Society & Politics

An Open Letter to My Member of Parliament

Dear Mr Lim Biow Chuan, congratulations.

You must be elated about clinching the single seat for Mountbatten constituency with 71.8 percent of the vote share.

You beat your opponent Mrs Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss hands down–which was in contrast to four and a half years ago, when you garnered just 58.6 percent of the votes.

The “results were beyond my expectation,” you said.

Well Mr Lim, you might be heartened to hear that I was one of the 15,290 citizens who cast my vote for you last week.

***

As a first-time voter, I saw my enfranchisement as a ‘sacred duty to the nation’.

Because I wanted to be sure about the choice I would make come Polling Day, I resolved to be as informed and objective as possible.

So, like any rational and reasonable citizen, I read up on both you and Mrs Chong-Aruldoss. I flipped through your manifestos, which were delivered right into my letterbox. I listened to both your rally speeches; in fact, I transcribed both of them word for word, as I watched them live from the newsroom.

I’ll even let you in on a secret: I typed down every single word you said in your rally into the wee hours of the next morning–which happened to be my birthday.

I’ll admit, when you first stepped up to the microphone and began introducing yourself, I had my doubts. Mrs Chong-Aruldoss’ fiery address, in which she described you as just another “PAP backbencher” who would have no choice but to “toe the party line,” was still fresh on my mind.

But after your predicted ‘I-came-from-an-impoverished-background-and-know-what-it’s-like-to-be-poor’ introduction, my impression of you changed.

Because 10 to 15 minutes into your monologue, you began to address in very systematic and specific ways the touchy topics Mrs Chong-Aruldoss had criticised you for.

You vehemently disagreed that you’d ever been silenced for speaking your mind in Parliament. You listed down the times you stood up for certain issues you believed in. You declared, “In my nine years of Parliament, never once have I been asked not to speak my mind.” You rejected that you would in any way be less of a representative for the people, just because you were also a representative of the ruling party.

And you challenged Mrs Chong-Aruldoss’ political reputation in as gentlemanly a manner as could be expected. You questioned her recent history as a two-time party hopper (from the Reform Party, to the National Solidarity Party, to Singapore People’s Party). You pointed out her absence on the grounds over the last four and a half years, whereas you had been serving in grassroots activities for the past 16 years. You called into question her track record in Mountbatten and whether her loyalty and reputation really were what she made them out to be.

***

Today, I think I have a pretty good idea of your speeches, promises and visions for Mountbatten and Singapore.

And they are all very good points.

But I have to be honest with you.

One month ago, I had no idea which constituency I lived in, let alone who my parliamentary representative was.

Although you’ve technically been our Member of Parliament (MP) since 2006, when you first joined as one of the MPs of Marine Parade Group Representative Constituency (which Mountbatten was later carved out from in 2011), I had zero inkling of who you were.

The first time I ever set my eyes on you was during an SG50 National Day carnival just a few weeks ago.

You were standing there by the registration table, handing out goodie bags with smiles and handshakes all-around. You greeted my mother like an old friend and beamed at me as you handed us our goodie bag.

As we walked away, I discreetly glanced back at you and whispered to my mother, “Who was that?”

“He’s your MP,” she replied.

“Oh. I thought he was just a random man giving out goodie bags.”

Mr Lim, two weeks ago, I didn’t even know your name.

I only found out the day Parliament was dissolved, when large white banners displaying your face and iconic party logo came up all around the constituency.

Every few metres your grandfatherly face looked down upon me.

“So this is my MP’s name,” I thought to myself as I walked past.

The man giving out goodie bags.

You looked like a kind and affable man, someone I could imagine greeting as “uncle” during Chinese New Year, or bumping into on my way out of my apartment.

But in reality, I would never have met you in my apartment, ever. Because during your campaigning, you weren’t allowed to visit private apartments and condominiums. And Mountbatten has some 42 percent of its voters–or about 10,000 voters–living in exactly those housing.

I’ve also never had the privilege of meeting you during your Meet-the-People Sessions, which you hold weekly above the Old Airport Road Food Centre. Or perhaps it would be more appropriate for me to say that I have had the privilege of not meeting you during these sessions, since I don’t face many of the bread-and-butter issues that may accost some of our residents.

For that, I know I am extremely fortunate.

So how could I have met you or even known your name?

Exactly one week ago, I cast my very first vote for you.

I ticked the box beside your face, name and party, because I had read enough about you and had decided that you were more credible and reliable than your opponent. (This was despite entering this electoral season with radical notions of voting for an opposition candidate.)

But even though I voted for you, it wasn’t because I thought you were the best choice.

I voted for you because I didn’t have much of a choice.

I don’t have much of a choice is what my taxi driver said about his constituency’s options, the night before elections. It was what my mum said as we walked to the polling station that morning. It was what silent voices murmured in the minds of many Singaporeans, as they stared at the slip of paper in their hands, their pens hovering above those boxes.

***

In a sense, I’m a little disappointed in myself, that as a young voter brimming with so-called new ideas of democracy and freedom (cue theatrical finger quotes), I did not vote for the candidate symbolising change.

No Mr Lim, you don’t always know what’s best for us and you’ve not always had a stellar track record. And no Mrs Chong-Aruldross, I won’t vote for you just because there are “enough PAP backbenchers,” since one more of you won’t make much of a difference anyway.

Truth is, nobody knows what’s best for Singapore. But everyone wants what’s best for our nation.

And Mr Lim, my vote for you was my expression of wanting what’s best for our country.

But whether or not it really was the best, I guess I’ll only find out in five years.

In the meantime, congratulations.

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