It has been reported that former Aljunied GRC PAP candidate Ong Ye Kung was spotted in Sembawang on July 5, 2014, making the rounds and doing the whole pre-election shebang of shaking hands, walking the ground and getting to know the people better.
The 44-year-old is currently at Keppel Corporation as the Director of Group Strategy and Development and has maintained a low profile since his electoral defeat in Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election. Until now.
Mothership.sg contacted Ong for a Q&A to ask him all the burning questions everyone has on their minds. This is Part 1 of a two-part interview.
1. What is your favourite movie of the year?
Ye Kung: X-Men: Days Of Future Past.
2. Why did you like it?
Ye Kung: Besides the special effects, there is a very serious side to X-Men movies. They feature a common theme found in many narratives. There are basically two camps, Professor X and Magneto. Both are change agents. Professor X tries to work within the system to bring about change while Magneto tries to tear down the established order to start something new.
This tension is also present in Star Wars. Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader are the same person but represent two opposing sides. One who wants to preserve the Jedi Order while the other is focused on establishing a new one.
But if you are Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games, you will realise the system is hopeless, and you better tear it down.
3. What is the next movie you plan to catch?
Ye Kung: The Fault In Our Stars.
But my daughters asked me to read the book before watching the movie. They said that the dialogue in the book was better than the movie.
They liked the movie because there was an unexpected twist. I was puzzled. The cancer patient died. What’s the twist?
4. Okaaay... moving on. You were quoted in the media in 2011 as saying, "I know my weakness. When I don’t smile I look stern and people think I’m not happy. But what to do -- I’m born with this face."
Is your name, like your face, giving you problems as well because people are pronouncing it as "Yeah Koong" when it actually is "Yi Kang"?
Ye Kung: My JC teacher asked why is my name spelt this way and pronounced another way. I said ‘That’s how my parents spelt it – their English is not that good.’ Besides, shouldn’t “Kung” be pronounced like “sung” or “lung”?
In primary school I recalled that my teacher always remember one classmate’s name, because he has an English name called Terence, and the rest of us have difficult-to-pronounce Chinese names. Today, in my children’s class almost everyone has English names!
5. Ok we might have lost a few readers along the way by now. So, let us address the elephant in the room. Why did you choose to appear in Sembawang in white?
Ye Kung: I have been asked by Minister Khaw Boon Wan if I could assist him in Sembawang. Minister Khaw is someone that I worked with when I was in the civil service.
The first time that I spoke to him was quite memorable. I believe it was either 1993 or 1994 when I travelled with him to Kuala Lumpur to participate in the inter-civil service games. During a football game, I broke my arm after a bad tackle (someone tackled me and not the other way round). Mr Khaw was nice to have visited me at the Kuala Lumpur hospital. Later, in year 2000, I had an opportunity to work with him on the Free Trade Agreements negotiations.
Plus, a PAP-led Government has shown results in terms of policies and implementation. Ultimately, I chose what I think will be best for Singapore’s future. Having said that, every party has to continuously look at change and improvement. I hope to assist the PAP in its renewal process.
6. You continue to volunteer with the grassroots at Kaki Bukit over the past three years after GE 2011. Why did you choose to leave now? Was it the PAP's decision?
Ye Kung: Kaki Bukit is where I started my political work. Over the past three years, I have been active with community work there.
My fellow volunteers and I got to do many interesting projects together. For example, when the World Cup competition progressed to the last 16, the kick-off time was moved from 3am to 4am. Because of that, the half time break at 4.45am became an ideal time for our Malay residents to observe Sahur – the pre-dawn meal before fasting. So one of my Malay grassroots leaders suggested doing Soccer-Sahur, meaning we would screen the matches at the Community Centre, bring in food and drinks, and during half time, have everyone in the audience – Chinese, Indians, Malays – all do Sahur together. It was a great opportunity to use the world cup to promote inter-community bonding and understanding.
I also got to make many new friends at Kaki Bukit. There was an old uncle called Mr Chee who likes to pinch my face and say ‘You are a good looking boy’. His wife Mrs Chee is very energetic and active in various interest groups in the Community Centre. Unfortunately last year Mr Chee passed away. Shortly after Mrs Chee passed me an old coin, she said it was something Mr Chee left behind and he wanted to give it to me. I was very touched.
I will always value the friends I made, and the experience I gained in Kaki Bukit. The party has since deployed a new leader to assist in Kaki Bukit. Personally, I do believe that there will come a time to move on. But the friendships, memories and experiences will always stay with me.
7. So, if you could experience what is it like to be 1) Lionel Messi, 2) Jimi Hendrix or 3) Lee Hsien Loong, who will you choose to be?
Ye Kung: Messi is 27 and has only a few years left in his playing career. Hendrix died when he was 27. PM Lee has so much on his shoulders. You didn’t give me very good choices.
8. What do you think of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong?
Ye Kung: I was his principal private secretary for a few years. He is very passionate about what he does, has an impressive ability to remember details, and possesses a great sense of humour.
9. What is the biggest challenge facing the PAP now?
Ye Kung: The party is in a difficult position. Every good policy introduced, some would say it is due to more opposition MPs in parliament. Under this thinking some say, “Let’s have more of them.”
When things do not go well, some would say that the Government does not care about Singaporeans. Under this thinking, some say, “Let’s have more opposition to check the Government.”
Tails I lose, heads you win. This is perhaps the price of dominance.
10. You mentioned in a Straits Times interview that there is time for the party to change in time for the next GE. Can you assess its progress so far?
Ye Kung: There is discernibly a lot more engagement on the ground — block visits, walkabouts and dialogue sessions with residents. Policy wise, there has been huge shifts in areas like caring for the aged, transport, labour, healthcare. DPM Tharman said that the PAP is a left of center party, and that articulation is well backed up by the policies.
In the interview tomorrow, Ong shares how the electoral defeat has shaped him, his views on ex Foreign Minister George Yeo, and his family life.