5 observations: The last batch of 8 new PAP candidates introduced on June 26

Save the best for the last?

The People's Action Party (PAP) introduced its final batch of 27 new candidates over two sessions yesterday morning (June 26).

The first session consisted of Gan Siow Huang, Rachel Ong Sin Yen, Sharael Taha and Alex Yeo Sheng Chye and they were introduced by PAP vice-chair Masagos Zulkifli.

The second session consisted of Mariam Jaafar, Shawn Huang Wei Zhong, Carrie Tan Huimin and Chan Hui Yuh, introduced by PAP second assistant secretary-general Chan Chun Sing.

Here are five observations of this slate of eight candidates from the morning press conference on June 26.

But first, here's some context.

Type of online press conference: Live, via Zoom

How long: Zoom Pro account - Within an hour per session

Press Conference Participants: Masagos Zulkifli + four new candidates + lots of media personnel, followed by Chan Chun Sing + another four new candidates + lots of media personnel

1. Got kids?

There was one thing that popped out a lot (pun intended) when these batches of candidates spoke and that was the topic of children.

In addition to highlighting their humble beginnings, some of them also shared more about their nuclear family including how many children they have.

Among today's panel, five of them shared that they are parents.

  • Gan Siow Huang: Three children
  • Sharael Taha: Three children
  • Alex Yeo Sheng Chye: Two children
  • Shawn Huang Wei Zhong: Two children
  • Chan Hui Yuh: Two children

At a doorstop session, Chan also shared that while she was introduced as a PAP member in GE 2015, she had to withdraw herself from running for election as her kids were "simply too young".

Her two kids are now attending primary and secondary school respectively.

Calling herself a hands-on mother, she said:

"It was a very hard decision, but I really had to pull out because they were just too young. I couldn't put them through it.

But now they've grown up, they're better, they understand and we have a good support system in the community and I think the family, most importantly."

Besides being able to empathise with fellow humble Singaporeans, the PAP candidates might have hoped to present a more trustworthy and nurturing persona by sharing this tidbit of themselves.

Needless to say, if the future government wishes to encourage the people to give birth to boost the birth rate in Singapore, they will have to lead by example as well. *wink*

You can still be an early childhood education advocate even without kids

Even the non-parents aren't spared from questions relating to kids.

As an advocate for early childhood education and social mobility, Mariam Jaafar was asked by a reporter on how would she convey early childhood issues to parents as someone who is married but without kids.

Coolly, she responded:

"My husband and I don't have children, but we do have 11 nieces and nephews and we're very close as a family. So I think we see a lot of what my brothers and sister face, and also, of course, all the other people in my immediate family.

Even if I didn't have my nieces or nephews, it's (early childhood education) something that comes from my belief that education is really important for social mobility."


2. Candid candidates stand out among the crop

Yes, by now, you probably have realised a particular trend in the candidates' introduction speeches.

However, what sets some candidates apart from others is how they take the questions from the media with stride.

After all, handling the media will be part of their job scopes should they become a Member of Parliament or...Minister?

For a start, being candid or a straight talker does help to make candidates more memorable at the press conference.

One of the more outspoken candidates of the day was Carrie Tan Hui Min who admitted that she is an extrovert later on in the doorstop interview with the media.

As the third person to introduce herself during the session, she quipped: "And in true PAP candidate spirit, please bear with me as I share a little bit about my childhood."

That's not the only time she made a witty remark.

Watch funny cat videos and commenting on her "mentor"

When asked what she does if she gets angry, Tan replied in a manner that was different from most PAP candidates.

She said that while she seldom gets angry, she has a "natural empathy" to put herself in a person's shoes and would end up feeling sad. She felt that a person would probably lash out because they are going through something difficult.

But when she gets really, really angry, here's what she does: "I watch funny cat videos on Facebook and then I'm really happy again."

Which is probably what many of us (with humble beginnings) do as well when we are upset.

Tan was also asked about Minister of Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam, whom she was spotted walking in Nee Soon GRC with.

Firstly, it is Shanmugam who has a stern and no-nonsense public persona. Second, this question is essentially asking her to comment on one of the most senior people in the party.

However, Tan took the question with ease and gave quite a surprising reply:

"Despite his public persona, being the enforcer...Minister of Law and Home Affairs, he's actually a gentle person and he's very clear and sharp in his thinking...very clear in his communication which I think are very important traits for a leader, is something that I try to develop in my own team at the charity level as well. And I think, when necessary, Min Shan is able to switch from the harsh and enforcer mode to a caring and empathy mode. This is something I think I observed about him and I think are really good traits to develop myself as well."


Another candidate who had a moment during the interaction with the media was Gan Siow Huang who has been receiving much public scrutiny for being the first woman general.

Gan took on a question of what sets her apart from the long line of SAF officers turned politicans in PAP. Here's her response:

"Thank you very much for the question. Yes, I do often get asked 'do military people make good politicians?' I think that's a fair question.

But I ask that we don't stereotype people, just like you don't stereotype races or groups.  I ask that people don't stereotype military people. I take a lot of pride in being part of the SAF tribe. The people in SAF are very committed, professional... to protect Singapore. For many of us who have served in the military for many years, it's natural that many of us want to continue to serve Singapore in other ways, even after leaving the SAF."

Perhaps Gan or any candidates who come from SAF should not be surprised by this question, but it was still quite impressive that Gan did not flinch at the question and delivered her reply well.

It's not always about taking uncomfortable questions from the media.

Another candidate who gave an entertaining anecdote was Shawn Huang Wei Zhong.

When asked what they learnt about themselves during the circuit breaker period, most answered along the lines of missing doing work on the ground or realised that they are extroverted individuals.

Huang, on the other hand, casually shared his experience volunteering as a safe distancing ambassador.

"I just helped out, walking together with NEA officers along Bukit Timah Hill and helped everyone [maintain] safe distancing measures. [I] walked in the markets as well."

This goes a long way in explaining Huang's exaggerated hand gestures and pauses throughout the session.

3. Lighthearted sessions with Masasgos and Chan

Over the past three days, Masagos has portrayed a more relaxed mood in all three candidates' introduction that he was involved in.

While this was the first time that Chan introduced the new PAP candidates, Chan showed his own style of interaction with these newbies.

Chan seemed to be more acquainted with his batch of four candidates, often sharing his past experiences with them. For example, he shared that he had previously gotten to know Mariam through their work on the Future Economy Council.

Or it could just be that these candidates had the time to observe how their fellow members did on previous days.

4. Interest in the party's thinking and strategy

With election season heating up, the public interest is definitely not just on the new candidates but also on the party leaders' thinking.

After all, the candidates are not introduced in the GRC that they are serving this time and there seems to be a lot more unknowns as compared to the past election, despite nearing the nomination day.

In the morning, the first media question posed at Masagos was whether it was a rush to introduce 27 candidates in just three days, and what's the thinking behind this.

Masagos directed the question to Chan and said that the organisational matters have been decided by Chan and the organising secretary.

Masagos was also asked about the party's strategy again in response to the Workers' Party's announcement of three veteran members not contesting in GE this time.

He answered that the party is keeping a close watch and things can change over days and even over hours accordingly.

Not forgetting the question about a candidate who was introduced in the very first session on June 24, Ivan Lim Shaw Chuan.

Lim was described by several accounts online as one that is "arrogant" and "elitist", contradicting his public persona.

Masagos said in response that it is not surprising that the introduction of candidates will elicit responses during GE.

He added:

"It is important for the candidates who may have been alleged to be something, or other, to also prove themselves.

And I think it is not a moment in their career, or their time with people that define them, but as a person throughout their life, and also an opportunity for them if, they have done something in the past, to redeem themselves.

Because we have seen qualities in all our candidates that make them, what we think, good leaders that will serve our people well.”

Well, PAP clearly knows that the media would have many questions for the party given the developments in the past few days which brings us to...

A doorstop session with Chan

Chan had a doorstop solely, which was not the case for other PAP leaders including first assistant secretary-general Heng Swee Keat.

During the doorstop, he answered questions about the diversity (or perceived lack of it) of the slate of candidates.

In response, Chan said there was diversity among their backgrounds, and people should not be "pigeonholed" because of their professions.

He also said that he would say to new candidates not to be too quick to claim success, but instead be the first to accept responsibility.

5. PAP's response to WP's decisions

Given recent developments, such as the decision by WP stalwart Low Thia Khiang not to stand for election in GE2020, the curious media also asked Chan and other candidates about how this would affect the hustings.

In response, Chan said that the PAP plans for the "critical" issue of succession, with overlapping generations of leadership.

He added that he was glad the WP also had plans for its succession. As for Low, Chan said, "We thank Mr Low for his many years of service to the WP, and also to Singapore. And we hope that all of us will work together as a system to take Singapore forward."

Another candidate who was asked about his thoughts on Low's decision to not contest in GE was Alex Yeo Sheng Chye, who has been serving in Paya Lebar under Aljunied GRc for the past three and a half years.

Yeo said that while he does not have a "tremendous" amount of interaction with Low, he has found Low to be "nice" and "welcoming" and he has "a lot of respect for him".

Another candidate Chan Hui Yuh was also asked to share her analysis of her likely WP opponents, given that she has been working in Aljunied for a long time.

In response, Chan said that she was not confirmed to be running in Aljunied, and was leaving it to the Prime Minister to decide.

However, she said that she was on the ground for six years, with some teammates on the ground for nine years, and that they have been focusing on the residents. She added:

"So we'll leave it to them to decide whoever the party sends to Aljunied, we have prepared the ground and we hope they'll make the right decision, the decision closer to their hearts."

However, she did not provide any direct comment about the Workers' Party.

And that's a wrap for PAP's candidates' introduction.

Past observations of PAP new candidates introduction sessions

The Mothership WFH Press Conference is a series to watch politics unfold from the comforts of one's home.

Top image from PAP.