New MPs in their own words

Six months on the ground: New MPs on their political journey so far

(From left) Former MP Seng Han Thong, People's Action Party MPs Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) and Yee Chia Hsing (Chua Chu Kang GRC), Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, PAP MP Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and WP NCMP Dennis Tan at th
(From left) Former MP Seng Han Thong, People's Action Party MPs Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) and Yee Chia Hsing (Chua Chu Kang GRC), Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, PAP MP Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and WP NCMP Dennis Tan at the Istana swearing-in ceremony of the new Cabinet on Oct 1, 2015.ST FILE PHOTO
 Mr Chee Hong Tat (above), Ms Cheryl Chan, Mr Darryl David, Mr Leon Perera, Mr Dennis Tan and Ms Cheng Li Hui are among the team of new MPs and NCMPs.
Mr Chee Hong Tat (above), Ms Cheryl Chan, Mr Darryl David, Mr Leon Perera, Mr Dennis Tan and Ms Cheng Li Hui are among the team of new MPs and NCMPs.
 Mr Chee Hong Tat, Ms Cheryl Chan (above), Mr Darryl David, Mr Leon Perera, Mr Dennis Tan and Ms Cheng Li Hui are among the team of new MPs and NCMPs.
Mr Chee Hong Tat, Ms Cheryl Chan (above), Mr Darryl David, Mr Leon Perera, Mr Dennis Tan and Ms Cheng Li Hui are among the team of new MPs and NCMPs.
 Mr Chee Hong Tat, Ms Cheryl Chan, Mr Darryl David (above), Mr Leon Perera, Mr Dennis Tan and Ms Cheng Li Hui are among the team of new MPs and NCMPs.
Mr Chee Hong Tat, Ms Cheryl Chan, Mr Darryl David (above), Mr Leon Perera, Mr Dennis Tan and Ms Cheng Li Hui are among the team of new MPs and NCMPs.
Mr Chee Hong Tat, Ms Cheryl Chan, Mr Darryl David, Mr Leon Perera, Mr Dennis Tan and Ms Cheng Li Hui (above) are among the team of new MPs and NCMPs.
Mr Chee Hong Tat, Ms Cheryl Chan, Mr Darryl David, Mr Leon Perera, Mr Dennis Tan and Ms Cheng Li Hui (above) are among the team of new MPs and NCMPs.
Mr Chee Hong Tat, Ms Cheryl Chan, Mr Darryl David, Mr Leon Perera, Mr Dennis Tan (above) and Ms Cheng Li Hui are among the team of new MPs and NCMPs.
Mr Chee Hong Tat, Ms Cheryl Chan, Mr Darryl David, Mr Leon Perera, Mr Dennis Tan (above) and Ms Cheng Li Hui are among the team of new MPs and NCMPs.
 Mr Chee Hong Tat, Ms Cheryl Chan, Mr Darryl David, Mr Leon Perera (above), Mr Dennis Tan and Ms Cheng Li Hui are among the team of new MPs and NCMPs.
Mr Chee Hong Tat, Ms Cheryl Chan, Mr Darryl David, Mr Leon Perera (above), Mr Dennis Tan and Ms Cheng Li Hui are among the team of new MPs and NCMPs.
AMRIN AMIN, 37
AMRIN AMIN, 37
CHONG KEE HIONG, 49
CHONG KEE HIONG, 49
DESMOND CHOO, 38
DESMOND CHOO, 38
KOH POH KOON, 43
KOH POH KOON, 43
HENRY KWEK, 39
HENRY KWEK, 39
LOUIS NG, 37
LOUIS NG, 37
JOAN PEREIRA, 48
JOAN PEREIRA, 48
RAHAYU MAHZAM, 35
RAHAYU MAHZAM, 35
SAKTIANDI SUPAAT, 42
SAKTIANDI SUPAAT, 42
SUN XUELING, 36
SUN XUELING, 36
TAN WU MENG, 40
TAN WU MENG, 40
YEE CHIA HSING, 44
YEE CHIA HSING, 44
MELVIN YONG, 44
MELVIN YONG, 44
DANIEL GOH, 42
DANIEL GOH, 42

New MPs get candid about their bloopers, how they lost their political innocence and what surprised them about politics. Insight reports.

The excitement of last September's General Election has died down, and the new Members of Parliament have settled into a rhythm of visiting residents in their homes, attending community events and running weekly Meet-the-People Sessions.

They have also made their parliamentary debut at the opening of the 13th Parliament on issues close to their hearts.

For instance, Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo, 38, suggested a more family-friendly flexible work arrangement for mothers, while Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Saktiandi Supaat, 42, highlighted the need to raise awareness of SkillsFuture initiatives in the Malay-Muslim community.

