Tuesday, July 28, 2020

My 3rd GE Campaigning @ General Election 2020

Singapore's General Election (GE) took place on 10 July 2020. GE2020 could be remembered as the COVID election; the watershed election that saw the most number of elected opposition in Parliament since Barisan Sosialis boycotted Parliament in 1968; the election that brought in the 5G leaders; or perhaps just simply one that ushered in a new normal (which election doesn't?).

With a campaigning period of 9 days and a day of "Cooling Off", the relatively short timeline seemed to have cramped all the emotions/heat/passion into a cabin-sized luggage meant for a 5-year overseas work assignment. In other countries, people get weary of the long campaigning. Trust me, a short campaigning period equally drains you with that intensity. 

The top most common question I received since the end of the Circuit Breaker measures, a stringent set of stay-home measures imposed by the government in lieu of COVID-19 cases, was, "Do you think the People's Action Party (PAP) will win back Aljunied GRC?" My candid answer was sometimes, "I don't know. I have never smelt victory."

Service to the community is very much the DNA of PAP Branch Chairpersons (who are often the candidates fielded for GE). For the PAP, the work to win the next GE starts right after the current one. Having served alongside most of the Aljunied GRC PAP candidates since GE2015, I was naturally happy that the PAP decided to field the existing slate of PAP Branch Chairpersons. While some would argue that the lack of a "heavyweight" (probably defined as a veteran Member of Parliament or Minister) candidate meant that PAP did not see winning the GRC as a priority, I chose to see it as a form of recognition by the PAP for this team of candidates who had served the constituents as opposition in their wards.

Aljunied GRC PAP's Perambulant Vehicle

One of my favourite things to do during GE campaigning is to drive the PAP perambulant vehicle (or be driven) around the constituency. At times, we were welcomed with finger greetings. Most of the times, residents waved at us or give us the feisty fist pump to cheer us on. Looking at curious children with their wondering expressions reminds me on the purpose of politics - to chart a better future for our future generation.

In lieu of political rallies which could not be held safely due to COVID-19, GE2020 introduced the Constituency Political Broadcast for candidates to pitch on national television. 

I recalled in GE2011 when Aljunied GRC's PAP team asked its Workers' Party (WP) counterparts on their plans for the GRC. WP could not offer any. The same happened in GE2015... and GE2020.

There were many livestreamed videos during the GE hustings. One caught my attention. NTUC's Deputy Secretary-General Koh Poh Koon interviewed a fellow Industrial Relations Officer (IRO) colleague her role as an IRO and how Unions and IROs support union members in job placement. "Jobs" was a major pillar of PAP's GE2020 manifesto - Our Jobs, Our Lives, Our Future.

One of the most emotional video in this GE goes to:

Social inequalities and inequities are often used by the Opposition to cast the ruling party as heartless and ignorant, in Singapore and as in most countries. There are many ways to eradicate inequalities. The PAP's way is a multi-pronged approach and begins with a heavy investment in educating our young. If there's one video on how the Singapore Government addresses such issues, this is the one:

One day, I brought my son to the PAP office I had to be the caregiver for the day. Our candidate Chua Eng Leong walked past and saw him and did a "PAP" fist pump. Little would I know that it impressed in my little one's mind so much that he would do the same at home, and even on the way back from school. As the GE campaign came to the tail end, he had the same question for his Mum everyday, "Why is Papa always at the PAP (office)?"

Being a PAP Counting Agent for in an opposition ward is no joke. Your heart skips a beat when the sample vote counts gradually show things are not in your favour. You endure long nights (into the morning) as the newscaster announces the results of the other constituencies before yours. But in GE2020, my heart sank even deeper when our WP counterparts burst into cheers on the announcement of their victory in Sengkang GRC.

Social media churned out tonnes of political analysts post-GE. Many offered their perspectives on why the PAP fared well (based on the number of seats it won) or badly (how it lost additional seats to the Opposition). In a contest, there are winners and there are losers. What matters is what do you do after you won or lost.

Some asked me, "Why do you still serve in an Opposition ward?" Well, while the PAP is not flawless, it is a centrist party that appeals to a broad spectrum of society. There are strong fundamental values of the PAP that I believe in, including the belief in a establishing a fair and just society. And most importantly, it is a party which emphasises on building a democracy of deeds and taking action over words.

How would the future generation study GE2020 and derive the lessons it provided? The path to shape that answer starts now.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Professional Fellows Program (Spring 2019)

This is a compilation of my once-in-a-lifetime Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Professional Fellows Program (Spring 2019).

The program brought me to visit the United States of America for the first time in my life. During the 6 weeks' stay in the US, I had the chance to visit Washington DC and was based in the City of Chicago for 4 weeks. At Chicago, I had the chance to work in Metropolitan Family Services and learn they support families and build strong communities. From Chicago, we also had the chance to visit nearby places such as Springfield, Illinois; New Berlin, Illinois; Village of Barrington; the City of North Chicago; and Madison, Wisconsin. 

Special Thanks to US Department of State for the opportunity; American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) for delivering a robust schedule for the program; Ric Estrada, CEO and President of Metropolitan Family Services for hosting me at the organisation for 4 weeks; ACYPL alumni who facilitated our placements and arranged our visits and meetings; colleagues and friends we met in the US; and most importantly, the 23 other ACYPL Professional Fellows (especially Ivy, Yasmin and My who were also in Chicago with me) who made the experience the way it couldn't be any richer.

There are too many people to thank, and I hope, in a way, that my blogposts had done justice in showing appreciation to each and every one of them.


