Officers-turned-politicians 'same same but different'

MP at Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Penny Low will be retiring from politics after 14 years.
MP at Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Penny Low will be retiring from politics after 14 years.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

They may all be military men, but each of the Singapore Armed Forces officers brought into politics to make up Singapore's fourth-generation leadership is quite different, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

What they share is loyalty, integrity, a commitment to serve and an understanding of the constraints and opportunities that Singapore faces, he said.

DPM Teo, 60, who was a navy rear-admiral before joining politics in 1992, said: "I think each of us comes in and we are quite different."

For example, few remember that Mr Teo and Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say "grew up in the crucible of the SAF" together, he noted, because they have such different personalities.

They are "same same but different," he joked, borrowing from Mr Lim's famously colloquial phrases.

Speaking after introducing former chief of defence Ng Chee Meng, 47, as one of the new candidates in his Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC slate, Mr Teo said there is a "good reason" why the PAP gets good candidates from the public service.

While it draws new faces from a wide range of backgrounds, those from the public sector "have shown, over a period of time, capability and ability to work with others and to care for Singapore," he said.

"They derive their happiness and satisfaction from the happiness and satisfaction of others - not the bottom line of a company," he added.

DPM Teo, the PAP's first assistant secretary-general, will anchor the six-member team.

Besides three other incumbent MPs - Mr Teo Ser Luck, Mr Zainal Sapari and Mr Janil Puthucheary - the slate has two new faces, Mr Ng, 47, and Temasek Holdings investment director Sun Xueling, 36.

As a three-star general, Mr Ng is the highest-ranking officer to join the PAP and stand for elections.

Cabinet ministers Tan Chuan-Jin and Chan Chun Sing were also former generals who were brought into the fold in the last General Election in 2011.

When asked how he might deal with the danger of groupthink among him and his political colleagues, Mr Ng said: "All of us have unique life experiences (and) I think we bring unique perspectives.

"Even while we were in the SAF, we spoke our minds, we shared our views.

"And the only common thing that binds us together is a common desire to serve, to achieve the best outcomes."

The best way to deal with the possibility of groupthink is to remain alert to it, listen actively to differing views and consult widely from different sectors, he said.

Mr Ng will be taking over the spot of MP Penny Low, who is retiring from politics after 14 years.

Thanking Mr Teo, grassroots leaders and residents, Ms Low, 48, said: "In the last 14 years, I've been humbled by the many occasions where our team came together to discuss issues cohesively and resolve them on the ground.

"I've learnt much and the success of Punggol New Town is indeed something which is a result of the teamwork."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 23, 2015, with the headline 'Officers-turned-politicians 'same same but different''. Print Edition | Subscribe