 
 

All this was on top of their day jobs, which are no less demanding.

But what do they make of their performance and their political journey so far?

The Sunday Times quizzed all the new MPs on their biggest gaffes in the last six months, the loss of their political innocence and which Harry Potter House they would put themselves in.

Is it the just and loyal house of Hufflepuff, or that of Gryffindor, reserved only for the bravest?

As the MPs, often thought of as strait-laced political figures, reflect on the past six months, their responses to the somewhat cheeky questions provide a glimpse into their personalities.

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Sun Xueling, 36, once visited 160 households in her ward wearing high-heeled shoes, while Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Yee Chia Hsing, 44, wishes he was Sun Wukong, the speedy mythological monkey god who can create several clones of himself.

Several new MPs did not respond, or declined to respond, to the questions.

The latter include Acting Education Ministers, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Ng Chee Meng, 47, and Sembawang GRC MP Ong Ye Kung, 46, as well as Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Chee Hong Tat, 42, Minister of State for Communications and Information and Health.

Fengshan MP Cheryl Chan, 39, who has been media-shy since the elections last year, said via her branch secretary she could not take part due to her hectic schedule.

Her election opponent Dennis Tan, 45, one of three Workers' Party (WP) Non-Constituency MPs, declined to respond. So did his WP colleague Leon Perera, 45.


AMRIN AMIN, 37

MP for Sembawang GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

It's more a gradual process. I started involving myself with grassroots work in 2003. I had a bit of time to learn and settle in.

My biggest gaffe was...

It's been good so far. People have been very kind and encouraging.

What in the last six months do you think people remember you for?

Being part of an awesome Sembawang GRC "boyband" team. (The five MPs are all men, aged 37 to 63.)

The most surprising thing about politics I have found out is...

It is full of surprises, pleasant and not so pleasant, and you have to greet both with grace. I remember these lines from Rudyard Kipling's poem If: "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those imposters just the same... If you can fill the unforgiving minute, With 60 seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth..."

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

Hufflepuff. I identify with their values of hard work, patience and dedication.

If you could turn back the clock on the campaign last year, what would you do differently?

I try my best at each stage and move on from there.


CHONG KEE HIONG, 49

MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

I came to realise an MP's ability to reach out is largely due to the volunteers who give up much time and effort to do their part to make a difference.

My biggest gaffe was...

Walking in the way of the many cameras in Parliament.

What in the last six months do you think people remember you for?

My maiden speech in Parliament, which touched on the subject of the difficulties faced by Singaporean workers.

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

Hufflepuff. I hope to continuously live up to these values.

If you could turn back the clock on the campaign last year, what would you do differently?

I should have done more physical training so that I could have run faster and covered even more ground.


DESMOND CHOO, 38

MP for Tampines GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

I lost 4kg since GE2015. While campaigning was naturally tough, consistent groundwork takes industry to new dimensions. One-hundred-hour work-weeks are the norm.

My biggest gaffe was...

As a sporting but mostly inept dancer during onstage community dancing events.

What in the last six months do you think people remember you for?

Near-obsession with house visits, and an almost radical idea of legislating 16+8 weeks of flexiwork arrangement for mothers.

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

Not enough of a Harry Potter fan, but working with my millennials reminds me of (teacher) John Keating in Dead Poets' Society. There is so much beauty in the community if we only take time to serve and appreciate.


KOH POH KOON, 43

MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

I danced the cha-cha on stage in the town centre and realised it made people happy.

My biggest gaffe was...

Subconsciously referring to a "resident" as a "patient" in a speech. (Dr Koh was a colorectal surgeon before he became Minister of State.)

What in the last six months do you think people remember you for?

Being responsive to their needs, but also willing to take time to explain why what they are asking for may not always be in their best interest.

The most surprising thing about politics I have found out...

Is that sometimes, it is the little things we do for people that makes the most impact in their lives.

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

Gryffindor, whose values are bravery, daring, nerve and chivalry. I danced on stage and sang karaoke (need I say more?)

If you could turn back the clock on the campaign last year, what would you do differently?

Ask my helpers to wear better running shoes to reduce blisters, when they had to run with me from house to house to cover 100 per cent of the blocks and private houses in my estate.


HENRY KWEK, 39

MP for Nee Soon GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

Not in the last six months, but in the 2011 GE. I was helping Law Minister K. Shanmugam then and got to see how intense elections are. They're emotional affairs and you can't win by logic alone.

My biggest gaffe was...

Touch wood. So far so good.

What in the last six months do you think people remember you for?

