SINGAPORE - When Ms Lee Bee Wah went on her usual walkabout at Yishun market on Sunday morning, she was greeted by residents who pleaded with her not to retire and instead, to stay on as their MP.
Ms Lee, 59, who has represented Nee Soon South ward for 14 years, teared up as she thanked residents, saying she would "never forget them".
"The last 14 years have been very memorable. I made a lot of friends; they became my family members," she said.
First elected in 2006, Ms Lee has over the years stirred strong feelings among fans and critics alike. She is easily one of the most colourful and memorable PAP backbenchers in recent memory.
Known affectionately as "Hua Jie" or "flower sister", she was a grassroots MP to be feared as she refused to take no for an answer, badgering both ministers and public servants alike to secure estate improvements sought by her residents.
She was also a strident defender of government policies against opposition attack. Her speeches during Parliament debates on the Budget stood out, including one last year when she told a story entitled Si Gui Kia, a Hokkien phrase which means "ungrateful brat". In it, she portrayed the Government as a generous grandfather (Ah Gong) who cares for his ungrateful grandson (Ah Seng), the latter representing Singaporeans who failed to appreciate government largesse. That earned her brickbats from those angered by the comparison, who replied online that the Government was not their Ah Gong and they were not ingrates.
She is not contesting this election, having announced her retirement on June 29, but went on the attack nonetheless against the opposition's call on voters to elect more non-PAP members to Parliament.
It was she and not an opposition MP who stood up in the House and argued for a childcare centre to be built in every HDB precinct, for more sports facilities and covered linkways from HDB blocks to bus stops. She had also championed issues related to traditional Chinese medicine and the construction industry, she told reporters trailing her and PAP new face Carrie Tan, 38, who is part of the Nee Soon GRC slate.
Ms Lee's message to voters: "Vote in someone who works sincerely, wholeheartedly for you."
She also debunked Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soo Juan's claim that only a full-time MP could represent voters adequately. She had not just one but a few day jobs, yet she made her MP job her "No. 1 priority".
"I heard somebody say that after the day-time job, how to do an MP job at night? Tiring. That's why you need full-time MP.
"You ask my residents; I am here almost every day, every night. I don't have free nights at home," she said.
With the Covid-19 crisis still playing out, there are many challenges ahead. Singapore therefore needs "a government that is in the best position to solve, to overcome, to control Covid-19 and also look into how to create more jobs". She urged voters not to be distracted by other issues people threw up.
Turning to Ms Carrie Tan, who takes over from her in the Nee Soon South ward, Ms Lee said: "I am glad that I have Carrie, 38 years old, young, energetic. Give her a chance, and I will mentor her."
Among the residents who turned up to thank Ms Lee was Ms Jo Lee, who has lived in Yishun since 1986. Now in her 50s, she said MP Lee had helped her when she received threats and had to install CCTV cameras in a house she was renting out. The MP took just 10 days to resolve her problem.
"She is a very nice person, and she has a very big heart," said Ms Jo Lee, who gave the retiring MP a thank-you card.
A group of five friends, all residents of Nee Soon GRC, created a memory board on which they mounted pictures they had taken with Ms Lee, thank-you messages and handicrafts.
Ms Cyndi Tay, 47, who led the effort, said: "This is a memory for her. She has contributed to us for 14 years, is very kind to the elderly and raised funds to help children. She is a very special MP."