GE2015: On the campaign trail with SDP's Khung Wai Yeen

Singapore Democratic Party candidate Khung Wai Yeen with his wife Joey Chang at Assumption Pathway School on Nomination Day on Sept 1, 2015.
Singapore Democratic Party candidate Khung Wai Yeen with his wife Joey Chang at Assumption Pathway School on Nomination Day on Sept 1, 2015. ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

As campaigning for the Sept 11 polls comes to a close, The Straits Times spotlights some candidates to find out how they interact with residents and what drives them.

SINGAPORE - Like many Singaporean men in their 30s, Mr Khung Wai Yeen holds a regular job, has a wife and a child.

He wakes up early, has breakfast, kisses his daughter goodbye before he heads off to work as an account manager in a marine engineering company. He comes home in the evening for dinner with his family.

These "little achievements of daily life" - like clinching a deal at work, cooking a nice dinner, or teaching his daughter to swim - make him happy, said the 33-year-old.

Many may view his life as almost mundane, but the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) candidate is counting on his very ordinariness to connect with voters, whose lives he believes are just like his.

He jokes that he is very much unlike the trait that is the root of his English name "Gerous" - coined by his teachers in primary school because his Chinese phonetic name, Wei Xian, sounds like "dangerous".


Indeed, Mr Khung, who is standing against People's Action Party's Teo Ho Pin in single-seat Bukit Panjang, also appears to embody his party's new and less confrontational approach.

"People tell me that politics is so dirty. But I hope to put all that aside, focus on the policies, and communicate them so that people can make an informed choice," he says.

In his view, there is no one speaking up for people with grievances, adding: "I see myself as a speaker for these people."

Citing low-income families on a pre-paid metering scheme for their utility bills, he says: "Some can run out of electricity in the middle of the month. This is not how people should live, especially in Singapore when as a prosperous country, we should be able to do more to help."

In an hour-long interview, he studiously focused on SDP's policies and did not attack the PAP or his rival.

He says he does not believe the PAP's policies are bad, acknowledging the merits of such policies as the Goods and Services Tax (GST), Central Provident Fund (CPF) retirement scheme, and Certificate of Entitlement (COE) system.

But they need tweaking to reduce stress, he says. "It is not just one issue, but a series of issues that we have to change to make life easier for Singaporeans."

The middle of three children, Mr Khung grew up in a single-parent family. His parents divorced because of his father's gambling habit and his mother worked as a hairdresser and masseuse to feed and school the family.

The alumnus of Naval Base Primary School and Yio Chu Kang Secondary School got a polytechnic diploma in marine engineering before joining the Singapore Navy.

He was chief engineering naval specialist, and left the Navy in 2010 with the rank of staff sergeant.

He met his wife, customer service executive Chang Huei Min, when they were doing an advanced diploma course in management at Kaplan Higher Education Institute.

Ladelle, their three-year-old daughter, is his "little girlfriend", he quips, as he talks of the joy she brings to his life. "Hearing my daughter say 'Goodbye Papa, earn more gold coins' in the morning gives me the greatest motivation to face any difficulties ahead."

(These "gold coins" refer to the Singapore $1 coin, which she is saving in her piggy bank.)

His interest in politics was piqued in the May 2011 General Election, when he attended numerous rallies. Impressed by the research of the SDP's proposed Budget paper, he began volunteering with the party soon after.

He never envisioned that, four years later, he would be on the hustings addressing crowds of several thousands.

When asked if the SDP immigration policy will put his wife, a Malaysian who is a permanent resident, at a disadvantage, Mr Khung says no.

The SDP says it wants to regulate the inflow and quality of foreigners, as well as restrict administrative and management work to only Singaporeans. He says: "This policy is to ensure Singaporeans are given the priority and opportunity to be considered for the appointment before hiring a foreigner."

But given that his wife has integrated well in Singapore's society, he says he does not see this impeding her career.

Madam Chang has pledged her full support, often accompanying Mr Khung on walkabouts and house visits. As she is fluent in Malay, she doubles as translator when Mr Khung interacts with Malay residents.

Mr Khung laments not being able to spend enough time with each resident and not being able to cover all the flats in Bukit Panjang. But he says he takes heart in the encouragement people have been giving him.

While following him on the campaign trail, this reporter saw a pair of joggers who, deliberately making a detour, called out his name and ran up to him for a chat.

A 68-year-old retiree, who gave his name as Mr Ng, also says he was won over by Mr Khung's earnestness and affability .

However, Mr Khung's venture into politics has not pleased everyone. Some of his friends have criticised his affiliation with the SDP and party chief Chee Soon Juan.

Dr Chee had defamed former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, and had been jailed for holding a rally and speaking in public without a permit.

To these critics, he points to movements like the Yellow Ribbon Project, which encourages giving ex-convicts a second chance in life.

"If you learn from experience and it makes you a better person, then good on you. It should not be a black mark. All Dr Chee did was speak up for what he feels is right," he says.

Still, some people continue to see Dr Chee as a liar who also betrays the country by speaking bad about Singapore overseas. He admits it is difficult to completely change public opinion overnight, but urges people to do their homework and come to a considered decision.

"Present your argument in a precise and detailed manner based on research instead of 'Ah, I don't like him because of this. This happened, I don't like him'," he says. "This is what I hope for the future of Singapore, to level up our debates instead of just mudslinging."

He counts Dr Chee's 23 years in politics, despite not having been elected into Parliament, as an inspiration.

"If this bid is unsuccessful, I will not give up just like that," he says. "Dr Chee has been around for so many years and he has not given up. I'm not going to give up."