Integrity and a strong sense of purpose to improve the lives of Singaporeans are key attributes the People’s Action Party (PAP) seeks when choosing a diverse slate of candidates for the coming general election.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday lifted the curtain on the party’s selection process when he introduced a new group of fresh faces for the polls on July 10.
Mr Heng, who is the PAP’s first assistant secretary-general, said: “What we hope to have is a team that is sufficiently diverse for us to reach out to all Singaporeans from different segments of our society, different walks of life, different professions.”
However, that is not enough because Singapore society is becoming increasingly diverse, he noted, pointing out that even just looking at jobs alone, there are so many different areas.
Hence, it also looks at causes that people are interested in, he added.
“There are so many of them. And that is why it is important for us to reach out as much as possible to different groups.
“But the key thing is that we want people of integrity. We want people with a strong sense of service, who feel that they are ready and prepared to contribute to bringing our people together, both in serving our citizens at the front line as an MP and, at the same time, even if they continue their professional work, to serve in Parliament, to speak up in the various debates and deliberations, because that’s where long-term policies are being made.”
Initially, the candidates’ track record, ability and experience are scrutinised, Mr Heng said at a virtual press conference streamed from the PAP headquarters in New Upper Changi Road.
They then go through a “very rigorous selection process, starting from informal chit-chats to more formal tea sessions to selections by our selection committee”, which is chaired by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
Finally, they are approved by the PAP secretary-general, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mr Heng said the four fresh faces he introduced yesterday had modest upbringings. They included Dr Tan See Leng, former managing director of IHH Healthcare, and Mr Tan Kiat How, former chief executive of the Infocomm Media Development Authority.
“But Singapore’s conditions of education and providing opportunities enabled them to be their best (and) achieve what they set out to do,” he said. “Creating that condition remains a very critical factor if we want Singapore to continue to progress.”
The quartet also share a common purpose for entering politics – to improve Singaporeans’ lives, he said.
Their concerns range from the needs of seniors to the young, he added. “And we want to create conditions that allow our young to be able to fulfil their potential. We want to be able to create conditions to look after our seniors even better.”
Mr Heng added that the four have played various roles in unifying people. “They have been involved in one way or another in mobilising our people, our various communities to come together to achieve more than what we could have done individually… This is very much the spirit of Singapore Together that I’ve been speaking about.”
At a separate press conference yesterday, PAP vice-chairman Masagos Zulkifli also introduced four new candidates.
Three other new candidates were introduced by the party’s organising secretary Grace Fu in another session.
Mr Masagos, who is Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, said candidates such as polytechnic lecturer Wan Rizal Wan Zakariah, whom he introduced, epitomise “the new Malay-Muslim leadership” that start by serving in their community but do not stop there. Dr Wan Rizal was chairman of Al-Islah mosque in Punggol and subsequently became a grassroots leader in Pasir Ris East and Punggol East.
Ms Fu, who is Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, replying to a question on the PAP’s efforts to get more women into the party, said more will be participating in this election.
Out of the 26 candidates the party will introduce, 10 are women – double the number it fielded in 2015.
It is a trend the party is “very happy to see”, she said, adding that engaging women and encouraging them to join the PAP involves the work of both men and women.
“Women these days are well educated, they are well represented across sectors.
“So wherever we go, whether it’s engaging trade associations, whether it’s in the people sector, my male colleagues and my female colleagues are always looking for promising candidates. And if they are women, all the better.”
When identified, the party’s women MPs will get in touch with them to find out what issues they are passionate about and encourage them to participate.
When the women are ready and their family and career allow for it, they will step forward as PAP candidates, Ms Fu said.
Even if they do not want to be MPs, the party is still very happy to have them help out as activists and supporters, she added.
• Additional reporting by Yuen Sin
TAN KIAT HOW, 43
Former IMDA chief executive
Mr Tan was “the pioneer of the Pioneer Generation Office”, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in introducing him yesterday. Tipped to be fielded in East Coast GRC, Mr Tan was part of the team that set up the office, now known as the Silver Generation Office, and responsible for mobilising 3,000 volunteers to reach out to nearly half a million seniors.
He took up the top post at the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) in 2017. Under his leadership, the organisation took steps to build up Singapore’s connectivity infrastructure, such as the roll-out of the country’s fourth telco.
Previously, he was deputy secretary (cyber and technology) at the Ministry of Communications and Information, where he worked on the national cyber-security strategy.
Digitalisation is an issue close to his heart, said Mr Tan, whose father is a retired army regular and mother a nurse.
He and his wife are expecting their first child, a boy, in August. “That has made me more conscious and reflective of the kind of society and kind of Singapore I want to build up. Helping workers, businesses to use technology to create more opportunities and for a better life is making sure that no one is left behind in a digital future,” he said.
