During the Miss Singapore interview, the contestants aged 18-26 were all asked who our favourite politician was. Almost everyone answered former MM Lee Kuan Yew with brief general reasons like “he is a great man” and “he helped Singapore a lot”.
I personally feel that MM Lee has made a huge contribution to society. However, it really surprised me that so many youngsters saw him as the main person who was responsible for Singapore’s success when it was an entire team of pioneer generation leaders.
My answer to the question was Ong Teng Cheong. This was not because I feel that Ong Teng Cheong contributed more than MM Lee but rather at this point in my life, I felt his values resonated with me. After watching my video, some people asked me on for more details on why Ong Teng Cheong is my favourite politician.
So I shall share in detail about this issue in my entry.
1. Ong has Moral Courage
Moral courage is the bravery to do what is right and stand up for what you believe in. Because of his belief, in January 1986, Ong sanctioned a strike.
Through this he made the then minister for trade and industry was very angry.
Ong sincerely believed that trade union should “help improve the workers’ social and economic wellbeing”.
“It was in the shipping industry where the management was taking advantage of the workers. It only lasted two days. Then all the issues were settled. It showed that management was just trying to pull a fast one. So I believe what I did was right.”
I think this incident shows that he is not the people-pleaser and suck-up-to-others type of person. He does what he feels is correct and morally right. How many people would really risk offending powerful people for their righteous beliefs?
As for the Singaporeans who called Ong as dissident on my ask.fm, I feel that we are all brought up to think that all strikes and protests are bad for our economy and all but as I said many times, it is not totally the case.
2. Ong has an independent mind and is not a ‘group think’-er.
I think men who have independent minds and courage are incredibly sexy.
When he was made president, he said this quote, which is by far the most impactful and memorable quote I have come across from any of our president:
“Some people still ask whether my long previous association with the PAP will stop me from acting independently. The answer is no. My loyalty is first and foremost, to the people of Singapore. It has always been so, and will always remain so.”
He did walk the talk.
During his presidency in 1993, Ong asked about Singapore’s financial reserves. This gave him a bit of conflict with his former party members.
However, Ong insisted that it is part of his duty as an elected president as a president is supposed to protect our national reserves. The government said it would take 56 man-years to produce a dollar-and-cents value of the immovable assets. Ong discussed this with the accountant general and the auditor general and eventually conceded that the government only had to declare all of its properties.
Eventually, they produce a list in a few months and took three years to produce all the information. Kudos also to them for their hard work and cooperation with Ong. =)
3. Ong is a people’s president
As mentioned earlier, he also initiated the President’s Star Charity. This project and television program draws in so much money per year for many NPOs in Singapore.
In 2012, President’s Star Charity raised $6.23 million through corporate and public donations. It set the record of the highest number of donations in 2011 with $6.44 million.
He even continued to serve when he was with cancer but did not continue for his second term after his health declined too much. =(
4. Visionary man
Ong was the one who pushed for the construction for our MRT. He saw opportunities in what others saw as challenges. Back some ministers did not support the idea of an MRT.
One said “The construction industry has become over-heated and if Singapore were to be foolish enough to want to build its proposed mass rapid transit (MRT) system now,”
However, Ong stood for what he believed in an envisioned. He said:
“The MRT is much more than a transport investment, and must be viewed in its wider economic perspective. The boost it’ll provide to long term investors’ confidence, the multiplier effect and how MRT will lead to the enhancement of the intrinsic value of Singapore’s real estate are spin-offs that cannot be ignored.”
Note that let’s not be too hard on the non-believers back then. They were young.
5. Fomer MM Lee and SM Goh have a very very high opinion of him
Lee Kuan Yew wanted to make Ong Teng Cheong a minister so quickly despite Ong having very little experience in politics.
According to Mr. Ong Teng Cheong,
“In the early 1970s, Lee Kuan Yew asked me for an interview to get me involved to stand for election. I stood in 1972 and I won and became a PAP backbencher. A year later, Lee asked me to take up ministerial office but I turned it down because my younger brother was dying of cancer. I had to assist him and to settle his affairs after he died at the age of 25. Then Lee Kuan Yew approached me again and this time I agreed to take up office. Lee is very persuasive.”
SM Goh would also not have agreed to be Prime Minister back then if the deputy was not Mr. Ong Teng Cheong. =)
“We finally made the decision to pick Goh Chok Tong. He agreed on condition that I agreed to be his number two. So I was the second DPM; he was the first DPM.”
Despite Lee and Ong having a disagreement later on, Lee told Ong that it was a good thing.
Ong said “He (Lee) said that my statements, and his rebuttal in parliament, were probably a good thing. They showed the transparency of the system.”
In 2011, Presidential candidate Mr Tan Jee Say also said that he saw Singapore’s first elected president Ong Teng Cheong as a role model, as the late Mr Ong was one leader who had the courage to apply moral pressure on the government of the day.
Ong is a very confident man. He welcomed competition for presidential election and commented that it would be ‘fun’.
When he heard that the oppositionist J.B. Jeyaretnam wanted to run against him but he could not. Ong said “he was not allowed to because he did not qualify under the stringent criteria. Maybe too stringent.”
Again, another evidence of not being yes-man!
Ong also confirmed that his cancer was in complete remission before deciding whether or not to run for second term as president. He gave a complete report to the prime minister.
Then the cabinet met and they decided that if he were to stand again, they would not support him.
When asked if that annoyed him, Ong said something really really really bad-ass!
I told the prime minister over lunch: Well, I don’t need your cabinet support. If I want to stand, whether I do or not, it will be my personal decision. And I’ll make that decision nearer the date of the presidential election — because I have another checkup in June, July, and I want to know my latest position. Also my wife was sick with cancer and we knew that if she died, it would be difficult for me to stand without a first lady. She felt very apologetic and that was another reason why my inclination was not to stand. I hoped that if I stepped down I would have more time to be with my wife, because her prognosis was not very good.
Ultimately I feel that I mean if I say one politician is my favorite, it doesn’t mean I don’t think the rest are bad. It is just that different people value different things.
I feel that more historical figures should be covered in our social studies textbooks. In school, we learn mostly about Lee Kuan Yew and how his action embodies the value of good governance – pragmatism and foresight etc.
He is awesome but I think it will be nice to include more things about our history so that those who don’t read about history beyond our textbook would be able to know more about other figures. =)