ON THE CAMPAGIN TRAIL

Workers' Party volunteer He Ting Ru takes the leap to contest GE

Ms He cites Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim as her political role model.
Ms He cites Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim as her political role model.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SINGAPORE - Workers' Party (WP) new face He Ting Ru prefers not to talk about whether she is the new Nicole Seah.

Instead, the 32-year-old wants to talk about WP chairman Sylvia Lim, 50, whom she calls her political role model.

"She's someone who is very principled and sharp - she's able to point out key policy ideas. At the same time, you can tell that she cares very much for residents and colleagues," Ms He told The Straits Times. "It's a tough job, but she's very strong."

INSPIRED BY GRANNY

My grandmother once said to me that if you are in a position to help others, it is your good fortune. That has really stayed with me.

MS HE TING RU, on what motivates her to help others

The fresh-faced legal counsel was a topic of discussion online even before the WP introduced her formally as a candidate, with many making comparisons with Ms Seah, who made a splash as a National Solidarity Party candidate in 2011.

Ms Seah was on the NSP's team for Marine Parade GRC in 2011, and Ms He is now contesting there too, with her WP teammates. Ms Seah is not a candidate this year.

Asked about the comparisons with Ms Seah, all Ms He would say is that she is "heartened to know that you do have some support from fellow Singaporeans". The two have exchanged messages online, but never met in person.

"Actually, we talk about cats," she said. Both women are cat lovers and Ms He's family is said to have adopted eight strays.

Ms He hopes to reach out to more than just young voters.

"I hope that I appeal to voters across the spectrum and that people from a wide variety of backgrounds listen to what I have to say, and what the party has to say," she said.

"If one is elected as MP, you have to represent all the constituents. It doesn't matter (what) their race, religion (is) - and it doesn't even matter whether they voted for you."

She recalled an incident earlier this year at her grandmother's wake in Sims Drive that affirmed her decision to enter politics.

"I was leaving the wake and I heard a noise. When I turned, I saw some old people rummaging through the rubbish," she said.

"It's etched in my memory - the look, that snapshot - here is an old couple rummaging through the bins at my grandmother's wake. You know, maybe they are someone's grandparents."

Despite the policies that the Government has put in place, some people, including the elderly and the needy, are still left behind, she said. "My grandmother once said to me that if you are in a position to help others, it is your good fortune. That has really stayed with me."

Her first brush with politics was when she volunteered in a free legal clinic in London. Her work as a corporate transactional lawyer put her in good stead to interpret and explain cases to the residents she was helping.

The former CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' and Raffles Junior College student went to Britain after her A levels to study natural sciences in Cambridge University. Her parents financed her studies.

She then went to London and did a programme that converted her undergraduate degree to law, and stayed on to work.

She returned in time for the 2011 General Election, after being away for nine years, and witnessed the WP breakthrough in Aljunied GRC.

She then volunteered with the party, helping out at MP Chen Show Mao's Paya Lebar ward in the GRC. She has also been helping out at the weekly Meet-the-People Sessions.

"I listened to the WP's rally speeches, heard their message, and I thought that they sounded responsible. I think they have something to add to Singapore," said Ms He.

Ironically, it was a friend who was volunteering for the PAP who had first suggested that Ms He help out at a Meet-the-People Session, as her legal training would come in handy. Instead of going with her friend, she went on her own to the opposition party.

"WP went from one seat to six. It's common knowledge that they are not as well-resourced as the PAP, so I thought I should go down and see how I could offer my help," she said.

Despite her achievements, Ms He comes across as slightly restrained and apprehensive, often looking to her WP media liaison colleague for affirmation as she spoke.

She also declined to talk about her personal life and did not want to say if she was dating anyone. She was at her most relaxed when talking about the WP's goals and ideals, largely staying true to the party's key talking points.

The WP is not fighting the system, but taking part in a "democratic process that all Singaporeans have a right to", she said.

"The WP does not believe in tearing down the system. I think it's fair to say that we also collaborate with the Government on making policies and point out issues that we feel are important to our residents and to fellow Singaporeans."

With the hustings in full swing, Ms He said she is prepared for the uphill battle ahead and greater challenges, should she be elected to Parliament.

"We are under no illusion about the amount of work that is involved," she said. "One of the key things that I've come to realise, working in the WP, is that we are a team. We have to support one another, we have to work together, we have a common goal."

Her parents were concerned about her decision to stand for election, she said.

Her mother is a housewife and her father, who used to work in the finance sector, is now semi-retired. The family live in the Holland-Bukit Timah area with Ms He's 30-year-old sister.

"My parents were a bit concerned. They warned me that it was not an easy job, but the two of them believe that people should stand by their convictions," she said.

"So I said, 'yes, this is what I believe in, it is what's important in life'."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2015, with the headline 'Party volunteer takes the leap to contest GE'. Print Edition | Subscribe