Tuesday, 15 January 2013

PAP man's campaign message: This is me

He says sharing his heartland past helps residents to get to know him
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 14 Jan 2013

THE People's Action Party (PAP) candidate for Punggol East, Dr Koh Poh Koon, said yesterday that his campaign message is "This is me", and that is why he has been sharing his hard-knocks background.

Telling voters about his life story - the son of a bus driver who became a colorectal surgeon - is not to "garner sympathy votes", he said, but for residents to get to know him better.

"Your past makes your present, and determines how you behave in the future. For me, sharing my past is but a way of letting people understand me better, so they can make an informed choice.

"I do not need sympathy," he said to reporters after a morning visit to Rivervale Plaza.

"I've never been ashamed of my past. This is me, I'm comfortable and at peace with myself.

"Residents need to be comfortable with me. So I'm putting out the story just to let people know who I am."

In his introduction as the party's candidate for the Punggol East by-election last Thursday, Dr Koh, 40, said he was a "kampung boy" from Punggol who did odd jobs to support his family of seven.

When he and his wife bought their first HDB flat, they had to borrow money from a relative for renovations. They still live in the same Telok Blangah flat.

Dr Koh also responded to doubts raised online about his heartland credentials yesterday.

Asked by reporters what assets he owned besides his flat, he said he did not own private property. He and his wife have a car each.

At Rivervale Plaza, Dr Koh mingled with residents doing their grocery shopping and families having breakfast.

He said residents recognise him now and come up to him with their woes and suggestions.

One thing he wants to follow up on is how to improve the routes that residents take to the two central points of the ward - Rivervale Plaza and Rivervale Mall.

He said more resting points along the way for the elderly and better cycling infrastructure are needed.

Only one branch activist was with Dr Koh during the morning visit, a departure from the entourage that usually accompanies PAP candidates.

Asked if party brass would help him campaign in the ward, he replied: "As you can see today, I'm the only one walking around. I feel comfortable, as my aim has always been to let people get to know me. If you have 10 people walking behind you, it doesn't help."

PAP heavyweights lent their support from elsewhere yesterday.

Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin endorsed Dr Koh's candidacy, calling him "a good man, very sincere and passionate in everything he does, and someone whom I trust".

Mr Tan, who was the commander of the Singapore Armed Forces' Training and Doctrine Command, has known Dr Koh since the latter was doing national service as a doctor in the Guards unit.

Speaking on the sidelines of a community event, Mr Tan said he was sure that there would also be "other good candidates stepping forward from the opposition".

Political choice is good for Singapore society, he said, and it also "forces the Government to be on our toes".

"You can't take things for granted, so whether you win over (voters') hearts and minds is something we have to earn and something Poh Koon has to do."

Sharing my past is but a way of letting people understand me better, so they can make an informed choice. I do not need sympathy. I've never been ashamed of my past. This is me, I'm comfortable and at peace with myself. Residents need to be comfortable with me. So I'm putting out the story just to let people know who I am.
- Colorectal surgeon and PAP candidate Koh Poh Koon, on revealing his "kampung boy" roots

Upgrading works at Rivervale Plaza to speed up: Dr Koh Poh Koon
By Dylan Loh, Channel NewsAsia, 13 Jan 2013

Upgrading works at Rivervale Plaza in the Punggol East ward will be ramped up after the Lunar New Year.

Dr Koh Poh Koon, the People's Action Party's man for the by-election in the Single Member Consituency, gave this update on Sunday after making his rounds at the mall.

He said works will be taken down a notch during the festive season so business can continue uninterrupted, despite the prospect of some delays to the project.

The delay in upgrading Rivervale Plaza has been tipped to be a potential issue in the Punggol East by-election.

A new contractor has been found to take over from the previous one that went bust, and Dr Koh said efforts are in place to complete refurbishment by June or July 2013.

He said stakeholders, including the Housing Board Development (HDB) and merchants, have agreed for works to slow down during the period leading up to the Lunar New Year.

Dr Koh said merchants were concerned that renovation might get in the way of business during the peak festive season.

The People's Action Party's candidate for the by-election took time to hear residents' concerns at the mall on a Sunday morning, accompanied by only a few helpers.

He said day-to-day issues like cost of living and adequacy of infrastructure are among people's top concerns.

Dr Koh, "The residents have to be practical and realistic - that you must choose to vote the person who can do the work for you. I think it's a fallacy to believe that you can have the best of both worlds - choose the person to make a statement but hope that the other person who's voted out is going to be having all the resources, all the authority, to get the work done for you."

Campaigning hasn't officially started and it won't technically start until Nomination Day, but being relatively new to the political scene, Dr Koh is keen on getting to know the residents of Punggol East a little better.

He also responded to criticisms that he shared his past - growing up in a poor family, to gain sympathy.

