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Teo Ser Luck is a busy man. Andrew Loh.

The race to engage Singaporeans

Andrew Loh

Mr Teo Ser Luck has been a very busy man. After winning in the 2006 General Elections as part of the People’s Action Party’s team for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, he was immediately appointed Parliamentary Secretary (Parl Sec) for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS). He was then 37-years old.

Since then, his star has been shining – and rising.

In 2008, he was appointed Chairman of the Young PAP (YP), the ruling party’s youth wing, replacing his MCYS minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who had held that post. In that same year, he was promoted to Senior Parliamentary Secretary for MCYS.

In the Prime Minister’s Cabinet reshuffle in March this year, Mr Teo was given the position of Mayor for North East Community Development Council, taking over from veteran PAP MP, Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed. The portfolio of Parl Sec for the Ministry of Transport was added to Mr Teo’s basket.

Mr Teo is also the Chairman of the National Youth Council and is the adviser to the Asian Youth Games 2009 and Youth Olympic Games 2010 committees. He is widely credited for Singapore’s successful bid for the YOG 2010 and for being involved in the F1 bid as well. As Chairman of the Sporting Culture Committee (SCC), Mr Teo has also been put in charge of overseeing the $650 million Sports Hub project, which would be the Republic's largest sports and leisure development and be situated on a 35-ha site on the outskirts of the business district.

The former General Manager of DHL Express Singapore was selected as a Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum and Outstanding Young Alumni by his alma mater, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore.

Politics aside, Mr Teo founded the Triathlon Family Club, an online triathlon community, and the Safe Cycling Taskforce, an advocacy group for the safety of cyclists.

His impressive resume makes one wonder how he finds time to perform his MP duties – and to find time for his family.

Since becoming the Chairman of Young PAP, he has been very active in wanting to canvass views and provide platforms for younger Singaporeans to express themselves. Mr Teo, who attained his Bachelor of Accountancy in 1992 from NTU, has now focused his energy on engaging youths – online.

To achieve this, the Young PAP has revamped its website to facilitate more interaction and information flow. But the launch of the new site ran into a “slight miscalculation” and had to be postponed. This was because of a video which the YP had created and which was supposed to be part of the launch. It had not been cleared by the Media Development Authority (MDA). All films created in Singapore have to be approved by the MDA before they’re permitted to be screened. Apparently, the YP did not know this.

Hiccups aside, Mr Teo and the YP are to be applauded, despite skepticism of the sincerity of their aims from some quarters. It is good to see members of the ruling party reaching out to Singaporeans, nonetheless, and this can only augur well for political engagement.

Having said that, however, there are questions about whether the ruling party and its youth branch are ready for robust engagements. Already, one criticism is directed at Mr Teo’s comment that views in the P65 blog, which now has a new crew of eight writers, “are to steer clear of supporting a political party.”

“The p65 blog is to allow other young people to share their views,” Mr Teo said, “which are non-partisan, neutral and can be constructive criticism of policies.” One wonders how a blog, which was started after the 2006 General Elections and which writers were 12 PAP MPs, and launched with much media publicity then, could be “non-partisan” and “neutral”.

One of the new writers, Nazir (his full name was not provided on the blog), is a committee member of the Young NTUC. Khartini Khalid helps out at Meet The People Sessions, while not much is known about Fredric Fanthome, Julian Hong, or Vikram Nair.

Even its two editors are mysterious – their names are not listed on the blog site and little is known about their backgrounds. One of the two editors of the site, Mr Tang Ho Wan, told Today that none of the eight writers are “affiliated to the Young PAP”. Given how closely organizations such as the NTUC is affiliated to the ruling party, Mr Tang’s words are not entirely reassuring.

It would be good if the site could provide more information on its members.

Perhaps what the newly-revamped P65 blog hopes to do is similar to the blog site by the Workers’ Party supporters, called The Hammersphere. Although The Hammersphere does not claim to be non-partisan – declaring itself “a blog for supporters of The Workers’ Party of Singapore” – it nonetheless hopes to be a “gathering place for everyone who supports the Workers’ Party”. The blog was created in March 2007 but has been rather dormant for the most part since. Its last entry was in April this year.

The other political party which has a site created by its supporters is the Singapore Democratic Party. Called “Friends of SDP”, it however is not a blog but a Facebook group. The group currently has 322 members and meet up regularly for chats and discussions.

It looks like the race is on for the hearts and minds of young Singaporeans. All these online initiatives by the political parties and their supporters bring a breath of fresh air to the PAP-dominated mainstream.

Although the views online may have been perceived as being mostly anti-PAP (especially on socio-political blogs and forums), one would hope that members of the establishment would be more robust in engaging netizens – unlike the government portal REACH, which prefers to stay in its own corner.

Another hope, perhaps, is for the engagement to go further than being “safe”, as Mr Teo insinuated in his remarks about such online endeavours having to be “non-partisan” and “neutral”.

As the Prime Minister said in his swearing-in speech in 2004:

“We should have the confidence to engage in robust debate, so as to understand our problems, conceive fresh solutions, and open up new spaces.” (MFA)

There is nothing wrong in being partisan.

As for Mr Teo himself, he is to be congratulated for the new initiatives he has come up with as Chairman of the Young PAP to engage younger Singaporeans. And in this too he looks to have surpassed his predecessor, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

As for the success of the newly-constructed YP website and the P65 blog, it is left to be seen.

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