Although I have spent most of the 38 years of my life around the area, I moved formally into the Potong Pasir Constituency eleven years ago, and have voted for Mr Chiam See Tong for the General Elections in 2001 and 2006. Having watched his rallies on the same empty field near Potong Pasir MRT Station since a kid in the 1980s, to me, Mr Chiam is very much part of my life as much as the Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. Like a vulnerably flicking candle, Mr Chiam’s precarious political presence has been felt for much of my formative and adult years, seeing me through graduation, getting my first job, postgraduate studies, marriage and finally getting a public housing (HDB) apartment in Potong Pasir estate itself. During this time he and his constituents have faced the might of the People’s Action Party (PAP) machinery. In front of national television, this meek looking lawyer has been ridiculed and humiliated by the sea of white shirts across him. Perhaps the one image that I will always remember is the huge burst of mocking laughter from the PAP ministers and backbenchers at one of his speeches somewhere in the 1980s. This is the face of the blunt arrogance and disregard of the elitist PAP government. It is therefore not surprising to find a teenage daughter of one of their ex-MP, pouring scorn on the unemployed, telling them that “life will kick you hard in the balls”, and “get out of my elite uncaring face.” I do not know why this MP was dropped and his daughter counseled when they are merely reflecting the privileged social positions that the system has been responsible in reinforcing. Nonetheless, both Mr Chiam and his voters have been kicked around for a very long time, but he, and they, have refused to leave every General Elections since 1984. Against the shrinking circle of over-ordained national leaders and parliamentarians of the PAP, to me at least Mr Chiam represents the under-ordained common man who feels his right to speak out as a human being even though he does not possess what is constituted as the right type socio-educational pedigree.
While I may have openly disagreed with Mr Chiam on the issue of leadership and succession particularly with regards to his appointment of his wife, Mrs Lina Chiam to replace him when he leaves to fight for Toa-Payoh Bishan Group Representation Council, I acknowledge his contributions and would also accept his decision. When Mr Chiam made his “walk” to his Town Council office from the rally site on the night of 4May 2011, residents and supporters poured enthusiastically to the streets to accompany him in this short, but arduous journey from a man recovering from a stroke. In a country where its citizens are often instructed, “incentivized”, herded and bused into participating in highly scripted and contrived state sponsored events, this spontaneity is exceptional and should be treasured. However much I respect the PAP candidate in the area, I am not confident that he would be willing and able to treasure such sentiments that Mr Chiam has fostered in his ward..
My MP for Potong Pasir has given my home a history, a heritage and a memory, one that the increasingly de-historicized and de-personalized PAP do not seem to possess. People may think of our voting habits as an indication of the desire to keep the rustic nature of this endearing place; it is a charm created ironically by the systematic fossilization of the estate by the state. But in the country where the politics of the unchanged is desired by the ruling party, our vote for no-change can also be seen as probably keeping the hope for change for a more organically and genuinely democratic society in the future, however distant, however faint and however impossible it may seem now.
Every General Election raises and dashes the hopes for imagining a Singapore that follows the ideals laid out in the national pledge to build a democratic society based on justice and equality, so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation. I am afraid that the results would not be dissimilar this year, and that the end is near for Potong Pasir as an independent political constituency. It is highly possible for the candle to be extinguished ruthlessly in both Potong Pasir and Toa Payoh-Bishan GRC, and my walk on 4 May 2011 with Mr and Mrs Chiam may be the last. I am almost certain that the PAP would be keen to erase any traces of his legacy in not just the estate, but also in the broader national consciousness with their “upgrading” plans. Potong Pasir would suffer the fate of oblivion as it would probably join the once “infamous” Anson held briefly by the late JB Jeyarathnam of the Workers’ Party, to be merged into another of these forgettable GRCs.
Whatever may be the outcome on 8 May 2011, to Mr and Mrs Chiam See Tong, thank you very much for struggling against all odds for the past three decades. You have given an entire generation of ordinary people like me a sense of dignity and pride as residents of Potong Pasir, as Singaporeans, and as human beings in Singapore Inc.
Please help keep Potong Pasir’s History Alive!