Thursday, 5 January 2017

Goh Chok Tong marks 40 years in Marine Parade

By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 4 Jan 2017

When Mr Goh Chok Tong was first sent to the new constituency of Marine Parade in 1976 as the People's Action Party (PAP) candidate, there was no party branch in the area to assist him.

Fortunately, Mr Fong Sip Chee, who was contesting in Kampong Chai Chee, donated $2,000 to get him started. Several market stallholders -fishmongers and pork sellers among them - also chipped in.

With their assistance, Mr Goh won the seat with 78.6 per cent of the vote, kick-starting a political career in which he served as prime minister from 1990 to 2004.

Recounting how the branch was built from scratch as he marked 40 years as MP, he reminded party activists that the PAP can never take voters' support for granted.

"Going forward, we must not assume that we will always poll more than 70 per cent in our Marine Parade ward. We should not even assume that we will always win," Mr Goh, 75, who is now Emeritus Senior Minister, said in a speech at a dinner last Friday. He posted the text of his speech on Facebook on Monday.

It was at the constituency that Mr Goh experienced a few emotional high points: Winning his first electoral contest, and later the 1992 by-election. The low point came in 2011, when his GRC team was returned with 56.6 per cent of the votes, an outcome he did not expect: "I felt the deep disappointment and gloom in our supporters... It was a lesson in the vagaries of elections."

He learnt that the track record of a party or candidate did not matter as much as the mood of the people. And now that Singapore was a "settled democracy", he said, the prevailing politics and mood of the day will count for more in elections.

On why the PAP should not assume it will always prevail at the ballot box, Mr Goh said younger voters also have a "less instinctive, and more transactional" bond with the party, compared with the pioneer generation who lived through Singapore's early struggles.

Moreover, he added, opposition parties will grow and attract better-qualified members.

As for Marine Parade, Mr Goh said he would not be around for the next 40 years, and "it will be difficult for a new person to get the same support as me for various reasons".

He won the seat 11 times in 10 general elections and one by-election. How the party will perform in the constituency will depend on the younger team that has been handed the baton, he added.

At the national level, he said, the fourth-generation leadership is also taking shape, and its members are honing their political and leadership skills. "They will make mistakes just as their predecessors did, but they must find and conquer their own mountain," he added.

As for what he hopes to leave behind, he said: "Marine Parade must continue to be the best home in the land... We must never hand over our lives' work on a silver platter to some opposition party which had never even spent time here."

Retiree Ong Bock Eng, 79, who has lived in Marine Parade for about 30 years, credits Mr Goh for the good living environment there.

She said her son has asked her to move in with him in Bedok, but she cannot bear to leave her community. "Life is good here, and this will always be my home," she said.

At the dinner at the Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy Hotel attended by 350 grassroots leaders and party activists, Mr Goh thanked past and present party stalwarts like Mr Tan Kin Lian, who stood in the 2011 Presidential Election, and Mr S. Puhaindran, who ran the ward on Mr Goh's behalf when he was busy with Cabinet duties.

PAP branch secretary Yusof Lateef, 48, said: "Mr Goh's message was clear: The party must never cease working for the people. We celebrated, but when the next Meet-the-People Session comes along, work starts anew."

Book publisher Tan Wu Cheng, 77, a grassroots leader and Marine Parade resident for about 40 years, said Mr Goh's words on renewal had got him thinking about how to attract more younger volunteers. "We have to pass on our work to the next generation," he said.

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