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An Open Letter to the Residents of Bukit Batok

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Non Bukit Batok resident and concerned citizen JAMES LEONG asks whether voters would consider looking beyond their own immediate needs and examine their values when they cast their votes on May 7.
By: James Leong
I wonder if residents of Bukit Batok realise just how lucky they are.
They get to exercise their democratic right to vote again after their MP David Ong was caught with his pants down and quit, paving the way for the Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) Dr Chee Soon Chuan to contest for a by-election against the People’s Action Party (PAP) Murali Pillai.
But I also wonder how many of these residents actually care.
Out of about 27,000 residents of Bukit Batok who voted at GE 2015, no more than 600 people attended SDP’s first rally on April 29 and perhaps another hundred or more at its second, and I have not discounted those who came from outside Bukit Batok. I did not attend the PAP rallies, but it’s my guess that the numbers are nowhere near even half of the voting population for either.
To put things into perspective, Dr Chee Soon Juan is the “enfant terrible” of Singapore politics, whose name has been crucified by the PAP many times over since he entered politics more than 20 years ago. In no particular order, he was jailed, fired from his job and made bankrupt for his infamous altercation with former PM Goh Chok Tong, amongst other things.
Ask anyone in his 30s or 40s including their parents, and the name “Chee Soon Juan” would immediate conjure images of a rogue politician who runs Singapore down in the foreign press when he cant’ get his way. He cannot be trusted.
But Dr Chee was also the comeback kid at GE2015, winning hearts and minds for fiercely championing the needs of the underdog. Despite SDP’s disappointing loss in Holland Bukit Timah in 2015, his party was the first to make its presence felt while the others retreated to lick their wounds.
On November 12, 2015 Chee embarked on a 140km cross-island walk to raise funds for his party, knowing full well that his next opportunity would be a good five years away.
“Another controversial or at best an enigmatic figure in our midst but how does that concern me? “ You might ask.
Dr Chee is a family man with three children living in a 3-room HDB flat, like many of us. But unlike many of us he has risked his reputation, family and livelihood many times over for what he believes makes a better Singapore, and he is still at it.
One can’t help but wonder why.
Even if discussions on running town councils, unemployment funds and estate upgrades don’t strike your fancy, this election is not just about what matters to you, but the many others who are uninformed, voiceless, or just too powerless to improve their well being.
This political campaign, however, is also very much about character and values, which define us all.
Qualities like integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, humility, the benevolent power to serve, resilience and forgiveness are played out in full view for us to see by the very same people who hold the key to our future.
Who we vote into parliament, will also say a lot about us.
After DPM Tharman agreed to a clean fight, Dr Chee at his first by-election rally declared that he would not be engaging in gutter politics, preferring to debate on policies. On the fallen David Ong, Chee explained, “I’ll not kick a man when he’s down. Leave him alone so he and is family can heal.” When a member of his SDP team made an unflattering reference to Ong at the first rally, he reminded his team on no uncertain terms of his firm stand, and that was the last we heard of Ong from them.
If only the ruling party would keep their promise.
Instead of debating policies, Minister of Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu went into full character assassination mode.
Earning the nickname “Dis-Grace-Fu” by netizens, she questioned Chee’s ability to be a full time MP, citing his inability to keep a full-time job for long.
Love him or hate him, Chee has been in politics for over two decades and along the away bore the full brunt of his pursuits in ways we can’t even begin to wrap our heads around.  It is no wonder he responded that Fu’s remark was a “blow below the belt” because it effectively strips away the 20 years of his work and sacrifice, regardless of whether you agree with him or not.
So I ask the residents of Bukit Batok whether they would  also look beyond their immediate tangible needs when they head to the polls on May 7.
What values do we hold dear to us?  Perhaps also ask whether these are the same values are shared by our MP who will represent us in parliament?  These values will ultimately translate into policies that will impact your lives and your children, even if you don’t see it now.
I do not know Dr Chee from Adam and have never even met or shook his hand, but I know conviction and purpose when I see it.  What I also see is a widening divide between the haves and the have not’s, and I beseech voters to consider this.
In response to the broken promises made by the PAP and the battering he had to weather Dr Chee said, “Let me appeal to the better angels of our nature because no one is perfect.”
I don’t know about you but I definitely see faith, forgiveness and peace in a man that transcends all understanding. How else could anyone continue plugging away for this long when it seems like the world has been against you for so long?
Surely,  Bukit Batok residents, there must be something there that deserves some contemplation as you head to the polling booths on May 7?

James Leong is a media consultant, writer and a counsellor-in-training.  He awoke to his own political consciousness after discovering the horrifying acts of injustice dealt by the Internal Security Act against the country’s political exiles and alleged communists. He also hopes to Singaporeans can look beyond themselves and their immediate needs for a better future.

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