TOC interviews Ephraim Loy

Ephraim Loy, one of the men behind Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo’s foray into blogging, has become something of a piñata on TOC.

Of the 44 comments so far posted in the article welcoming him on board, many were overwhelmingly negative, if not outright hostile.

Is he really a PAP running dog? Will he be running for the next elections? What does he think of the now infamous YoungPAP blogger Nicholas Lazarus’ comments on homosexuality?

Below is TOC’s interview with Ephraim.

TOC: What do you think about the perception that all grassroots leaders are in it to rub shoulders with the MPs or Ministers?

Ephraim: That’s an over-generalization, although I can see where that perception comes from. As a grassroots leader, you work closely with the MP and it definitely is an advantage. You’re able to give direct feedback about policies without having to go to forums or dialogues.

However, there are some grassroots leaders who are definitely in it for the thrill.

This is very obvious during block visits. Before block visits, there are clearly pre-assigned roles. Sometimes, the people in the entourage outnumber the residents because there are people following the procession who are unnecessary. Some of these are obviously there for the purposes of being seen with the MP.

TOC: There is an impression that you’re so pro PAP it hurts. Are there any party policies/positions you actually disagree with?

Ephraim: I disagree with their stand on 377A. Many of the people I interact with would repeal it, and I don’t see any indication of this conservative majority that the pro 377A camp claims exists. Some in Parliament have openly said they are against 377A (Mr Baey Yam Keng), and I hope they have the moral courage to take an open vote on it soon.

I’m also worried about the overlap between the grassroots and the PAP in opposition wards.

The country’s main grassroots body is the People’s Association. As the name suggests, it is supposed to be a non partisan association, for grassroots organization. They work closely with the elected representatives (which they call advisors to the grassroots organizations) in different constituencies to distribute grassroots aid. The only exception is in the opposition wards. Strangely, in the opposition wards, the grassroots advisor isn’t the elected representative, but a PAP man.

This allows the PAP man to fund projects to win party support. This might give residents the mistaken impression that the money is coming from the PAP to win votes. This should not be the case as grassroots projects should work with the elected representative of the constituency, regardless of his party affiliation.

I also really resent MM’s brand of cross causeway diplomacy. Characterizing Malaysian Chinese as an oppressed minority is, frankly, undiplomatic.

TOC: Hang on, does this mean you disagree with the recent YoungPAP blog post by Nicholas Lazarus expressing his disgust with homosexuals?

Ephraim: Absolutely. The comments were completely uncalled for.

TOC: The PAP’s brand of youth activism seems to be, join the grassroots, or do community service. Are there other options available, and would you encourage young people to take them?

Ephraim: Youth should fight for what they believe in, regardless of what their political views are. I’m not here to strengthen the PAP at the expense of the WP, because at the end of the day, Singaporeans would be worse off for only having one point of view.

I used to think youth were apathetic, but after being involved in the grassroots for almost two years, I’ve realized that there are many youths, at the grassroots level as well as in civil society, who are willing to organize and campaign for what they believe in. Sometimes I might disagree with their positions, but I think our country needs more people like that who stand up for what they believe in, and take action. Worst cases are young people who only know how to complain but don’t act.

So yes, I would encourage youth to get engaged in civil society activism. Better than armchair criticism.

TOC: Tell us something about yourself we don’t really know.

Ephraim: I’m not actually that into politics, I’m more of a lifestyle and youth issues writer. I get quite turned off by politics because I really dislike confrontation. Sometimes I get a lot of flak for being a YP member (like most of the 30+ comments in my introduction article on TOC), but I think people are just misdirecting their anger at the government towards me. I’m not responsible for a lot of the policies they draft, and some I might not even understand.

That’s why I much prefer community work, which involves more listening than arguing for a point of view.

You can’t really know why certain things are done certain ways until you see the big picture.

TOC: So why are you with YP instead of just in grassroots?

Ephraim: Sitting in on my first Meet-the-People’s Session (MPS) confirmed for me that if I wanted to be deeply involved with the community, the YP was one of the best place to do it. Not because it could best effect social transformation, but by the simple fact that most people turn to their MPs as a last resort.

These are people I wouldn’t normally come into contact with unless I organize or join a community service project. Being in the YP has allowed me to keep an ear on the ground, and my feet firmly rooted in the community I live in.

TOC: What type of grassroots workers turns you off the most?

Ephraim: I get most turned off by grassroots leaders who like to give positive feedback all the time. Like the advertisement some time back: hear only the good things.

TOC: What role do you see MM playing in the party?

Ephraim: I don’t think I’ll be the first person to say this, and I’m not saying this because of my position in grassroots. I think this is observable to many political watchers. MM is in a sense, a lightning rod for controversial issues.

The original question relating to homosexuality was posed by Loretta Chen, local director and the sister of actor Edmund Chen and it was actually in relation to censorship. MM doesn’t say anything without a reason, so the fact that he steered the question towards homosexuality points to a clear intention to broach the issue on his part. Now whether this was to test the waters for a possible relaxation of attitudes, no one is sure.

TOC: You’ll be fresh out of University by the time the next GE comes along. Just in time to run for elections. Will you?

Ephraim: This is something which I have never thought about. It’s not like planning a vacation or career. The job of an MP is not easy and it is a long and winding road. Being an MP is not about smiling and going round shaking hands looking happy. There’s more to it than just that. It’s a lot of hard work.

But I guess when the time comes I will have to deal with it. Many people have been joking about it – from schoolmates to grassroots leaders. The only thing I tell them is to support me when I need it most.

Ephraim also writes on his own blog here.