Seven years ago, Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss had a conversation with her four pre-teen and teenage children.
She realised they did not feel rooted to Singapore as they had no say in the nation-building and decision-making process.
Troubled but still optimistic and wanting to be part of the solution, she did something not many people would even imagine doing: Go down the road of opposition politics.
It was not an easy step to take, but she has always believed that one has to start the ball rolling in order to see change.
Fast forward to today: The London School of Economics law school alumnus and former Katong convent girl who runs her own law practice, is currently making a second bid for the Mountbatten single-member constituency seat, where she is running on the Singapore People's Party ticket.
In 2011, she ran against the People Action Party's Lim Biow Chuan. Lim won 11,965 votes (58.64 percent), while she garnered 8,436 votes (41.35 percent).
But judging by the extent her children getting involved with her current 2015 campaign, perhaps her desire to have them stay put in Singapore and take part in the country's decision-making process will no longer be wishful thinking but a reality.
Mothership.sg spoke to Jeannette to ask her about why she is back, what voters can expect and why she will put her legal career on hold to serve the people full-time.
1. First question: What is the best political advice you've ever received so far?
Jeannette: A veteran politician once told me that running for elections is like a marathon. It takes a lot of preparation, a lot of personal sacrifices have to be made and it’s a long journey. But as with any marathon, slow and steady wins the race.
2. How different is 2011’s Jeannette from 2015’s Jeannette?
Jeannette: In 2011 when I stood for elections, I had conviction in my heart, but perhaps I may not have articulated what I feel inside. Now in 2015, I am better able to explain my convictions and I believe that voters will be able to understand me better as to what values and things I want to do.
Good morning! Mothership.sg exclusive: Nicole Seah (佘雪玲) interviews Singapore People's Party Mountbatten SMC candidate Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss (Jeannette For Mountbatten) about why she is back this #GE2015. Here's a snippet of their conversation. Stay tuned for the full article.
3. I remember a conversation we had where I asked what motivated you to join opposition politics. You said your children felt a sense of disconnect and you worried they might not have a sense of belonging and that may leave Singapore one day. Does that still remain your motivation?
Jeannette: As a mother of four kids, I have a very vested and deep stake in the future of Singapore. And I wanted to set an example for my children, that if things are not what they prefer, and they would prefer something else, I want to tell them not to walk away or vote with their feet, but stick around and be part of the solution and try to make things better. So that is something I want to explain to my children. That’s what I want them to do, not just to go where the grass is greener.
4. So this is your second time running against the PAP's Lim Biow Chuan, what do you think are your chances this time?
Jeannette: I would say that, firstly, the majority will decide the outcome and I am ready to be judged on the merits and the capabilities. I am confident I am up to the task. So I leave it to the voters, they have a choice and let them decide. I put myself out, my manifesto, my plans for Mountbatten, so it’s up to them.
5. Has it been challenging going down this path?
Jeannette: Yes, absolutely. I still need to do my job, I still need to meet deadlines, and I’m a working mom. It’s not easy to balance all these things, so that has been one of my challenges, but I still feel that this is something that I want to do, so I just have to get it done.
6. And you still have time to adopt a dog?
Jeannette: Ember was a rescued dog, she is part of a litter of maybe seven or eight which was found near a garbage bin in Tuas. A dog rescuer alerted and was asking if people might want to adopt, and the litter was so cute! I wanted to adopt more but one is enough and she is part of our family now. She is used to us and we are used to her, and she has a great personality.
7. Back to something more serious. Since 2011, many have also said that the PAP is shifting left in its ideology somewhat. Policies have become a bit socialist and populist-leaning, and it’s been easier for people to get financial assistance too compared to in the past. Do you think the ground has sweetened in favour of the PAP government?
Jeannette: Well, I have a slightly different perspective, as I think this demonstrates that they are more responsive to the people’s needs, and this shows that competition is beneficial to citizens. Had not I stood up against the incumbent, would the incumbent have been more hardworking? Would the PAP have been more left-leaning, if not for the results of the 2011 elections?
8. Some might also say that in 2011 there were quite a number of strong candidates from several parties, but this time round it is quite plain to see that there are quite a number of sections in the opposition that might be in turmoil as well. Do you think this affects the opposition’s standing as a whole?
Jeannette: Well, we’re only a few days into a nine-day campaign. [Laughs] I think when you give all the opposition politicians a chance to show themselves, then maybe we can look back and see how it goes.
9. What are some of the changes you have seen in Mountbatten then?
Jeannette: What is most interesting is what has not changed about Mountbatten, which is the fact that Mountbatten is still an SMC and spared from the fate which befell Joo Chiat SMC.
I deplore the GRC scheme, which benefits the incumbent at the expense of the electorate. GRC constituents are short-changed by the diffused relationship between them and their collective MPs. In an SMC, the residents have a better sense of their identity as a community and have a more direct bond with their MP which enables residents to be better served.
10. Recently, there has been more attention paid online to MPs' attendance in parliament. Can voters expect you to have 100 attendance record like Low Thia Khiang and Gerald Giam?
Jeannette: The ruling party has altered Singapore's electoral process several times. With each amendment to the Constitution, it gets harder and harder for opposition politicians to enter Parliament. Every seat won by the opposition will be hard-earned, paid by heavy personal sacrifice and a history-making feat achieved against great odds. Voters can be sure that if elected, I will make full use of my seat in Parliament.
11. Do you think it is important to be a full-time MP?
Jeannette: Being an MP is one of the highest calling in public service. If elected, my MP duties will take top priority and my legal career will be put on hold or otherwise take a backseat to my role as MP.
12. So, for the last question, not as loaded as the previous ones, the de facto question this GE: Describe yourself as a hawker dish?
Jeannette: Well, Nicole, sitting in front of you, I can only think of wantan mee because we used to enjoy it together. You used to SMS me and say “Shall we eat wantan mee? Let’s go!”
[Yeah, wantan mee is comfort food.]
I think it reminds me of home. And friendship too.
[Thank you for making time today. Wish you all the best for the rest of the hustings period.]
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