Dr Koh said: "It is not about garnering sympathy votes. At the end of the day, if the residents feel that I am not the best person. Please do not give me any sympathy votes. I do not need sympathy. I have never been ashamed of my past. Not that it's something that you need to be proud of - this is me."

Dr Koh said he feels comfortable on his own without the presence of political heavyweights, stressing that he runs his own race.

He also clarified that other than his HDB flat, his family owns no other private property.

Dr Koh said his family owns two cars, one driven by him and the other by his wife.

Education less of a social leveller now: PAP candidate
Kids whose parents can pay for extra classes have edge in school admission: Koh
By Leonard Lim, The Sunday Times, 13 Jan 2013

Unless education policies change, the less well-off may find it harder to move up the socio-economic ladder.

That is PAP candidate for Punggol East Koh Poh Koon's big worry.

A bus driver's son, Dr Koh is today a colorectal surgeon with his own private practice at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

He studied medicine at the National University of Singapore and won government scholarships to further his training overseas.

"Education was a social leveller in my time, and without it I wouldn't be here," the 40-year-old told The Sunday Times.

"Today, I'm not quite sure education is still the same social leveller it was 20, 30 years ago. It seems if you don't have the means to put your kids through tuition, you may not catch up," he added.

He cited the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme as an example of a programme where there is "some degree of abuse".

The scheme allows students to gain entry to secondary schools and junior colleges before sitting the PSLE and O levels, based on aptitude tests, interviews, sporting trials or submitted portfolios.

Dr Koh noted that parents are putting their children through enrichment classes from a young age in a contest to "pump up CVs from the age of five".

The solution, he said, may lie in means testing, which is already done in the health-care sector.

"Perhaps DSA cannot be applied across the board. If you're poor, but you have very good soccer skills and can pass to a certain grade... I'll give you a chance, take you into my school, level up your grades.

"Give this poor person with a certain ability a better shot in life," he suggested.

That many families feel compelled to spend much of the weekend on enrichment classes can also lead to what he termed a "mundane and meaningless" existence.

His two daughters, aged nine and four, do not go for tuition. His wife helps the older girl in maths and he in Chinese.

But he hastily added with a laugh: "I can't say I can resist it forever. The homework is getting harder for me (to understand)."

The couple read to their daughters every night, a tradition he must forgo over the next fortnight as the fight for Punggol East shifts into higher gear.

His schedule will be packed with walkabouts and block visits, which the avid runner is looking forward to.

Since Dr Koh's first political outing last Tuesday, Punggol East caretaker MP Teo Ser Luck has been by his side on most of his walkabouts, and Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing is also helping to craft election strategy.

While Dr Koh appreciates the help from senior party figures, he made one thing clear - he will front the campaign and decide its tone.

"We all need guidance; I make no pretence that I'm a veteran in this.

"And although the PAP headquarters want to provide... support, I think they also understand that at the end of the day the people are electing me, not electing them."

PAP's focus is to serve residents: DPM Teo
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 13 Jan 2013

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday that the People's Action Party (PAP) will stay focused on serving residents, even as an opposition party made proposals to avoid a multi-cornered fight.

He was asked to comment on the Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) suggestion to the Workers' Party (WP) that they field a single candidate for the by-election in Punggol East.

He said in response: "I think we just remain focused on the ground, serving the people, doing our best for them."

Speaking to reporters after attending a Neighbourhood Watch event in Sengkang, Mr Teo also said that the top concerns of Punggol East residents are matters that have an impact on their daily lives and surroundings, such as those concerning transport and schools.

He said: "The PAP has been working hard on the ground to look after the residents."

This includes helping with residents' issues such as childcare and job placements.

On a wider level, he added, the party has looked into enhancing social bonds and creating new community spaces.

The PAP's candidate, surgeon Koh Poh Koon, 40, was out in the ward yesterday, the first Saturday since he was formally introduced as a candidate. He visited two temples, a busy road junction and a shopping mall in three hours.

He also visited Sengkang Community Club, to get ideas for a future community club in Punggol East, likely to be sited behind Rivervale Plaza, he told reporters.

Asked if he will serve in the ward regardless of the by-election results, Dr Koh said he would try his best to help with grassroots activities.

"But I do hope the residents will consider me seriously and give me the real opportunity to be an effective spokesperson for them," he added.

He plans to visit as many blocks of flats as he can, and show up at markets and malls where the masses are.

He was also asked about the SDP's proposal to the WP that both parties field a single candidate from the SDP who will be in Parliament and chair the Punggol East town council, while the WP takes charge of day-to-day operations.

Dr Koh said: "It's an interesting concept, but the opposition will have to decide what serves their cause best.

"As for me, I'm running my own race. My focus really is on the residents' needs because that is what being an MP is all about - serving the residents."

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