Every political textbook in the world will tell you that politics in the democratic system is a tough game to play. It requires, wits, opportunities, perseverance and staying power. Most would not enter their first election expecting to win. Our most famous politicians ranging from JB Jayeratnam to Chiam See Tong did not win their first elections, not even their second or third. Winning at the first go is the exception and not the norm.

It is therefore surprising for Education Minister Ong Ye Kung to openly admit his shock at losing his first election in 2011 where he was part of the People’s Action Party team contesting for Aljunied Group Representation Constituency. He said : “It opened my eyes to how tough it can be. The national mood wasn’t so good and we faced a very strong WP team led by Low Thia Khiang. His jumping over (to join the GRC team), I think, made a big difference. But we fought the best fight we could.” While I appreciate his candour, his sense of expectation is somewhat shocking.

Perhaps it is Singapore’s unique system of one-party rule that led Ong to have the expectation to win at the first go. After all, the PAP has reigned supreme since time immemorial. Has our system created a sense of hubris on the part of our politicians?

And Ong did not win his second try at the elections against the WP team at Aljunied, instead, he entered the parliament through Sembawang GRC via the coat-tail of another PAP minister, Khaw Boon Wan. Have we created a system whereby mediocre politicians hide behind the banner of the PAP and expect to win?

Furthermore, Ong had his career pathed for him by the establishment.

His career path is as followed:

  • Ministry of Communications from 1993 to 1999
  • Ministry of Trade and Industry from 2000 to 2003 where he was Director of Trade and Deputy Chief Negotiator
  • Principal private secretary and press secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong from 2003 to 2005
  • Chief Executive of the Singapore Workforce Development Agency from 2005 to 2008
  • NTUC Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) from December 2008 to May 2011
  • NTUC Deputy Secretary-General (DSG) from June 2011 to November 2012
  • Director of Group Strategy at Keppel from Jan 2013 to September 2015 (before he contested at the GE)
  • Minister of State for Defence from October 2015 to October 2016
  • Second Minister for Defence from November 2016 to April 2018
  • Acting Minister of Education (Higher Education and Skills) with Ng Chee Meng from October 2015 to April 2018
  • Minister of Education since May 2018.

He said during the interview, “I would say, judge me by what I’m delivering and what I’m doing. The path, to me, is not that easy, having to go through 2011 and the Aljunied GRC, then changing jobs and experiencing different sectors. If other people think it’s easy, and if I’m not doing a good job, I deserve the criticism. But I hope I do a good job.”

In his own words, Ong was parachuted into politics. Why do we have this system of parachuting? What was promised to entice a non-politician to become a politician? Is this why we have to offer sky-high salaries to attract non politicians to become politicians under the PAP umbrella? Is it mistakenly seen as an easy ride into power? Join the PAP and you are a shoo in? Aren’t the best politicians those who fight against all odds to prove their worth?

Giving credit where it falls due, Ong did not quit when he lost. However, what does this represent for the rest of the fourth generation PAP leaders and future PAP candidates? Do they also have a false sense of security that because they belong to the powerful PAP that they will win even if they only deliver average results? Will this lead to complacency and spawn another generation of mediocre leaders who lead by entitlement and not merit?

It is important for the political establishment to recognise that the PAP does not and should not equate to certain victory. Power should only belong to those who work hard and effectively for the benefit of the country as a whole.

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