Singapore GE2020: New PAP candidates a diverse group, says DPM Heng

They represent different segments of society, he says while unveiling first batch of 26 new faces

(Clockwise, from top left) Desmond Tan Kok Ming, Edward Chia Bing Hui, Nadia Ahmad Samdin, Ivan Lim Shaw Chuan, Hany Soh Hui Bin, Yip Hon Weng, Mohd Fahmi Aliman and Don Wee Boon Hong.
(Clockwise, from top left) Desmond Tan Kok Ming, Edward Chia Bing Hui, Nadia Ahmad Samdin, Ivan Lim Shaw Chuan, Hany Soh Hui Bin, Yip Hon Weng, Mohd Fahmi Aliman and Don Wee Boon Hong.PHOTOS: PEOPLE'S ACTION PARTY

The latest crop of new People's Action Party (PAP) candidates are an "interesting and diverse" group of people who have taken multiple pathways to achieve success.

These new faces also represent different segments of society and, therefore, will bring with them different issues and concerns to raise in Parliament, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

He said: "What has been very encouraging for us is that we have now seen many Singaporeans who have taken the opportunity of embarking on very different pathways, whether it is education or in their career aspirations, or in the causes that they are interested in, and being able to make headway to develop themselves fully in this process.

"What is even more encouraging is that many of them have decided to step forward, so that they can share these experiences, they can continue this process of enabling more Singaporeans to succeed in the coming years."

Mr Heng was speaking at a virtual press meeting to unveil the first batch of the 26 new PAP faces who will contest next month's election.

The youngest PAP candidate in this election is lawyer Nadia Ahmad Samdin, 30, who was among the four people Mr Heng introduced yesterday.

The identity of the oldest, aged 56, has not been revealed yet.

The median age of this year's line-up is 43. This is older than the 42.3 median age of the 2015 batch, and also the oldest group of newbies in more than 40 years.

In a statement yesterday, the PAP said it has also made "significant efforts" to bring in more women candidates, with 10 featuring in the line-up this year.

About 20 MPs are expected to step down in the run-up to the polls.

Mr Heng, who is PAP's first assistant secretary-general, said the party will contest all 93 seats in the July 10 election, which means it will field candidates in 17 group representation constituencies and 14 single-member constituencies.

He added that party renewal is part of the process through which the PAP improves its ability to better serve Singaporeans and take the country forward.


On Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's decision to hold the election now, Mr Heng said Singapore will face external challenges in the years ahead. Many critical decisions have to be made, and the strategy and actions Singapore takes in the coming months will profoundly shape its future.

That is why the decision was taken to hold the election on July 10, he said.

Mr Heng said: "We need to build the adaptive capacity of our society to overcome this crisis and to emerge stronger, so that we can have the ideas and creative energies of all our people to work together on a common purpose."

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, in a separate press conference to introduce four more new faces, echoed Mr Heng's views.

Mr Masagos, who is PAP's vice-chairman, said one common quality among the new PAP candidates is that they never stop learning and they all have the desire to give back to society. Their actions, too, give an insight into how committed they are in working for the community, he added.

"Do not just light your own candle - light a thousand candles before your light goes out," he said.

Responding to questions about why candidates were being unveiled at the party's Bedok headquarters, and not at the constituency level like for the 2015 election, Mr Masagos said the decision was influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic, which meant candidates need to be introduced in a manner that was "safe, convenient, and also as productive as possible".



Former People's Association head

For Mr Desmond Tan, securing a government scholarship in his teens was the only way he could afford his university education.

But such social mobility among children from low-income families has become "quite challenging" in recent years, he said yesterday. It is a cause the father of three plans to champion if he gets elected.

Mr Tan grew up in a three-room Bukit Ho Swee flat that at one time housed 12 people - his own family of six, his uncle's family of four, his grandmother, and another uncle.

His father was a taxi driver, while his mother took on various jobs to supplement the family's income. These included working in a factory, as a babysitter, and selling satay and nasi lemak on the streets.

Mr Tan, a former Queenstown Secondary Technical School student, later went to Raffles Junior College. He was awarded the Singapore Armed Forces Merit Scholarship and graduated from the Victoria University of Manchester in 1994 with first class honours in aeronautical engineering.

Mr Tan rose to the rank of brigadier-general before leaving to helm the People's Association in January 2017. There, he introduced Residents' Networks and Youth Networks to encourage social mixing.



Co-founder and managing director of Timbre Group

Helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) transform and ride out the Covid-19 crisis is one of Mr Edward Chia's top priorities if he is elected to Parliament.

His own business, the Timbre Group, runs food and beverage venues including Timbre+ and Yishun Park Hawker Centre, and has had to grapple with the impact of Covid-19 and deal with other common challenges SMEs deal with - coping with high rentals, insufficient manpower, and staying ahead of digital disruption.

"I go through this on a daily basis," he said. "I can truly empathise with SMEs and I hope to be an effective voice for SMEs in Parliament."

Mr Chia, the father of a six-year-old boy, is expected to be fielded in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC. He went to National Junior College and studied economics and political science at the National University of Singapore. He started Timbre at 21 when he was an undergraduate.

Said Mr Chia: "We must redouble our efforts to support our SMEs - not just to survive, but to emerge stronger. In essence, stronger SMEs mean better jobs for Singaporeans."