Different people will remember different things. I have programmes relating to welfare, more infrastructure for the elderly, boosting employability, etc.     

The most surprising thing about politics I have found out is...

How much kopi I had to drink! 

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

Hufflepuff.  When it comes to taking care of Kebun Baru's residents, there's no substitute for hard work and persistence.

If you could turn back the clock on the campaign last year, what would you do differently?

I prefer to look forward. When we look back, we can always see what we could have done better, but the important thing is whether we have learnt anything for the future.


LOUIS NG, 37

MP for Nee Soon GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

Still haven't lost it! As an activist for the past 15 years, I'm stubborn, naive and optimistic. Stubborn, because I never accept no as an answer, naive because I believe anything is possible, and optimistic that changes can happen within my lifetime.

My biggest gaffe was...

Experiencing what it was like to be a driver - I took the passenger to the wrong destination. Thankfully, she thought it was funny, and I did get her to the right destination and she wasn't late. 

What in the last six months do you think people remember you for?

Someone who is always on the ground serving and caring with his heart. But probably more of the guy with the 1960s centre-parting always wearing the white shirt and khaki pants and with the same smile.

The most surprising thing about politics I have found out is...

The magnitude of the difficulty of making decisions, and finding a solution that can address everyone's concerns. Sometimes it is close to impossible. During our house visits, a resident provided feedback that as his house was on the top floor, the water from the tank was too hot and he couldn't shower. I then visited his neighbour who told me "shiok" free hot water, don't do anything about it! 

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

I have never watched Harry Potter movies. But probably the house that is the more vocal one.


JOAN PEREIRA, 48

MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

An elderly resident came to my Meet-the-People session and told me to persuade her son to find a girlfriend and get married. I was her last hope for the family line to carry on.

My biggest gaffe was...

Singing a Hokkien song off-key. But my residents were most forgiving and continued to cheer me on.

What in the last six months do you think people remember you for?

My love and concern for the elderly. I feel most for the elderly, especially those who are isolated and stay alone in their homes.

The most surprising thing about politics I have found out is...

It gives you more energy than it takes out of you. Even after a full day's work in the office, I enjoy going to meet my residents.

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

For MPs, we deal with real-life situations. When issues arise, I use my experience and community resources to address and solve them.

If you could turn back the clock on the campaign last year, what would you do differently?

I would still take the same path. I care for my residents and will do my best to serve them.


RAHAYU MAHZAM, 35

MP for Jurong GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

I haven't lost my political innocence. I believe in our political process, I believe that people can come together despite differences and make a decision in the best interests of Singapore and I believe I can make a difference.

My biggest gaffe was...

I came late for one event once as I was engaged at an earlier event. I sat down beside an elderly lady and had a conversation with her. She was not from my constituency and came because my residents had invited her. After we spoke for quite a bit, she said: "Is the MP in the area not coming?" I told her I was the MP and learnt that I need to start conversations by properly introducing myself.

What do you think people remember you for after the last six months?

I hope people remember the warm conversations we have had, and that I care. I think my residents will remember me for my broken Mandarin. Still working on it. Wo chai shuer (Wo zai xue - I'm learning).

The most surprising thing about politics I found out was...

It makes you push yourself and stretch your physical and mental limits. You think about the interests of the country and your residents all the time. It is exhausting but also exhilarating and meaningful.

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

Gryffindor. Hermione is from that house and I want to be like her when I grow up.


SAKTIANDI SUPAAT, 42

MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

I learnt there are many ramifications when parents divorce, especially those with young children. They are innocent victims and oblivious to how much the mother has to cope with to keep them in school, and feed and clothe them. I teared during a house visit when I met a very young boy who was home alone and cooking packet noodles for lunch.

The most surprising thing about politics I have found out is...

Always expect the unexpected. Keep an open mind as there are often many facets to a problem. Residents can be passionate about certain issues. As a politician, one must try to understand why they are so affected.

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

I am hard-pressed to choose between Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. The former is defined by love of family, care for people and practicality, while the latter is defined by curiosity and love of learning, and seeks knowledge. I would choose a hybrid of both. However, I certainly don't think we are living in a fantasy world of magic and wizards. Our economy is facing headwinds and I serve on the Committee on the Future Economy. In our ward, we are bracing ourselves to help for the medium term, with opportunities to equip residents with new skills and help them find new jobs.

If you could turn back the clock on the campaign, what would you do differently?

Use more anecdotes, examples and simple stories to make points about economic and policy-related issues, as some residents are not able to follow these in much detail.


