SINGAPORE: The ruling People’s Action Party will field surgeon Dr Koh Poh Koon as its candidate in the Punggol East by—election.
He was introduced as the party’s choice on Thursday morning, a day after the Writ of Election was issued by the President.
The ward was left vacant after its former MP Michael Palmer resigned last month due to an extra—marital affair.
It was hardly a surprise when surgeon Dr Koh was introduced. Speculation has been rife over the past two days that he would be the PAP candidate.
The 40—year—old surgeon is a fresh face although he has been a grassroots volunteer since 2002.
He is married with two young children, aged four and nine.
It was only three weeks ago that Dr Koh joined as member of the PAP.
He said he was approached to stand as a candidate within the last month.
The newcomer described himself as a "son of Punggol", having spent his early childhood in a farmhouse at Lorong Cheng Lim in Punggol before his family was relocated to a 4—room HDB flat in Toa Payoh.
Dr Koh said he grew up poor —— his father was a bus driver, working two shifts a day to support a family of five children. He now lives in a 5—room HDB flat in Telok Blangah.
Dr Koh said: "I can really identify with some of the issues that are raised by residents and Singaporeans — from getting our first homes, putting our kids through school, taking care of the elderly folks.
"I remember when I finally got my HDB flat in 1988, just after I ORD from the army, my wife and I had to borrow money from my uncle to do renovations. You’d be surprised to know that at the end of the thing, before we moved into our house, in the combined accounts of our banks, in the pockets together, we had $11.50.
"We were scratching our heads thinking how to even have our first meal in the house when we had no money to buy chopsticks? We went down to Toyogo at Lorong 8 Toa Payoh and we had to count the number of pieces of chopsticks we can buy with $11.50 to equip our home.
"That was something interesting that we sometimes look back with a bit of a sour feeling in the heart but nevertheless interesting memories of the days we struggled through and I’m sure a lot of Singaporeans are facing similar struggles of having to set up their own homes and families as well."
Dr Koh said he and his family are proof of the success of Singapore’s meritocratic system.
Dr Koh said he is thankful that despite his humble background, he was able to attend medical school at the National University of Singapore and graduate as a doctor.
He was also given government scholarships to receive training at top centres in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Dr Koh worked for 14 years at Singapore General Hospital before setting up his own practice as a colorectal surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.
Explaining why he decided to enter politics, Dr Koh said when he was called to serve, he felt "duty—bound to stand and be counted".
Dr Koh said he wants to help create the same opportunities to help other Singaporeans achieve their fullest potential.
He said his priority is to take care of residents’ needs so he chose to do his first introductory walkabout at this mall, Rivervale Plaza.
Quite a number of residents here have expressed unhappiness over the fact that the upgrading works have stalled, due to the contractor going bankrupt.
At the mall, caretaker MP Teo Ser Luck introduced Dr Koh to residents and briefed him on the unfinished upgrading works.
Dr Koh had said if elected, he would look into having more childcare facilities and community clubs in the area.
Dr Koh said: "We will probably also push for more resources to get our community centre set up in the community. This will open up more facilities for residents to enjoy, to bond and perhaps consider siting some of these childcare facilities within an area like this that increases the capacity for more utilisation by the residents here."
The PAP had been considering Dr Koh as a potential candidate for the next general election.
The party’s First Assistant Secretary—General and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said several other names were considered for Punggol East but it picked Dr Koh, because it felt he was the best candidate.
Mr Teo said: "To the residents of Punggol East, we are sorry to have to put you through a by—election, we promised that we will continue to look after the residents of Punggol East and we want to fulfil this promise, so we’ve chosen carefully a good candidate, with roots here in Punggol, an HDB heartlander who can understand your problems, a person with young children like you, who can empathise with the issues that you are facing.
"We hope that you can place your trust in him, we hope that he’ll be able to work with you for many more years to come to help improve your lives here in Punggol East and also to contribute at a wider level in Parliament to make Singapore a better place, and we hope you will give him your support."
If more than one candidate successfully files his papers on Nomination Day next Wednesday, January 16, voters in Punggol East will go the polls on January 26.
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