Photos by Jamie Chan for Mothership.sg.
The sun is scorching at Tampines Street 81, where we were waiting for Workers’ Party candidate L. Somasundaram at a relatively empty coffee shop on Sept. 5, 2015. Five minutes to 2pm, we spot his cool demeanour from afar and wave him over.
In the 2011 General Election, the 52-year-old Temasek Polytechnic lecturer ran in the now-defunct Moulmein-Kallang GRC.
He will be contesting in the resurrected Jalan Besar GRC this GE2015.
During his rally speech on Sept. 3, he spoke about his pet topic: How immigration is causing unemployment among Singaporean PMETs.
Mothership.sg spoke to the bespectacled engineering lecturer and politician, whose students have been attending his rallies, to find out more about him.
1. He’s realistic and harbours no false impressions.
“I think the tide is turning slowly. We have been getting more positive reactions from voters. That does not necessarily translate into votes, but the support in the 2011 elections wasn’t so warm.
There will always be people [who criticise the party openly]. We cannot fight them. They [might not] be well informed, they [might be] die-hard PAP fans, supporters. We just don’t want to make them feel uneasy.”
2. He has a Facebook album full of feedback – both official and unofficial.
When we ask Somasundaram what kind of lecturer he was, he directs us to his Facebook page, where he keeps feedback from students.
“I have an album full of feedback – official and unofficial feedback. Of course, being an opposition politician, I accept criticism about myself, but it must be correct and constructive. For example, there was one [student feedback that said] my writing was very bad – it’s true, so I changed from writing to typing on Notepad. [The feedback] varies – some of them say I have to speak louder, for people in the back of the class to hear and all that. I take it positively.”
3. He wanted to leave teaching after one year, but thankfully stayed on.
After accepting a fully paid scholarship to pursue his Masters degree, Soma stayed on to teach. It has been 19 years and counting.
“I was conducting training programmes for other Seagate staff within our Singapore division. Many people told me they learnt a lot, my explanation was quite good, and that I could turn boring, technical stuff into something more interesting and easier to understand. They could do their job better. Before that, they only [did things], but now they know why they are doing it. Based on their feedback, I decided to go into teaching. Actually my students’ feedback are also like that!”
4. Like a good lecturer and politician, he understands the power of storytelling.
“My speeches are like my lectures. In fact, maybe my lectures are better than my rally! (Laughs) Stories are the best ways to attract attention. If you just explain things in abstract terms, you can’t get the point across. You have to tell stories a lot, and I have hundreds of stories.”
5. He claims reaching out to voters is easier than reaching out to students.
“In the engineering school, [most students] are forced in. (laughs) It’s [usually] not their first choice, so they’re not interested. I have to make them motivated. Whereas for voters, there are many diehard supporters of WP. All I have to do is introduce myself and say ‘Workers’ Party’ and they will open up.”
6. He is the teacher you never knew you wanted.
“I wouldn’t disturb [a student sleeping in class]. If they are interested, they’ll be awake… if I wake them up, it’s like forcing them to listen.”
7. He has a thing for literature.
“I do a lot of reading. I like classics. Jane Austen is my favourite author. I love Pride and Prejudice, because of the way the prose is written lah. It’s really beautiful, although it’s a bit tough to understand. I’ve only read it two times, because I’m trying to read other books too, like Sense and Sensibility and Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Brontë). Slowly lah, I want to enjoy.”
8. His eldest daughter would accompany him on house visits.
“She’s learning Mandarin so she would knock on doors and practise speaking mandarin. You know when a kid knocks on your door, it’s not a sales job. She also comes to the rallies. The atmosphere is very vocal, people get very worked up. She likes politics ah. She shows her encouragement by telling me to jia you, jia you.”
9. He is an unabashed Lee Kuan Yew fan boy.
“I don’t know whether I should be saying this ah, but I’m a big fan of LKY. (laughs) He was my idol for a long time. I like his selflessness. When he got into politics at that time, the money was very little. He didn’t get into it for the money. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are now.
We wouldn’t have a good life. My parents brought me here from India when I was three years old. Mentality wise, I am 110% Singaporean. Now is different, you can always migrate from India, but back then, life was very difficult. If my father didn’t bring me here…. That’s why I always thank LKY for [welcoming immigrants].”
After the interview, Soma spots a Temasek Polytechnic student eating at a table nearby. He walks over, sits down at his table, and talks to the student for awhile. He is probably someone Soma knows personally.