Orientation Week in Washington DC

Placement in City of Chicago

Springfield and New Berlin, Illinois
Madison, Wisconsin

City of Chicago
City of Chicago
City of North Chicago
City of Chicago
Washington DC (Memorial Weekend)
Professional Fellows Congress
Home Sweet Home

Saturday, July 06, 2019

YSEALI PFP Day 42: Home Sweet Home

31 May 2019

Last few hours in Washington DC and the United States.

We had our last breakfast at the Capital Hilton, and bade our final farewells to one another.

A Mustang

ACYPL YSEALI Professional Fellows from Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar and Singapore left for the Dulles International Airport together. 

Reminded of #PearceRanch

The Potbelly Stove

Pre-flight Lunch

When our Indochina counterparts and us flew to Washington DC, we transited at Incheon International Airport. They had longer wait times than us. On our return trip, we had the longest wait time. To be exact: 10 hours.

Enjoying a musical performance at Terminal 2

At the Korean Traditional Culture Experience Center, we past time by making our own Hanji Fan.

Hanji Fan

Donning the Korean traditional costume

Annyeong haseyo

Moving on...

At the Kids Zone:

After conquering the Kids Zone, we went to check out the digital gym.

Tracking the amount of calories burnt by throwing balls into the cones

Jumping Challenge

Clearing the triangles as one jumps

Stepping Challenge

As evening approaches, the hustle and bustle of Incheon International Airport dissipated into a calm and serene place.


Augmented Reality

And soon it was time for us to take our flight.

Professional Fellows Congress Day 3 & Farewell Reception at State Department

30 May 2019

Several of us were in our National Attire as that was the dress code for the Dinner hosted by US State Department.

With Professional Fellows from Malaysia, Nepal and Thailand

My ethnic Indian wear drew several curious questions as to that was Singapore's national costume. Was happy to share and explain that there are four main ethnic groups in Singapore. 

With Huang Shuling (China) donning an ethnic minority costume

First, we had the plenary session on Transforming Vision into Reality, by Viola Llewellyn, Co-Founder and President, Ovamba Solutions Inc.

Viola Llewellyn

Viola shared that the toolkit of diversity is our strength. The Leader Within has the power of managing failure; the power to encouraging growth; and needs to hone the art of authenticity and vulnerability.

Viola urged Fellows to make managing change a legacy, and to develop a culture of connecting the old and new. She added, "We will die one day."

Viola shared that solving problem is an honour and privilege. One needs to sell the upside/game, not the product itself, e.g. when someone wants a hole in the wall, we don't sell the wall to the person but the tools to drill the hole.

She ended off with an analogy which succinctly describes most of our journey: When you drive at night, you can only see the lighted road right in front of you and can't see your destination, but you keep driving. Why? Isn't it because you want to reach your destination?

After the break, Matt Bikoff, Alumni Outreach Coordinator, Alumni Affairs Office - Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US Department of State shared with us on the alumni resources available to us after the Professional Fellows Program.

Past Alumni of the US State Department programs include Louis Armstrong and Henry Kissinger

Alumni include 588 Heads of State

US State Department adds 55,000 new alumni every year. Alumni gains free access to news, periodicals, research journals; as well as entrepreneurship resources and opportunities.

"Citizen Diplomats"

With Ivy (Malaysia) in Kebaya

Was chatting with Sokha and learnt that she was with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and was based in Chicago. We lamented at how we should have got to know one another much earlier so that we could go for meetings with unions in Chicago.

With Sokha Chov (Cambodia) and Sumair Sethna (India)

Dr Deidre Combs leading a workshop on "Be a Leader We All Want to Follow"

With Dr Deidre Combs

ACYPL staff with Professional Fellows

With ACYPL staff Pete DeAnna and Kaylee Boalt

With fellow NUS alumnus Becky (China) and Jocelyn

With Jay Mataio (Papua New Guinea) who shared that he had just started reading Mr Lee Kuan Yew's memoir :)

We adjourned to the small group dialogue workshop to reflect on and share our learnings and experience.

My car waiting for me. Just kidding

278 Professional Fellows

With ACYPL CEO Libby Rosenbaum

With ACYPL's Cameron Schupp

The Alumni Impact Awards Presentation of Awards Ceremony:

Robert Ogburn, Director, Office of Citizen Exchanges, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US Department of State

Closing Remarks by Chris Miner, Managing Director, Professional and Cultural Exchanges, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US Department of State

Presentation of Alumni Impact Awards

With Thome Xaisongkham (Laos) who had met my wife in a regional forum

The Professional Fellows were bused to the US Department of State building for dinner.

Flags on display at the lobby of US Department of State Building

That was a spectacularly well-decorated pathway to the toilet

A portrait of George Washington

The Definitive Treaty of Peace and Friendship between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, signed at Paris, the 3rd of September 1783

A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson 

A portrait of Alexander Hamilton

A view from the balcony outside Benjamin Franklin Room

Thomas Jefferson's Travelling Box or Writing Box

Benjamin Franklin Room

With Queenie (Brunei) and Becky (China)

Singapore Professional Fellows with Assistant Secretary Marie Royce

We met Patrick Cho (right) who would be posted to US Embassy in Singapore later in the year

Singapore Professional Fellows with Patrick Cho

Lincoln Memorial

Helped Aikeo capture some memories in this beautiful place

With Pradeep Singh (India) and Ivy (Malaysia)

Team Chicago

The bus drove past AFL-CIO building