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Ode to Chiam See Tong: A Lion of Singapore May 4, 2011

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

  • Pt. 1, ch. 11, To Kill A Mockingbird
  • Atticus Finch (from Wikiquote)

I freely admit that I incline towards the underdog, and this is more so in Singapore politics where the opposition faces insurmountable obstacles such as GRCs, huge election deposits, the threat of defamation suits, the climate of fear engineered by the incumbent party and the inherent biasness of the mainstream media, which has gotten worst over the past years. Indeed it is patently ridiculous to caricature the opposition as a bunch of opportunists seeking glamour, unless one believes that glamour involves being called all sorts of undesirable names or being sued till kingdom come.

Among the opposition, some figures clearly stand out. Today, I would take the opportunity to salute Mr Chiam See Tong, a man who has achieved much in the face of adversity and who, notwithstanding his achievements, is still desperately fighting the good fight by trying to unseat Mr Wong Kan Seng and his Bishan-Toa Payoh team. This post was  inspired by this video, where Mr Chiam displays both fortitude and humility. Despite being stricken by stroke, I was extremely touched to see Mr Chiam valiantly attempt to speak. Indeed, though the flesh is weak, the spirit is indeed willing. What really touched me though was his humility when he said, “You give me more applause than I deserve”, and then later on went to say that “I am an ordinary Singaporean just like anyone of you”. In contrast, not too long ago we had someone calling us lesser mortals and then attempting to backtrack.

Furthermore, despite his frailties, he has succeeded in garnering a strong team consisting of former government scholars to contest in Bishan-Toa Payoh. This is a testament to his perseverance; several times in his career he has been written off, most notably during the period before his first victory in Potong Pasir (where he was derided for having “poor” o level results). Despite all this he has managed to navigate the somewhat muddy waters of Singapore politics, all the while retaining his humility and gentlemanly nature. A testament to his ability is seen in his electoral achievements, where he has fended off PAP challenges notwithstanding the upgrading carrot dangled before the voters of Potong Pasir.

But perhaps his greatest hour is in 1987, where he spoke up for those detained under the ISA for being part of the so-called Marxist Conspiracy. Though he was ultimately unsuccessful, history tends to remember with fondness those who undertook such lost causes (Eg, Liu Bei, Zhuge LiangYue Fei, Wen Tian Xiang etc). Indeed one might go so far to say that if Mr Chiam can pull an upset in Bishan-Toa Payoh, it would truly be a vindication of his valiant struggle over the past 20 years. For this is indeed an uphill battle, despite the heating up of things on the net, I still stick to my cynical prediction that it would likely be an 87:0; after all, even if the PAP’s share of the vote falls to 50% or so, all it takes is a simple majority for PAP to win the constituency. For example, PAP could win each constituency by winning 50% of the vote. Such a result is the real freak election though I disgress.

Hence, I wish Mr Chiam all the best and salute him for his long years of service, and hope against hope that Mr Chiam and his team can make history, together with the WP team. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that Mr Chiam epitomises all that is desirable in a citizen: humility, courage, a heart for service and a never-say-die attitude that has seen him stand up again despite setbacks, both physical and political. Mr Chiam, though we may never encounter each other face to face, I salute you from the bottom of my heart and thank you for all your years of service. May we Singaporeans have your zeal for service and the courage to press forward even in the absence of any certainty of success.

I am not actually a brave man, but I love Singapore and Singaporeans.” Mr Chiam See Tong, 2011