Chiam See Tong – The man with dogged determination

by: Ravi Philemon/

A friend recently asked, “Why? Why does Chiam deserve a tribute dinner from any of us who are not residents of Potong Pasir? What interests of non-Potong Pasir residents has he advanced all these years?” Another said that TOC should not be in the business of throwing “lavish dinners” for politicians.

I think like these friends, many of our readers too may be asking why TOC is holding this appreciation dinner for Mr Chiam See Tong.

A Russian proverb says, “You live as long as you are remembered”.

In the aftermath of General Election 2011, the news was all about how the election was a watershed one, about the People’s Action Party and the Workers’ Party.

The bravery of the man who chose to come out of his comfort zone of Potong Pasir, to give then Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng a fight of his life and losing by a mere 7 per cent was quickly being forgotten.

There was a chance that the legacy of the man who first entered politics in 1976 when he contested as an independent candidate in Cairnhill constituency, which he lost; the legacy of the man – Chiam See Tong -who went on to contest in Potong Pasir – losing twice, before winning with 60.3 per cent of the vote against Mah Bow Tan in 1984, may be forgotten.

This to me is significant, especially since Mr Chiam’s electoral victories took place in an era where defamation suits and ISA arrests to silence the opposition views, were common.

To be in opposition politics for 27 years against these odds, and to be speaking up not just for the residents of Potong Pasir, but also for all Singaporeans, is no easy feat.

So, TOC thought, “Yes, we should appreciate this man while he is still here with us”.

I remember first meeting Mr Chiam in one of his Meet-the-People Session in Potong Pasir in early 2009. Mr Chiam appeared quite frail from the stroke which he suffered in 2008. I introduced myself and was engaged in a conversation with him, when he saw a resident waiting to see him from a corner of his eye. He asked me if I would wait to continue the conversation, and called this constituent by name and started enquiring how everyone in her family were.

Mr Chiam did not have her case file (they were held by the helpers helping in his MPS), but he knew who his constituent was. How many MPs can do this? Even more when they are recovering after being stricken by stroke?

I was of course, very surprised.

I also remember another incident vividly. I was the VIP Liaison at TOC’s Face to Face event and was assisting Mr Chiam in the waiting room, before the event started. As we were leaving the waiting room to meet the press, Mr Chiam insisted that he did not want my (or anyone else’s) assistance. He said that the people must know that he is fit and ready to fight another round.

Such doggedness!

For me, I think I will always remember Mr Chiam See Tong as a man with dogged determination.

Dogged determination which made him fight on, only to win in the fourth attempt in Potong Pasir. Dogged determination which made him continue to keep Potong Pasir a beacon of hope of opposition politics in Singapore. Dogged determination, which made him come back after suffering from the stroke. And dogged determination, which makes him say that he will come back to fight another day in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

Thank you Mr Chiam!

Have you bought the tickets for “Thank you, Mr Chiam!” An appreciation dinner organised by TOC?

There will also be an auction at TOC’s appreciation dinner, of limited edition portraits of Mr Chiam See Tong.


Starting bids are:
Black (1 set of two 24×24 inch canvas) – $600
Yellow (24×24 inch canvas) – $500
Red (18×18 inch canvas) – $300
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