National Solidarity Party (NSP) candidate Cheo Chai Chen came under fire yesterday for saying that his People's Action Party (PAP) opponent Tin Pei Ling's status as a new mother was "her weakness".
In an interview published in Today newspaper yesterday, he said: "The PAP's Tin Pei Ling has been working very hard. But she has just given birth, so voters should let her go home and rest, and take care of her child... If voters choose her, she might focus more on her child than on her voters. This is her weakness."
Ms Tin responded vigorously on Facebook yesterday morning. Declaring she was "committed to MacPherson", she said: "I returned to work soon after delivery... because I want to continue to serve.
"I am confident that even as a mum I can continue to focus on my work in MacPherson."
Ms Tin, 31, who became an MP in 2011 as part of the Marine Parade GRC team, gave birth to her son, Kee Hau, on Aug 5. Her MacPherson ward is a single-member constituency this time and she is in a three-cornered fight with Mr Cheo, 64, and Mr Bernard Chen, 29, of the Workers' Party.
She said women should not have to choose between motherhood and a career, and that she wants "to build a Singapore in which more women can successfully manage family and work responsibilities".
Mr Cheo's remarks were circulated widely online yesterday and he was roundly criticised for being sexist and out of date. Ms Tin, on the other hand, drew support from women and men alike.
PAP politicians weighed in on Facebook. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that as a medical house officer, he had seen the physical toll that motherhood could take.
He said he had advised Ms Tin to do fewer constituency visits during her confinement, but observed: "Pei Ling is obviously not taking my advice!... Mothers are strong, very strong when motivated."
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu called Mr Cheo's comment "unjustified and outdated", and said: "We need to fight against the stereotype that women should be at home, or that certain positions in the society are beyond us."
Mr Cheo's party also tried to soothe Singapore's working mothers. NSP secretary-general Lim
Tean issued a statement on the party's Facebook page supporting "mothers of all kinds", noting that two of its candidates - Ms Kevryn Lim and Ms Nor Lella Mardiiiah Mohamed - are themselves mothers.
"There is no question that mothers are strong, and there is no question that any woman, mother or not, is any less able than her male counterpart," he said.
Mr Cheo claimed yesterday that what he said about Ms Tin and motherhood was merely "a joke".
"If she can manage, then it's not a problem," he added. "I don't want to criticise her. I will not use this issue to have a personal attack."
Ms Tin told reporters yesterday that having to juggle responsibilities as a new mother helps her appreciate what young families go through.
"MacPherson means a lot to me. I feel a sense of responsibility. But I understand that not all women have the kind of support that I may have at this moment," she said.
As she visited Housing Board shops and homes yesterday, many residents asked how she and her baby were doing.
Part-time security supervisor Ashoka Raj, 67, said: "She's hard-working, she's enthusiastic in her work."
Ms Tin told him: "I hope I can come back to take care of residents."
He replied: "You will come back!"