Saturday, April 9, 2011

PAP profile, but likely opposition candidate

Apr 9, 2011
GE 2011
By Jeremy Au Yong & Kor Kian Beng

MANY aspects of Mr Benjamin Pwee's background mark him out as a PAP candidate. But it looks likely that the 43-year-old will instead contest as opposition veteran Chiam See Tong's teammate in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

He is a former chairman of the People's Action Party (PAP) youth wing in the Thomson area, one year ahead of PAP candidate Major-General (NS) Chan Chun Sing in Raffles Institution and Raffles Junior College, a former officer in the elite Administrative Service and the son of long-time PAP grassroots leader Robert Pwee.

To top it off, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng was the guest of honour at his wedding.

[Shouldn't that be the bride?]

But Mr Pwee, who runs his own business strategy consulting firm I-deo Asia, has been in talks with Mr Chiam's Singapore People's Party (SPP) since last week to contest with the Potong Pasir MP in the five-member Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC at the coming polls.

In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times on Thursday night, he gave his reason for doing so.

'My basic motivation is to create a credible alternative team and alternative voice outside of the current ruling party, and to demonstrate that there is an A-team out there that can step forward,' he said.

His second reason is to provide a choice to voters of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, where he grew up. 'I am a Bishan boy,' he proclaimed a few times during the 90-minute interview, and spoke fondly of his childhood there in the 1970s and 80s, when there was still a cemetery in the area.

At the same time, he did 'not believe in coming out as an opposition (candidate) to topple or overthrow or threaten or discredit the PAP'.

He believes the opposition's role is to check and balance the PAP government. 'A second or third party needs to be in a strong, trusting, strategic partnership with a majority party, to work together hand in hand for the sake of the nation,' he said.

Mr Pwee attended Cambridge University on a government Overseas Merit Scholarship and studied music and literature. Upon his return, he spent eight years in the elite Administrative Service and held various posts in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and Home Affairs (MHA).

He was first secretary for political and economic affairs at the Singapore Embassy in Beijing from 1995 to 1998, where he acted as interpreter and note-taker during then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew's visits to China.

In both ministries, Mr Pwee served under DPM Wong, who helmed MFA from 1988 to 1994 and MHA from 1994 to last September.

Mr Pwee left to become executive director of Medical Services International, a regional non-governmental organisation doing social welfare work in China. After five years, he left to start his own consulting firm headquartered in Hong Kong.

He returned home five years ago, and his family of five live in an HDB flat in the Commonwealth area.

He is married to a Nanyang Primary School teacher, and they have three children aged eight to 16.

He was approached to join politics by Mr Wilfred Leung, 35, a member of the SPP's central executive committee and an aide to Mr Chiam. He turned him down in 2006, but sat down for lunch this time round with Mr and Mrs Chiam.

Mr Pwee and Mr Leung have been friends for more than 20 years. They met at the St James Chinese Congregation Church in the Holland Road area.

Mr Pwee said he had also considered joining the PAP, but if the party had invited him to tea, he would probably have turned it down.

He said: 'I would most likely struggle hard with that decision... but where I am at now, I would think my answer to them would probably be 'no'.'

Still, he said, the decision he was mulling over now was also a tough one, and complicated by the fact that he holds DPM Wong in high regard.

Mr Wong helms the PAP team in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

Mr Pwee said: 'I have many issues to think through, like what is our campaign platform, do I still know the heartbeat of Bishan-Toa Payoh, where I grew up...

'I need to think through what it means that if I did stand there, it would be minister Wong Kan Seng on the other side, and I am thinking very seriously, very respectfully about that.'

Mr Chiam intends to hold a press conference tomorrow. Mr Pwee said his decision would be known then.

[Chiam's SPP is a dead end. If you take up the offer, I will suspect it is because you can be sure that you will succeed Chiam. If you want to contribute to parliamentary democracy, I would suggest aligning yourself with WP. I do not know why the RP ex-members chose NSP. But to be fair I do not know much about them except that they have not been in the news for the wrong reasons.]

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