by Augustine Low
In recent times, no one has had more practice at debating in Parliament than Leong Mun Wai. No one has taken more potshots than him. No one has been asked to apologise more often.
The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Non-constituency Member of Parliament can only get better over time. In fact, we are already seeing a much-improved version of the Leong Mun Wai who first stepped into the arena.
It frequently takes not only one Minister but a few to have a go at him. On top of that, the Speaker of Parliament interjects on behalf of the Ministers, never once on behalf of Leong Mun Wai.
And while all this is happening, the People’s Action Party (PAP) Members of Parliament merely sit and watch. So it’s no surprise that on the rare occasion, they try to debate an opposition member, they find themselves out of touch and out of their league.
PAP MP Xie Yao Quan recently tried to take on Leon Perera over the Workers’ Party’s proposal on affordable housing. Instead, Xie was made to look like a greenhorn and saved from embarrassment by Speaker Tan Chuan Jin.
This is what happens when you only get to sit and watch. You end up forever a greenhorn.
It doesn’t help that many of the PAP MPs enter Parliament without having to campaign and make speeches, courtesy of a walkover. And once in Parliament, they never get to debate because it’s always the Ministers who do the job.
Over time, the PAP MPs become timid souls who take cover under the Ministers – better to shut up than speak out and be found out.
Sure, Leong Mun Wai has had to apologise a few times. But so has somebody like Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
Minister Balakrishnan had to apologise to Leong for the remark “seriously, how did he get into RI? Must have been a lousy school.”
He also apologised for the wrongful assurance that TraceTogether data would be used only for contact tracing.
Another apology from Minister Balakrishnan was for asking his fellow PAP MP Lily Neo (who was requesting more government support for the poor): “How much do you want? Do you want three meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?”
Given all the debating that Leong Mun Wai has had to do, a few knocks here and there, an apology or two is fair game.
He can take heart from the stirring words of the 26th United States President Theodore Roosevelt:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”