Associate director at TSMP Law Corporation

Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin's life has revolved around giving back to the community since she was 15 years old. She started her volunteer work with the South East Community Development Council, and moved on to focus on causes that help vulnerable women and children.


The lawyer, who is married and has no children, recounted how she once received a call from a child she was mentoring. The girl, whose parents were in prison, needed to go to school for a test. However, there was no money in her ez-link card. The incident prompted Ms Nadia to set up the Lembaga Biasiswa Kenangan Maulud Top-up Fund, to make sure such children have enough money for transport.

The youngest among the new faces that will be unveiled by the PAP, Ms Nadia went to Victoria Junior College and read law at the Singapore Management University.

Apart from her community work, she also serves as a panel adviser for the Youth Court, where her role is to advise judges on the appropriate orders to pass in cases involving children and young persons.

The recreational diver has also seen first-hand the havoc wrought by climate change on the natural environment and hopes to champion this cause.



General manager (Specialised Vessels) at Keppel Offshore & Marine

At age 16, Mr Ivan Lim went to work at Keppel Shipyard after his O levels in 1994, instead of furthering his studies.

"I remember on my first day, the shipyard uncles were asking me, 'What are you doing here in the shipyard? You should be studying'," he said.

Mr Lim was living in a rental flat in Henderson with his family at the time, and circumstances were such that he had "no choice but to start working".

He worked hard and was awarded a scholarship by Keppel to study for a diploma at Singapore Polytechnic, after which he continued to pursue his degree in marine engineering, graduating with first class honours at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Rising through the ranks, Mr Lim is now general manager at Keppel Offshore and Marine.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who introduced Mr Lim yesterday, said he has had a very unusual journey in his education.

Mr Lim, who is married with four children, is expected to be fielded in Jurong GRC. He said he wants to champion the needs of the vulnerable. "I'm concerned about elderly residents and children who require social assistance, especially those with special needs."



Senior vice-president at UOB

Mr Wee grew up in a rental flat and made the cut to enter junior college after finishing his O levels at Nan Hua High School. However, money was tight, so he decided to enrol in a diploma programme at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, so that he could start work early and help his family with the bills.

After completing his national service, Mr Wee joined a local bank as a non-executive staff member, and got an accounting degree after some years of part-time study.

He later qualified as a chartered accountant.

He has been a grassroots leader in West Coast for 16 years, and also speaks Hokkien and Cantonese.

Mr Wee, who has two children, is a member of the Institute of Mental Health's Visitors' Board. He said he hopes to help the less privileged, as well as those with mental health problems. He also hopes to help small and medium-sized enterprises.

Said Mr Wee: "I hope that... politics can be an extension of my volunteerism, and a platform for me to raise residents' concerns and needs to policymakers."



Former Islamic Religious Council of Singapore deputy chief executive

Mr Mohd Fahmi Aliman is a former army colonel who stepped down as deputy chief executive of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) in March. He helped to form and steer the M³@Bedok initiative, launched last year to help the Malay/Muslim community in Bedok Town.

The father of four joined the National Trades Union Congress' Administration and Research Unit in April, and has been spotted on the ground in Marine Parade group representation constituency.

Before he was appointed to his post in Muis, he spent 26 years in the Singapore Armed Forces. His military career included a six-month deployment to Blangpidie for the Aceh Monitoring Mission in 2005, where he was the deputy team leader.

His late father was a gas checker, while his late mother was a cleaner. When he was in primary school, he would help her clear rubbish, he said. She later upgraded her skills to become a cook in a factory.

That is why, said Mr Fahmi, the welfare of low-wage workers in essential services is close to his heart.



Former group chief of the Silver Generation Office under the Agency for Integrated Care

Mr Yip received the Public Service Commission Overseas Specialist Award and started his civil service career as a physical education and mathematics teacher.

He later served in the education, manpower and defence ministries. He said he plans to help to improve aged care services in Singapore.

One incident he remembered vividly from when he first started out as a teacher, he said, was when he disciplined a student who repeatedly failed to hand in his homework.

He later found out that the student came from a poor family, and had to work part-time after school. That is why he did not have the time or energy to focus on his school work.

This incident taught him the value of empathy, said Mr Yip, who is married with five children.

"That day, I learnt that it is very important to always ask and seek to understand the situation before we come to any conclusions about how others behave... This is how I will also continue to listen to the concerns of residents."



Director at MSC Law Corporation

Ms Soh, who was in the Normal (Academic) stream at Bendemeer Secondary School, later obtained a diploma in law and management from a polytechnic, and worked as a paralegal before saving enough money to pursue a law degree overseas.

She recounted how her secondary school teacher advised her that if she became a lawyer some day, she should serve "the lost, the least and the last".

This, she said, became her ethos in life and inspired her to get involved in grassroots work. For the last nine years, she has volunteered in Bukit Panjang, helping outgoing Bukit Panjang MP Teo Ho Pin.

Ms Soh, who has a 16-month-old daughter, co-chairs the Law Society's community legal clinics committee and set up the first community legal clinic in a residents' committee centre in the area.

She hopes to increase community awareness of legal issues, like the importance of lasting power of attorney, and make legal help more accessible, especially to those who are physically disabled. During the circuit breaker period, she was able to mobilise volunteer lawyers to conduct sessions over the phone or virtually.

Reporting by Danson Cheong, Linette Lai, Olivia Ho and Yuen Sin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2020, with the headline 'New PAP candidates a diverse group: DPM'. Subscribe