By Elias Tan
Finally, the defeated PAP candidate in the Punggol East by-elections has given one of the reasons why he lost. Colorectal surgeon Koh Poh Koon — who has no problem calling himself the “arsehole doctor” — diagnosed his defeat this way: being parachuted into a constituency that was quite foreign to him.
That can be interpreted as the grassroots people there not giving him the 100 per cent support he needed. It says something about the protective nature of local politics here and the disconnect between the PAP headquarters and the people on the ground.
Of course, there were other factors:
First, Koh is a newcomer. Being a new entrant in politics is never easy, let alone standing in a single seat constituency.
He is also new to the residents of Punggol-East. He barely knew anyone within the constituency and had just about a few days to get to know the residents.
Compare him to his opponent Lee Li Lian, who has been with the Workers’ Party for close to eight years and has been helping out in Punggol-East even before the 2011 General Elections.
Second, he made a couple of corny gaffes during his media interviews and campaign speeches. He claimed to be the “Son of Punggol” — he lived in the area when the area was a kampung — and that “everyone has a car”. Angry Singaporeans considered Koh’s last remark as being elitist and against the common people who cannot afford a four-wheel drive.
One year after the elections, Koh seems to have got over the defeat, even with a little bit of humour. He called himself the “arsehole doctor” in a newspaper interview. Sometime in October, he starred in a cheeky video about colorectal cancer which received mixed reactions online.
Third, the residents felt that Dr Koh is overqualified to be their parliamentary representative. Few are specialist doctors and colorectal surgeons in Singapore and Dr Koh belongs to that minority group of elites. Given his social and economic status, it was not that easy for him to put himself in the shoes of the layman and empathise with them.”
The PAP has also morphed into a party of elites and the electorate are beginning to reject high-flyers. Coupled with the widening income gap and rising cost of living, Punggol-East residents were not convinced that Koh was the right fit.
But Koh is not giving up. He has been doing his rounds every week, talking to residents and distributing food to the needy. He has helped to expand the number of spaces for a PAP Community Foundation centre for pre-schoolers. He also has a plan to “win hearts” before then next elections.
He has also launched a voucher initiative for needy residents to help them tide over challenging times, which is possibly part of his campaign strategy.
By the next General Election, Koh will no longer be a stranger to the residents in Punggol-East and a newcomer in politics.
The Opposition’s MP for the area, Lee Li Lian, seems to be preparing herself for the challenge. “I’m focused on my constituency work and serving the residents as I’ve been elected,” she told The Independent Singapore.
When asked whether the Workers’ Party distributes food to the needy, Lee said: “Yes, we do food distribution during the festive seasons and on and off during Meet-the-Peoples sessions when needy families come to us.
“We’ve taken a break because of the school holidays as a number of our volunteers are parents and would like to spend time with their family during this period.”
The Workers’ Party also do twice a week door-to-door house visits. “It’s a very important part of our outreach [programme] to our constituents. We kick-started the programme in May this year, going door-to-door every once a week during weekday evenings before increasing our frequency to two times a week.” Says Lee.