Sunday, January 8, 2012


Dec 31, 2011

Chen Show Mao - Opposition pugilist

Like a silent but lethal pugilist in a wuxia film, he swept into the political arena and swiftly became one of the opposition's biggest stars.

The buzz around Workers' Party MP Chen Show Mao, 50, began in March when word went around that the party had netted a 'star catch'. It turned out to be the top corporate lawyer with a string of degrees from Oxford, Harvard and Stanford universities.

His donning of WP colours was a milestone, showing the opposition too can boast candidates as qualified as those from the People's Action Party. Alongside party leaders Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim, he went on to make history as part of the WP team that in May won Aljunied GRC, the first GRC to be snared by the opposition.

His celebrity aura still lingers. A deft user of social media, Mr Chen's each post on his Facebook page gets hundreds of 'likes' and comments. But 2012 will be a test of his mettle as the glow from his team's election victory fades and the WP MPs get used to the routine of parliamentary sittings and running a GRC from day to day.

Thus far, Mr Chen, who quit his job at international law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell in July, has shown himself to be an astute politician. He has tapped into a vein of discontent against the ruling party and its policies, inspiring many who think Singapore's political system can and should have more alternative voices.

He also delivered a soaring maiden speech when Parliament opened in October, laying out a vision of the WP role in the House.

Still, Mr Chen has mainly spoken of his political aspirations in broad strokes, and has remained cautious in offering specific policy ideas. All eyes will thus be on him next year when he delves into policies in Parliament speeches and tends to residents in his ward.

Offering a hint of his aspirations, he says in an e-mail: 'I hope that in 2012 I will learn to serve better both precinct and Parliament.

'My new year wish for Singapore is: inclusive Growth + growing Inclusiveness. For Singaporeans, peace of mind. For all, peace on Earth.'


Chan Chun Sing - Next PM?

From a young age, Mr Chan Chun Sing has been a high-flier. A President's Scholar at 18, he became Chief of Army at 40. Now, at 42, he is one of the youngest ministers to be appointed to the Cabinet.

This has fuelled talk that the Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) is a front-runner to become the next prime minister. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong aims to step down by 2020.

While these are early days, observers concur that his performance has been promising. They hail recent MCYS plans - such as more resources to support services for the elderly, initiatives to help the disabled and improving the childcare sector - for delivering welcome government aid. Those who have worked with the Cambridge economics graduate speak of his sharpness in analysing issues.

His portfolio gains special significance next year as a slowdown looms and demand for social aid increases. Mr Chan says he wants to make the social service sector more effective, and to achieve economies of scale while maintaining its 'personal touch'.

Meanwhile, the challenge of winning the support of more critical younger Singaporeans continues. He is making some headway, engaging young Singaporeans and bloggers in informal dialogues to discuss issues ranging from problem gambling to the role of the media.

The year has not been without missteps. An 'army-style' speech, peppered with Hokkien and Malay phrases, at a People's Action Party (PAP) event in April drew derision from netizens. The self-professed introvert says he has had to work at public communications.

Asked about talk that he could be the next prime minister, he demurs. 'Times or circumstances change and you never know what sort of leaders you need. The PAP's job is to groom a group of leaders that is cohesive and when the times change, you have one of them with the necessary skill set and the rest are there to support,' he says. 'No point anointing a crown prince and the rest of the team are not there.'


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