by Dr Wong Wee Nam/
“The dangerous thing about political jokes is that some of them get elected.” - Political Jokes
On 30 March 2011 when the Organising Secretary (Special Duties) of the People’s Action Party Ng Eng Hen introduced another batch of its candidates for the coming General Election, he listed what the PAP considers the four essential qualities to be a good MP and government leader.
According to him, the candidates must be an activist, have a heart for Singapore, have guts for Singapore and be trustworthy. He also revealed the PAP held nearly 200 tea sessions with over 260 individuals over the last four years and managed to come out with just over 20 candidates.
Having met a fair number of potential candidates from the opposition parties, I found that they too have the four qualities that have been mentioned. Most of them have even one more. On top of the qualities mentioned, these people are less likely to yes-men. This is because most have joined on their own volition and are therefore likely to be more independent-minded. Like monks in a freer religious order, they will not hesitate to criticise the abbot when they feel the need to.
So it is not surprising that the PAP are still coming out with more of the same for this coming GE and the candidates in the opposite camps appear to be a more varied and colourful bunch.
The Heart Truth
Though four qualities have been mentioned, there is actually only one essential quality needed to make a good Member of Parliament and that is to have a heart for Singapore. If a person has enough heart for Singapore, he will naturally be an activist, have guts for Singapore and can be trusted to have the interest of Singapore at heart.
What then does it mean to have a heart for Singapore? Two examples will show what it means.
I have a friend who was some years my senior. He was a foreigner who had come to Singapore to study Medicine. When he graduated, there were too many doctors then. and he had to leave the country to look for a job elsewhere. Five years later, when things improved, he came back.
He decided he wanted to be a Singapore citizen straightaway and signed a ten-year- contract with the SAF as a regular to become one.
At that time he was already a fatherly person with a slightly inflated midriff. However as a middle-aged recruit, he took everything in his strides. He went with us younger recruits on route marches and huffed and puffed up Peng Kang Hill like all of us.
When I asked him why he did it, he said, “This is the way to show my commitment to my new country.”
This is what having a heart for Singapore truly means!
My friend should really be made an exemplary model for all foreigners who are thinking of becoming Singapore citizens, especially those who aspire to be our political leaders.
Another friend, a classmate of mine in medical school and also a foreigner, decided after graduation not to do his internship. Instead he signed up as a regular in the SAF. As a recruit, he was paid only $90 per month. Yet he did not complain.
There was no need for him to go through all the training and physical hardship for $90 a month. Our hospitals would have employed him or he could have gone back to his home country and helped in his family business of supplying cement to build HDB flats and made big bucks.
Instead he chose to become a Singapore citizen and to defend it in the ultimate way possible - as a soldier.
Like my other friend, this friend should also be a soul-searching model to those in well-paid jobs who think they are making a huge monetary sacrifice when they leave to become ministers and receive a meagre minister’s pay.
These two examples show what it means to have a heart for Singapore. My friends are very clear what doing national service means. They did not boast to the whole of Singapore that they had spent the last 40 years saving lives as doctors. This is because they know that being a doctor is a service in humility and doing national service is a duty to serve the nation with pride and honour. It means to be prepared, when such a time comes, to be at the front so as to prevent the loss of lives of our citizens.
At all times, we must bear in mind that we are the protector of our citizens – SAF Rule 2
It is even more remarkable to think that, in the early days, whenever they went back to their old hometown to visit their families, they were always at the risk of being arrested and detained as traitors or spies.
Thus if a new citizen thinks that his economic and professional contributions are enough to be considered national duties, then he belittles all of us who have done national service.
The Heart of Hearing
Obviously a potential leader who does not have a heart for Singapore certainly will not have a heart that can also hear the cry of its voiceless citizens.
In a story, The Speechless Animal, Khalil Gibran, wrote:
In the twilight of a beautiful day, when fancy seized upon my mind, I passed by the edge of the city and tarried before the wreck of an abandoned house of which only rubble was left.
In the rubble I saw a dog lying upon dirt and ashes. Sores covered his skin, and sickness racked his feeble body. Staring now and then at the setting sun, his sorrowful eyes expressed humiliation, despair, and misery.
I walked slowly toward him wishing that I knew animal speech so that I might console him with my sympathy. But my approach only terrified him, and he tried to rise on his palsied legs. Falling, he turned a look on me in which helpless wrath was mingled with supplication. In that glance was speech more lucid than man's and more moving than a woman's tears. This is what I understood him to say:
"Man, I have suffered through illness caused by your brutality and persecution.
"I have run from your bruising foot and taken refuge here, for dust and ashes are gentler than man's heart, these ruins are less melancholy than the soul of man. Be gone, you intruder from the world of misrule and injustice.
"I am a miserable creature who served the son of Adam with faith and loyalty. I was man's faithful companion. I guarded him day and night. I grieved during his absence and welcomed him with joy upon his return. I was contented with the crumbs that fell from his board, and happy with the bones that his teeth had stripped. But when I grew old and ill, he drove me from his home and left me to merciless boys of the alleys.
"Oh son of Adam, I see the similarity between me and your fellow men when age disables them. There are soldiers who fought for their country when they were in the prime of life, and who later tilled its soil. But now that the winter of their life has come and they are useful no longer, they are cast aside.
"I also see a resemblance between my lot and that of a woman who, during the days of her lovely maidenhood enlivened the heart of a young man; and who then, as a mother, devoted her life to her children. But now, grows old, she is ignored and avoided. How oppressive you are, son of Adam, and how cruel!"
Thus spoke the speechless animal whom my heart had understood.
In the coming years, the income gap is going to be widened, cost of living will continue to rise and the number of aged and the chronic sick are going to be increased greatly. Like the speechless animal, many will not be able to articulate their pains and sufferings.
With all the stringent selection criteria, let us hope that we will have more hearts of hearing and less hard-of-hearing members and ministers in Parliament after the General Election.