of the online community's wrath, Mr Chong remains unflappable.

He said: 'After 21 years in politics, I have developed very thick skin. The Internet is one area where people still have the cloak of anonymity, so comments can get a bit extreme there.

'But I don't think it's harmful, unless it starts fanning racial hatred or violence.'

He felt, however, that there should be more 'self-regulation' on the Internet.

Recalling a post where a netizen had applauded the person who had set MP Seng Han Thong on fire, he said: 'I thought that went too far. But other netizens soon started criticising the person who made the comment, and the person eventually made an apology.'

Will Mr Chong be setting up a blog to defend himself against online attacks?

After all, NMP Siew Kum Hong had done so, to refute online allegations that he was receiving funding from a Swedish politician.

But Mr Chong said that he would not do so, explaining that 'there would be no end to it'.

'There will always be people who disagree with my views. Sometimes, we just need to agree to disagree, and live and let live. You do not have to convince people to think exactly the same way as you do all the time.'

He doesn't intend to stop speaking up, even though he is getting 'whacked'.

Not one to 'toe the line', Mr Chong said: 'If there's the need to speak up, it's important to speak up. I can play it safe, not say anything and fly under the radar.

'But that's not the function of an MP.'



Defending Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources Tan Yong Soon, who had written about a $46,500 holiday to Paris' famed Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in The Straits Times last December, MrChong had said in an interview on 20 Jan this year that the rebuke in Parliament was 'harsh'.

He added that Mr Tan didn't 'brag' about how expensive the trip was in the article.

This raised an online ruckus, with netizens calling for the 'lesser mortals' to vote him out of office at the next election.


'Maybe it made lesser mortals envious and they thought maybe he was a little bit boastful...would people have taken offence if his wife (a senior investment counsellor at a bank) had paid for everything?'


'So ya-ya papaya to call us 'lesser mortals'.'
- huhumm999, on popular forum hardwarezone.com

'Photo of the god-like MP Charles Chong from Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC'.
- blogger Mr Brown, who posted a photo of Mr Chong with the caption above.


Mr Eugene Yeo of WayangPartyClub emailed MrChong on 22 Jan for a clarification on his 'lesser mortals' comment.

Mr Chong said that it was not his intention to cause such a storm or to denigrade anyone.

He added that he altered his view of the matter slightly after re-reading Mr Tan's article.


'He (Mr Tan) did not really brag about the cost of his holiday and the cooking lessons. However, other information he revealed... left me with the impression that he was a bit boastful and maybe insensitive to (us) lesser mortals.'


'Charles Chong's reply to a blogger's queries sounds more like a clumsy attempt at damage control.'
- Fang Zhi Yuan of the Singapore Enquirer, in an write-up on how Mr Chong's attempt at clarification launched a fresh wave of attacks instead


Mr Chong was giving the media an update last week on key programmes in Punggol, ahead of a ministerial visit by Law Minister and Second Home Affairs Minister KShanmugam next month.


'When you ask Singaporean residents for feedback, they will complain that they have to wait more than 15 minutes for the bus. But when you ask new immigrants, they are happy that the bus comes in under 30 minutes.'


'If greater mortal Mr Charles Chong can't solve a bus waiting time problem for people who voted him in, what pray tell, can he solve for them?'
- forum user pia

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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