SUN XUELING, 36

MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

I went for two block visits right after work and had not brought walking shoes. So I visited about 160 housing units in high-heels. I am not sure about losing my political innocence, but I sure lost all feeling in my feet that night.

My biggest gaffe was...

There was an important meeting at the Istana, but I had mixed up the dates. I was having chicken wings with my volunteers after doing a walkabout in Punggol when I received a phone call:

Caller: Where are you?

Me: In Punggol

Caller: Are you coming to the Istana?

Me: Err... for what?

Caller: There is a meeting in the Cabinet room. We are all waiting for you.

Me: Huh? Who are you?

Caller: Gan Kim Yong (Health Minister).


TAN WU MENG, 40

MP for Jurong GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

In politics you have to be innocent, yet worldly - being able to believe in and bring out the best in people while knowing some folk may have selfish or even harmful intentions. I remember an old lady with cancer. She sold her HDB flat and transferred the proceeds to her daughter for safe keeping and moved in with her. Her condition improved. But the daughter evicted her the first day of Chinese New Year. When family members do not treat each other with basic decency, it's heartbreaking.

My biggest gaffe was...

On the first night of Chingay, we all got drenched despite the ponchos, including my four-year old daughter. Her spare clothes were wet. I should have put them in a Ziploc bag.

What in the last six months do you think people remember you for?

Wearing my heart on my sleeve.

The most surprising thing about politics I have found out is...

How you start to live, breathe, sleep, thinking about Singapore all the time - it's a tone our leaders set. Experiences at work can provide perspectives on how to make Singapore better: looking after patients, listening to the challenges doctors and nurses face.

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

Gryffindor.

If you could turn back the clock on the campaign last year, what would you do differently?

I prefer to focus on shaping our "Days of Present Futures" (to paraphrase from X-Men).


YEE CHIA HSING, 44

MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

I still believe that I have managed to hold on my political innocence.

My biggest gaffe was...

Thankfully, nothing big. But I started my Facebook presence with both profile and page, so now I have to maintain both accounts.

What in the last six months do you think people remember you for?

I hope residents remember me as a friendly and hardworking MP. In my maiden speech, I spoke about the difficult market conditions local small and medium enterprises are facing. Some residents who run small businesses thanked me for speaking up for them.

The most surprising thing about politics I have found out is...

Residents are very welcoming. Not only during house visits, but when we appear unexpectedly, like handing out oranges during Chinese New Year at a bus stop. A resident driving past stopped to say "hi".

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

I can't really tell which House is which. Given that it is the Year of the Monkey, I wish I was Sun Wukong, the Monkey God who can call on multiple clones of himself. On Valentine's Day, I had five Chinese New Year community events and was out all day.

If you could turn back the clock on the campaign last year, what would you do differently?

Nothing much. Think our campaign went smoothly.


MELVIN YONG, 44

MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC

I lost my political innocence when...

I conducted my first Meet-the-People Session on the Monday after the General Election. Although I had been helping then Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew at his sessions, the feeling of holding your own is different.

What in the last six months do you think people remember you for?

I devoted my entire maiden speech to tripartism. It is a key economic competitive advantage that we cannot take for granted. Union leaders tell me that they appreciate the reminder and that it is important for our future generations to understand the values of mutual trust and respect, of teamwork and collaboration.

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

Hufflepuff. The people there are dedicated, kind, patient, loyal and fair. These are the same qualities of our pioneer generation and our union leaders in the NTUC, qualities that I hold close to my heart.


DANIEL GOH, 42

Non-Constituency MP

I lost my political innocence when...

I witnessed egos clashing between opposition party figures and the way too many of us treated the voters like ground to be fought over rather than people we should be engaging.

My biggest gaffe was...

Not waving back to someone who recognised me and waved, and waving back to someone who was actually waving to someone else, thinking she recognised me.

What do you think people remember you for after the last six months?

The professor who would be the willing duckweed in Parliament. (Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang said in January that NCMPs have difficulty sinking political roots in a constituency and were like "duckweed on the water of a pond".)

The most surprising thing about politics I found out was...

We have so many political pundits concerned with the winning and losing of elections rather than thinker-doers who would listen more, reflect on ways to advance our democracy and act to do so.

Which Harry Potter House are you in?

Ravenclaw, according to my friends. I am no Potterite, but am a Trekkie, and I admire Spock, for his wisdom is derived from the tension of logical reasoning and being in touch with one's emotions, all in the service of humanity. 

If you could turn back the clock on the campaign, what would you do differently?

Smile a lot more - I tend to retreat into deep thought with a resting wizard face.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 13, 2016, with the headline ''My first six months''. Print Edition | Subscribe