During the General Elections 2011, Tin Pei Ling received heavy criticism from the public. Back then, many felt she was one of the weakest and most unpopular candidates from the People’s Action Party (PAP).
Even when the PAP eventually won in Marine Parade with more than 56% of the votes, Goh Chok Ting acknowledged that Tin’s unpopularity was one of the contributing factors of the historically poor performance.
According to Tin, it was a “rocky and painful” entry into politics. She was picked on for the smallest and most irrelevant of things like posing with her Kate Spade handbag or some old videos of her taken during her early 20s. In my opinion, I felt the public was really petty to do that.
Fast forward to the present, within four short years, Tin Pei Ling managed to turn things around, contesting alone in an SMC and winning 65.58% of the votes in a three cornered fight.
I decided to analyze her success story and hopefully this would be something that all politicians can learn from.
I understand some people may point out that she managed to get into politics partially due to factors like her husband being well-connected; being backed by political veteran Goh Chok Tong and all the other advantages which PAP has.
I am not saying that these institutional factors and advantages do not exist. However, I think for this post, let’s focus on the factors we can control and what we can learn.
1) Tin Pei Ling worked hard
Tin Pei Ling has been doing grassroots work way before she ran for office in 2011.
I first met her in 2007 when I was 17. Back then, I volunteered with Ulu Pandan YEC to help them with a community event for the elderly folk. At that time, Tin was leading the project. I still remember that she came back from her honeymoon from Europe during that period of time and even offered us Lindt chocolates. During the meeting, I also learned that she was helping out at Meet-The-People sessions in Queenstown.
However, it was unfortunate that she didn’t highlight her ground work much during the General Elections 2011.
As such people thought she ONLY got in because her husband happened to be the Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister back then.
Of course, undeniably, having that kind of connections does play a huge part in helping her get recognized and noticed. However, without her many years of grassroots experience, Tin probably would not have been selected too.
After joining politics, she started to work even harder.
A few months after the elections, she announced that she had resigned from her role at EY Singapore. She introduced initiatives like the MacPherson Care Fund to help needy elderly residents with their healthcare expenses, and the MacPherson Children Chapter, which provides English lessons to children from less privileged backgrounds. You can check out more of her initiatives here.
Her decision to quit her job also ensured that she could focus full-time on her role and help win the support of her residents.
2) Tin Pei Ling demonstrated resilience
In addition to the hard work she put in, I would think that her resilience played an important role too.
What Tin Pei Ling had to go through in 2011 was really no joke. She was judged by the public for an old video taken of her when she was 23 years old. I felt this to be ridiculous because at that time, she wasn’t in politics yet. Of course, she would still wear a bit ‘hiao’ or behave like your typical university student right?
Like how I think it is lame for her to be judged by photos of her in her early 20s, I feel the same for how people were talking about Kevryn Lim modelling photos.
Despite having such a bad start, Tin was able to not let the comments affect her and press forward.
“It was very trying, one of the darkest moments in my life. I’m thankful for my family, friends and team for their unwavering support. Without them ‘chionging’ (charging forth) with me, I wouldn’t have pulled through. At times, I felt some of the accusations were baseless … but when I see some of the issues which the residents grapple with, I feel it pales in comparison.”
3) Tin Pei Ling new status as a “Mother”
I feel that becoming a mother helped Tin Pei Ling immensely.
In general, in a ‘family-centric’ country like Singapore, “mothers” are often held in very high regard.
Once someone becomes a mother or pregnant woman, they are automatically associated with many positive qualities like nurturing; caring; trustworthy; mature etc. It is a subconscious “halo effect” thing.
To complement the “mom effect”, Tin also often weighs in on topics like education, childcare, and family which according to Indranee Rajah is absolutely essential when it comes to winning over the support of women.
It also helped that while she was heavily pregnant, Tin was still really active in grassroots work. She also impressed and touched many by running for elections shortly after giving birth.
I would think that Kevryn Lim’s benefited from the “Mum effect” and her image improved too after revealing she was a single mother and her desire to fight for single mother issues.
However, one of the sad things I’ve noticed is that in general, some Singaporeans are backward and still more accepting of mothers who come from ‘complete’ families rather than single mothers.
I hope that people can learn to have an open mind about such things. Looking at some of the leading female politicians in Europe like Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany and Marine Le Pen, Leader of the French National Front.
I would think that their backgrounds as ‘divorcees’ would be perceived negatively by many of the traditional Singaporeans here.
This is unfair because how successful someone is in their romantic and family life has little to do with their capabilities as a leader.
As my Professor Liew Khai Khun said
If single, they will say that she does not understand what raising a family means. If she were a single mum , they will say she is immoral. If with a lesbian partner they will say she is unnatural. If married, they will say that she should concentrate on her family. If divorced , they will say she can’t managed even her domestic affairs. If remarried, they will say she is unfaithful. If she marries a foreigner, they will say she betrayed the country. if widowed, they will say she is a jinx.
4) Tin Pei Ling changed her image
I guess the change of image helped immensely too. In GE 2011, Tin Pei Ling had a very feminine and cute type of hairstyle – straight bangs with shoulder length tresses.
While it made her come across as “kawaii”, it also gave people a negative impression like she won’t be taken seriously. It doesn’t help that she has big eyes and a round baby face, adding to that cute effect.
However, during the past four years, she changed her hairstyle to look like a typical female PAP politician – short hair and side swept bangs.
In fact, most of the women on top in business and politics often try to look more masculine by cutting their hair short or not showing much body shape in the clothes they wear. This is because things which are ‘feminine’ and ‘cute’ are generally perceived by society to be less competent or less serious.
I guess the PAP is aware of this research because if you notice, other than TPL, none of their female politicians have long hair. At the present moment, Tin Peiling has chosen to keep shoulder length hair again. However, even so, she ties it up in a neat and low ponytail so it appears short from the front.
5) Tin Pei Ling is good in marketing what she does
Lastly, I would think that Tin Pei Ling’s social media skills are excellent and definitely worth learning from. Some examples of what she does include
- Posting heartwarming stories of the residents she meet
- Saving her speeches and questions asked in the notes section on her page
- Sharing about her projects and getting others involved by asking them for donations
I feel that if opposition politicians wish to stay engaged with residents, they could try to follow in her footsteps by updating their Facebook profiles more frequently and creating more quality content.
In addition to her strong social media skills, I think her media relations skills have improved too. You can read about how well organized her press conference was to the public here.
Tin Pei Ling’s impressive improvement is definitely a laudable achievement and which we could all learn from. Up next, I will be blogging about another powerful woman, Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany who was recently named Times Person of the Year.
Let me know your thoughts on this topic below!