GE SPECIAL: LIFE AFTER POLITICS

Lee Yi Shyan: Simple joy in everyday interactions with community

Mr Lee Yi Shyan is proud of how the Heartbeat@Bedok complex in his ward has helped bring the community together.
Mr Lee Yi Shyan is proud of how the Heartbeat@Bedok complex in his ward has helped bring the community together. LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

Looking back on his 14 years as an MP, Mr Lee Yi Shyan marvels at how he survived the most hectic days.

Coffee, Red Bull and chicken essence played a role, he recalls. Even then, there were days when he felt like nodding off at the wheel.

Dinner was often two red bean buns and a packet of milk, purchased at a petrol kiosk and eaten on the go. "It was quite demanding in terms of mental energy and physical fitness," said the 58-year-old.

Mr Lee entered politics in 2006, after stepping down as chief executive of International Enterprise Singapore, which was later merged with another statutory board to form Enterprise Singapore.

Fielded in East Coast GRC, he was appointed Minister of State for Trade and Industry after the general election and later promoted to Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development.

But following a minor stroke in May 2015, he decided to "change gear" and return to the backbench.

To round off his three terms in East Coast, his activists initiated a commemorative book called Heartbeat of Bedok.

Its title echoes the name of the seven-storey integrated building in his Kampong Chai Chee ward which took nearly 10 years to build.

The process, in Mr Lee's own words, "felt almost like trying to get a panda to conceive".

He is proud of how the Heartbeat @ Bedok complex - which boasts a library, polyclinic and community club, among others - has helped bring the community together.

"There is a simple joy in everyday interactions that gives me a lot of satisfaction," he said. "I think these were the high points."

Asked about the low points of his career, Mr Lee immediately brings up GE2011, when the nationwide mood swung against the PAP.

In East Coast, Mr Lee's team won against the Workers' Party with 54.8 per cent of the vote.

"I felt a bit helpless," he said, adding that national sentiment and the quality of their opponents played a bigger role that year.

"You could have done a great amount of good work on the ground, but it would all be very heavily discounted."

Now that he has retired, Mr Lee plans to focus on his day job at OUE, and give his successor - Mr Tan Kiat How - the space to operate in the manner he sees fit.

"For us who have retired, we have to be mindful that our presence in the constituency should only add value to the new leader, and not make them feel awkward," he said. "The new person should have total freedom to decide how things should be run."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2020, with the headline Lee Yi Shyan: Simple joy in everyday interactions with community. Subscribe