Though it has taken some time for me to gather my thoughts on this complex, polarising figure, I think I’ve finally made up my mind. I believe it’s important that we come together to support Tin Pei Ling–in the same way we should support every parliamentarian representing our country. The only exception: if she’s found guilty of breaking cooling-off day rules, as discussed below.1
When I first heard that the PAP had recruited a 27-year old, I was delighted. Finally, I thought, we have our breath of fresh air, somebody who can represent the younger generation, and brighten up the party with new views.
That initial excitement quickly turned to amusement, as she was shown in all her Kate Spade glory. Had the PAP, in its mammoth effort to scour Singapore for political talent, just unearthed our first ever Hello Kitty Ambassador? From then on, it seemed as though she’d be less suited to the rigours of political life than to the dainty cutesiness of Japanese retail.
That tomfoolery was just simplistic pre-election humour, which we all happily indulged in (and why not?). But it was also a bit unfair in that it didn’t tell us who TPL really is. The vast majority of people I know on FB–myself certainly included–could have also been as easily embarrassed by online photos.
(aside: I am actually quite sad that TPL’s FB profile has been whitewashed. Gone are the cutesy photos. Will the real TPL please stand up? I fear that we will never get to know the real person now. I’d prefer if I knew more about our politicians–their knowledge and wisdom, for sure, but also their softer sides. Might make them seem more mortal, less aloof.)
Then a stream of TPL video clips were aired. One had her stomping up and down like a spoiled child at a loss for words. But the clincher, for me, was her comment about the greatest regret in her life. Remember: that was a proper, government-sanctioned, mainstream media interview, and she had just said one of the silliest things I’ve ever heard in local politics.
In a heartbeat, she went from Miss Hello Kitty to Miss Teen USA disaster reel.
She never really recovered from that. In the days that followed, more comical clips and reports emerged, some of which were also downright worrying–like her thoughts on income inequality in a 2007 speech. My current favourite TPL clip is a 2008 National Youth Forum video.
She has quickly become the most complex character in Singaporean politics. I do not think there is any other person who elicits such a range of visceral feelings and emotions.
Her supporters, however, seem to believe she is a Gen Y messiah. Meanwhile, some long-time PAP supporters have been completely disillusioned–a friend of mine, a smart, hardworking finance chap, says that he has always voted PAP, but now, for the first time, feels intellectually insulted by the choice of TPL–“They really take us for fools”.
Similarly, I have friends who have been PAP grassroots volunteers for a long time. They also feel a bit aggrieved that she was chosen over many other talented young people. Some now contend that it’s nepotism–her husband, after all, is PM Lee’s private secretary. But I don’t think that’s possible, since there is no nepotism in Singaporean politics.
She has also become a lightning rod for criticism over the GRC system. She has also drawn in unlikely people to political commentary–a friend who’s a teacher related a story of a Primary 4 student in her class. “Teacher, I don’t believe she should be carrying branded handbags”.
I personally don’t have much against her. I just don’t think she’s very smart. She strikes me as fairly mediocre–not somebody of the highest calibre (what our politicians are supposed to be). As with almost everybody I speak with, it grates that a bit of every tax dollar I pay from now on will be going to her bumper S$15,000 salary. In a pre-election Op-ed piece I wrote for TOC, I expressed my dismay at her perceived shortcomings.
Almost as soon as she was elected, there have been calls and petitions to have her removed. However, now that I have read some different viewpoints, I feel that it is only fair and right that we support her.
There are several reasons for this. First is the need to develop a constructive political system, not a disruptive, unhealthy one. I hope that everybody in Singapore, including the PAP and its supporters, pay the utmost respect to the opposition politicians in parliament today. Similarly, I think that whatever your political inclinations, it’s important to support TPL now that she’s been elected.
Second is that in a democratic process, we must respect voters’ wishes. We can dispute the GRC system. And we can argue till the cows come home about whether Marine Parade voters really wanted TPL in parliament. But the fact of the matter is that a majority of them voted for a team with her in it. That is important. They have chosen this team, and everybody should respect their choice.
Third, do we really know who she is? I’m not sure Singaporeans have really gotten a chance to know her. There’s been so much noise and furore around everything she does. If anything, she’s handled the criticism with admirable aplomb. I’m keen to see if there is something smart inside there.
All this is not to say that we should not criticise her words anymore. Every one of us should follow and scrutinise the words and actions of all our politicians, including TPL. If she makes any more mistakes, we must point them out. If we disagree with her mooted policies, let her know. However, criticising her just because of who she is seems pointless.
In the lead up to the next election, we should all again examine her record closely, and see whether we want her back in parliament. I no longer believe that she will be a breath of fresh air to Singaporean politics. If anything, she seems to be eerily similar in ideology to her predecessors. But that’s not to say that she won’t make a good politician. For the moment, at least, I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt–hopefully that doesn’t become the greatest regret of my life.
1 If she is found guilty of breaking cooling-off day laws, then she must be punished appropriately. If she is found guilty of lying about who posted on her FB page–even worse. I hope the police conduct a full and thorough investigation into this. I’m sure there is a way to track FB activity though the IP addresses. Or something.