YEO WAN LING, 44
Chief executive of social enterprise Caregiver Asia
Ms Yeo, who used to work at the Economic Development Board, now runs Caregiver Asia, a social enterprise that connects those in need of care with freelance caregivers in Singapore.
She started her social enterprise because she saw a gap in the provision of home-care services, in particular long-term care for the elderly.
Ms Yeo said her grandmother had been ill for a number of years before she died, and it was while being with her during her twilight years that “I realised the importance of being able to grow old with grace and dignity”.
She hopes to create more opportunities for the elderly in Singapore to continue to work or contribute to the community. She has been tipped to stand in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.
Ms Yeo, who is married, said politics is a platform that will bridge her experiences in the civil service and in the community. “(It’ll allow me to be) able to influence not just day-to-day operations of helping people, but also bring it up to a larger platform such that I can (have an impact on) national policies.”
ALVIN TAN SHENG HUI, 39
Head of public policy and economics (Asia-Pacific) at LinkedIn
Mr Tan was once held back a grade, and did not do well enough at school to enter a local university.
Despite the setbacks, he earned an economics degree from Sydney University, and later, a Master in Public Policy from Harvard University.
He has worked in the Singapore Armed Forces, with non-profit group Oxfam, as well as in investment banking.
He is now with social networking platform LinkedIn.
Mr Tan, who is married with two children, has been a grassroots volunteer in Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng since 2005, and has also been active in Tanjong Pagar GRC lately.
Mr Tan said he hopes to use his skills and experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors to help Singaporeans become more nimble and prepared for the future of work.
He also aims to do more to bridge the digital divide for seniors and other vulnerable groups.
Said Mr Tan: “(If) by the time Covid-19 is over and we haven’t changed, we haven’t been comfortable with technology, I think we might have failed our people.”
WAN RIZAL WAN ZAKARIAH, 42
Senior lecturer at Republic Polytechnic
Dr Wan Rizal, who is married with four children, started volunteering in the community in 2010. He was chairman of Al-Islah Mosque in Punggol, and part of Punggol’s Interracial and Religious Confidence Circle.
The Normal (Academic) stream student obtained a polytechnic diploma and later enrolled at the National Institute of Education, and subsequently, at Nanyang Technological University, where he obtained his degree in physical education at the age of 31. He now holds a PhD in sports science.
Dr Wan Rizal, who has recently appeared at Jalan Besar GRC events, said: “Because of the non-linear path that I have taken, I strongly believe that education is the key to social mobility. This is how we can allow people who have less, or did less well, to move up and prevent our society from being stratified.”
“Singapore must continue to be a nation of opportunities for all – not for just the privileged few, or the lucky ones, but for every Singaporean.”
ERIC CHUA SWEE LEONG, 41
Former director of the SGSecure Programme Office
Mr Chua grew up in a three-room flat in Ang Mo Kio. His father was a forklift driver and his mother a seamstress and, later, a production operator in a factory.
He was awarded the Local Merit Scholarship (Civil Defence) by the Public Service Commission to read communications studies at Nanyang Technological University. He served with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), eventually becoming commander of the 3rd SCDF Division before joining the SGSecure Programme Office.
Mr Chua, a former chairman of the People’s Association Youth Movement’s Central Youth Council, has worked with youth for 15 years. He is also father to a baby boy, who was born about a week ago.
He said he was fortunate to have siblings, friends, supervisors and mentors who helped him grow in life. “This is time for me to step up and pay it forward… If elected, one of several areas I’ll like to focus on is to ensure that youth, especially those from humble family backgrounds like mine, will continue to have a fair chance to succeed in life,” he said.
TAN SEE LENG, 55
Former Parkway Holdings group chief executive
Dr Tan See Leng, who has spent more than 30 years in the medical sector, is the oldest PAP candidate introduced so far and will succeed Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong as chairman of Marine Parade’s PAP branch.
He said he spent two years under Mr Goh’s tutelage, and worked with him on a caregiver support network for the elderly that will be launched after the election.
He declined to comment on where he will be fielded.
Dr Tan, the only child of a bus timekeeper and a housewife, grew up in a Toa Payoh rental flat. A family physician by training, he has three children in their 20s.
He is fluent in English and Mandarin, as well as Cantonese, Teochew and Hokkien.
He said the deaths of his parents from cancer in the 2000s, after years of chronic illness, strengthened his resolve to get a master’s in family medicine, followed by a Master of Business Administration.
He is currently a corporate adviser to Temasek Holdings and adviser to DBS Bank, as well as an independent director of Surbana Jurong.
He was the former group chief executive and managing director of private hospital operator IHH Healthcare.
NG LING LING, 48
Former managing director of Community Chest
Ms Ng Ling Ling spent six years working in banking, but gave that up to go into social service.
