Thankful for a second chance and ready to serve with heart

Dr Koh Poh Koon.

After losing the Punggol East by-election in 2013 as a People's Action Party candidate, colorectal surgeon Koh Poh Koon is grateful for a second chance at politics.

"I'm definitely thankful for the opportunity to serve and thankful that I have another chance to hopefully make a greater contribution to Singapore and Singaporeans," the father of two said yesterday during the introduction of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Ang Mo Kio GRC team for the election.

Dr Koh, 43, said he learnt from the bruising Punggol East experience, in which he was fielded against Worker's Party's Lee Li Lian and where he garnered 43.7 per cent of the vote.

Then, he had little time to get to know residents on the ground and he also chose words poorly at times while speaking to the media, he said.

In an interview during the 2013 campaign, his comment that "everybody has a car, we have two", met with criticism as it suggested he could not understand the woes of public transport commuters and appeared detached from the average Singaporean.

Dr Koh has been volunteering in the GRC's Yio Chu Kang division for the past 10 months and will be fielded as successor to its retiring MP, Mr Seng Han Thong.

"As long as we serve residents with a heart, they (will) form their own opinions," he said. "So to me, it's more important that we do what we need to do on the ground, let residents have first-hand contact, rather than leave it to the online space to shape our character."

He did not balk at being characterised as a losing candidate who has been moved to a safe ward under PM Lee: "I would say that the focus should be on what the motivation was for the person to step forward in the first place and whether the person has the desire and ability to serve.

"In this new normal, there are no guaranteed seats. So regardless of the outcome of the first foray, what's important is that the person's heart is still good, the desire is still there."

Rachel Chang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 16, 2015, with the headline 'Thankful for a second chance and ready to serve with heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe