Reform Party's Charles Yeo in Zaobao interview on becoming a meme: 'Netizens can say what they want'

Yeo read the speech in place of his colleague, who was ill that day.

Tanya Ong | July 07, 2020, 11:19 AM

You may recognise Charles Yeo from the Reform Party as the candidate who became a meme after delivering a constituency broadcast speech on July 3.

RP's constituency political broadcast only featured two candidates in the Ang Mo Kio team that day: Charles Yeo and Noraini Yunus.

The other three candidates, Kenneth Jeyaretnam, chairman Andy Zhu and Soh Guan Soon, were not present.

Soh was supposed to deliver the Mandarin speech. However, Soh was unwell on that day, leaving Yeo to do it instead.

In a Lianhe Zaobao interview on July 5, Yeo addressed the online reactions that have emerged from the broadcast speech that put him in the spotlight.

Rephrased some of the words

The speech was prepared by Soh, and Yeo said that there were many characters that he couldn't recognise.

"Even if my Mandarin is bad to the point where I couldn't read all the characters, I needed to do my best," he said.

In the mere 15 to 20 minutes Yeo had to prepare for the Mandarin speech, he said he had to rephrase some portions in his own words, based on what he understood to be the party's key messages.

This is why some of the phrases and vocabulary were imprecise, he admitted.

He said he now knows how to say 'cardboard' in Mandarin, though. He said, in English: "Don't worry, I know what 'cardboard' is now because a lot of people messaged me about it!"

So, how does he feel in response to the online reactions that followed?

One of the hosts of the Zaobao interview said: "Even if you didn't use precise terms, your speech succeeded in one way, as it certainly left a relatively strong impression on many viewers."

Yeo acknowledged that he has become somewhat of a "meme", noting that some of his friends have shared these with him.

Regarding these, he said he is an advocate for "freedom of speech" (which he mentioned in English). He later explained in Mandarin that he cannot control what people want to say about him.

"I can't control what people want to say about me. I can control what I want to say, though... Netizens can say what they want, either to support me, to say that my performance was like a comedy show, or to say that I was brave."

There has been three main categories of reactions to his speech, he said.

  1. Those who felt that this reflects badly on how well-prepared the party is.
  2. Those who focused on him individually, calling him "brave".
  3. Those who criticised the content of their speeches, calling it "harsh".

Hoping opposition can secure 35 to 40 per cent of the votes

In the interview, Yeo also shared more about why he chose to join the party, and his views on the state of politics in Singapore.

He also said that there's a possibility he would emigrate if the opposition fails to secure at least 35 to 40 per cent of the votes.

He added, in English: "I don't want to be part of a society that affirms all these kind of values any more."

You can watch the full video here:

Top photo via Zaobao video, CNA.