Growing up in a three-room Housing Board flat in Hougang, she watched some of her neighbours struggle with problems such as drug abuse: “I was always very sensitive to the plight of the families I saw.”
As managing director of Community Chest (ComChest), the National Council of Social Service’s fund-raising arm, she helped raise millions for charity.
She stepped down from her role as chief of future primary care and director of community engagement at the Health Ministry’s Office for Healthcare Transformation at the end of March. She is now a senior consultant there.
She said she had been working on innovating new care models, such as using simple technology to help people with high blood pressure understand the disease and guard against strokes.
“I see the importance of long-term holistic care, as our population ages rapidly,” said Ms Ng, who is married and has a son in primary school.
She has helped bring in tele-health systems for Covid-19 community care facilities, and said she will continue to be part of the fight against the virus.
Ms Ng is tipped to be fielded in Ang Mo Kio GRC.
ZHULKARNAIN ABDUL RAHIM, 39
Mr Zhulkarnain, a partner at law firm Dentons Rodyk and Davidson, believes in building on community modes of distribution, such as neighbour networks to support the needy, and to “entrench this idea of humanness” in policymaking.
Over the last decade, the father of three children aged 11, eight and six has conducted free legal clinics and done pro bono work as an assigned solicitor with the Legal Aid Bureau. He was previously the chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals.
The Straits Times reported earlier that he has been spotted walking the ground in Chua Chu Kang GRC.
Mr Zhulkarnain is the fifth of six children. His mother is a housewife and his father did blue-collar jobs before joining a construction company and working his way up to be a supervisor.
“From him, I remember the importance of lifelong learning,” said Mr Zhulkarnain, who would go through his father’s presentation slides with him as his father did not know how to use PowerPoint.
“The Covid-19 circuit breaker period has shown up various digital inequalities among our people, such as those who cannot afford digital devices to do home-based learning,” he said.
“But what I feel is that beyond digital connectivity, it is human connectivity that we would have to look at in terms of policymaking and process.”
RAYMOND LYE HOONG YIP, 54
Managing partner at Union Law LLP
Mr Lye, a father of three and a lawyer, has been volunteering in the community for 25 years.
When introducing himself, he recounted how he and other volunteers helped a low-income resident deal with a problem.
Mr Lye, who chairs the Punggol East Citizens’ Consultative Committee, said the resident’s daughter had obtained a university scholarship from an agency. But the agency, which he did not name, later asked the resident to cough up a large sum of money as her daughter’s grades were not good.
Mr Lye said that after several attempts, he and other volunteers managed to get the agency to write off the sum and the family was later able to save up enough money to buy their own flat and move out of the rental block.
Despite having volunteered for groups like clan societies and trade associations, Mr Lye said he finds community work most fulfilling.
“I have always tried my best to help, as no government policy is foolproof and there are those who may fall through the cracks,” said Mr Lye, who has been volunteering in the new Sengkang GRC.
DERRICK GOH SOON HEE, 51
Managing director and head of group audit at DBS Bank
Before taking up his position at DBS, Mr Goh headed its subsidiary POSB, where he said he was exposed to volunteering efforts by community leaders and grassroots organisations.
This inspired the father of three to take up community work.
Mr Goh spent more than 10 years at credit firm American Express and was based in London and New York. He hopes to tap his experience in banking to help improve the lives of Singaporeans.
“I know that Singapore is not perfect but having lived in all these international financial centres, I can say that Singapore is the best. Therefore, I want to play a role to help Singapore adapt as the world changes very rapidly, given digitisation and the onset of the impact of new technology,” he said.
Since 2013, Mr Goh has been volunteering as a district councillor with the South West Community Development Council and also serves on the board of HomeTeamNS.
Mr Goh, who is vice-chairman of the Gambas-Yishun Citizens’ Consultative Committee, has been seen with Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam at community engagements in Nee Soon GRC, where he is expected to be fielded.
POH LI SAN, 44
Vice-president for Terminal 5 planning at Changi Airport Group
Sembawang is a special place for Ms Poh, a former helicopter pilot with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and the first female full-time aide-de-camp to the late President S R Nathan.
She spent a lot of time there when she was based at RSAF’s Sembawang Air Base.
“Now that I have a chance to go back to Sembawang to serve on the ground, I’m really excited to work closely with our volunteers, with our residents there,” said Ms Poh, who started volunteering in grassroots activities in Sembawang GRC in 2018.
Ms Poh, who is single, started an annual Women Festival for the constituency and helped distribute food to rental flat residents.
Ms Poh, who spoke in Mandarin, English and Malay at the press conference, is tipped to join the PAP team for Sembawang GRC, which will likely lose Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan as he is expected to retire from politics soon.
Yuen Sin, Olivia Ho and Hariz Baharudin
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