SINGAPORE: When 29-year-old Singapore Airlines (SIA) pilot Terence Soon told friends and family that he was running as a candidate for an opposition party, he was met with a variety of reactions.
"My colleagues were joking about it, they said: 'Oh when you are an MP (Member of Parliament), take care of me!'," quipped Mr Soon, in an interview with CNA on Monday (Jul 6) at the home of Progress Singapore Party (PSP) chief Tan Cheng Bock.
"Different people say different things - either you will lose your job, or you will never get promoted. So there's this very strong notion that being in an alternative party, you paint a bull's-eye on your back, on your face and everywhere," said Mr Soon, who is one of the PSP candidates contesting in Tanjong Pagar GRC.
There remains a perceived "fear factor" in being associated with an opposition party. Even when he was merely sharing PSP posts on Facebook, others would tell him not to be too public in his support for the party, he revealed.
"It's unfortunately very ingrained in people right now that if you want to be public about support, you can only publicly support the incumbent. I don't agree with that," he said. "I really think this is a democracy, we have our own rights, and we can choose to believe who we want to support."
THE TAN CHENG BOCK EFFECT
Mr Soon's interest in politics was sparked during the 2011 General Election, when he was just 21. One candidate stood out for him - the National Solidarity Party's Nicole Seah, then 24.
Ms Seah is now a candidate with the Workers' Party and is contesting in East Coast GRC.
"I think she inspired many young people to take note of politics - I was one of them," he explained. "Up to that point, I had not seen another young person who could orate well, be able to connect with both the young and old.
"When you watch her campaigning videos, her rallies, she was not only able to get young people to join in, all the old people (as well) were cheering for her. And after she came down from the stage, people were hugging her, shaking her hands and all that."
As Mr Soon took a deeper interest in local politics, he realised that some policies were leaving Singaporeans behind.
"Over the years, of course, you start learning more about how the different policies are, (and) start learning more about the lack and the people who fall through the cracks," he said.
"If things are really not working well now, I think that they are only going to get worse in the future, especially for the next generation."
About a year ago, Mr Soon made the decision to join the PSP, a party helmed by Dr Tan, a former People's Action Party (PAP) MP. While Mr Soon started out in a "support" role, Dr Tan convinced him that he needed to run as a candidate.
"I would never have joined a political party if not for Dr Tan Cheng Bock," Mr Soon said, adding that he subscribed to Dr Tan's "values" and "principles" and that's why he chose the PSP.
"There are always detractors out there, but I think you can't fake integrity, you can't fake sincerity," he said. "And when you see these kinds of things, and you say that, you know what, I have to support this person - then why would I join another party?"
Dr Tan, who is the secretary-general of the PSP, is leading a team running for election in West Coast GRC. A former general practitioner, the 80-year-old was the MP for Ayer Rajah for 26 years; the ward is now part of West Coast GRC.
"Naturally, I think people would say, he's so old, what's going to happen in the future?" said Mr Soon.
"I think him leading the party, the ethos of it, the value system of it - it will remain because people who take the mantle and run with it, they will continue sharing with the next generation of leaders, the next generation of politicians, exactly what they stood for."
ON GETTING FAMILY AND RESIDENTS' SUPPORT
Being in politics has not been easy for Mr Soon. His job as a first officer for SIA often takes him away from home, and soon after joining the PSP, he found himself stepping off the plane and hurrying home to swap his uniform for PSP colours before hitting the streets with party members.
"It was really very tiring, so if they wanted to continue a second session in the afternoon, I would go home and sleep. But you know, at the very least, I must be able to contribute something," he said.
And this is why his wife's support has been key - while she prefers to stay out of the spotlight herself, "she really understands the reason why I do what I do," he said.
"I told myself, I told certain people in the party, if I have my wife's support, I can do it. If my wife doesn't support, I will never run," he said.
Caring for their baby "from day to night" now falls to her, while their parents "can only help here and there". "But I told her during Cooling-Off Day, this Thursday (I will help). Whenever I'm around, I'm going to do everything," he added.
Dr Tan has told him how, back when he was an MP, he would make sure to have dinner with his family every night, regardless of how busy he was. "So it's all a matter of time management. If you can set aside enough time for your own family, they will usually be okay with that," Mr Soon said.
Aside from Mr Soon, the PSP team contesting Tanjong Pagar GRC includes party organising secretary Michael Chua, IT executive Harish Pillay, lawyer Wendy Low, and workplace safety senior trainer Abas Kasmani.
They will be up against the PAP's team of Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah, Joan Pereira, as well new candidates Alvin Tan, a LinkedIn senior executive, and former public servant Eric Chua.
Tanjong Pagar GRC is considered a PAP stronghold, having been represented by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in every election from 1955 to 2011.
But the challengers are not afraid. "Do we have the fear? I don't think we fear. That's not the right word to use.
"But I would say it is more of a healthy respect between both parties," said Mr Soon, adding that the team just wants to do its best and hopes that residents "understand what we stand for".
And he thinks that residents are responding to the PSP candidates who have been walking the ground.
"I'm quite happy to say that throughout this campaign, where (residents) really got to see me almost every other day... you can see the whole attitude, everything changing, slowly changing.
"At the start, they don't know you and these past few days when I come back, there's a lot more of a warm welcome," he said.
'THE CITIZENS MUST ALWAYS WIN'
The PSP's hope, he said, is to deny the PAP a two-thirds majority in Parliament; he also wants more "robust debate" in the House.
"It's very well known that if they have a two-thirds majority ... they're able to change the Constitution at will, and that is something that we can't have happening anymore. It's been happening time and time and time again," he said.
He also pointed to former Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah - who on Sunday refuted the claim that only opposition MPs would speak up for residents - as one of just a "small handful" of PAP MPs who would raise the concerns of the ground in Parliament.
Without alternative parties, Mr Soon said, "the most needy voices" would not be reflected in Parliament "because you have to toe a certain line".
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"What we want to do in PSP - and I'm very certain in most of the other alternative parties - is we want to ensure not just to check the Government, but to ensure that the citizens are served well, and that Singapore must always win at the end of the day," he said.
"The citizens must always win."
And he believes his generation can have a real impact.
"This generation of people really can make a significant difference, and what is required is for good people to stand up in order to be seen as credible," he said.
The presence of younger candidates contesting in this General Election - such as himself, Singapore Democratic Party's Min Cheong, 34, and Workers' Party's Ms Seah and He Ting Ru - will not be lost on younger Singaporeans, he feels.
"When you see people like that, and you see they have established careers, they have a lot to lose, and yet they're willing to stand up for what is right - I think people slowly, but surely, will have a mindset shift," he said.
"I hope that in time to come, over the next few elections, we will get to see more young voices because it's very important. Without youth representation, I think a country cannot succeed in the future."