This is an excerpt of an interview I had with the Straits Times on 6 July 2010, shortly after I was elected to the Workers’ Party’s Central Executive Council. The other new WP CEC members interviewed were Dr John Yam, Muhammad Faisal and Frieda Chan.
Ready to take on a bigger role
By Sue-Ann Chia, Senior Political Correspondent
Straits Times, 9 July 2010
Job: Senior IT consultant
Status: Married, with a 20-month-old daughter. His wife is expecting their second child, a son, due by National Day.
Education: Bachelor of Science (Electrical Engineering), University of Southern California
Pet peeve: Immigration policy [Comment: I do not consider this a personal ‘pet peeve’. This is a concern shared by many Singaporeans.]
Passionate about: Putting Singaporeans first
TWO months before Mr Gerald Giam joined the WP, he had a casual chat with an older relative who dismissed the opposition as opportunists.
They serve out of self-interest and ulterior motives. Capable individuals would be out of their mind to join them and oppose the ruling party which has governed well, his relative concluded.
While he was dismayed, the words did not deter him from taking the plunge into opposition politics.
‘This is the view among the older generation of Singaporeans who had seen the country’s success since independence,’ he tells Insight.
He says the PAP has changed over the years and believes that complacency has set in ‘which is partly a result of a lack of political opposition to question their policies and compete with them with alternative policies’.
This belief has shaped his political journey since the last general election: from a non-partisan blogger on sociopolitical issues to opposition member. The thought of joining the WP first crossed his mind in 2007, after getting to know its members and liking what he saw – people who had the interests of Singaporeans at heart, he says. But it was almost two years later, in January last year, that he found the conviction to stop being an armchair critic and be part of the team to build a credible opposition that could form an alternative government.
The decision was made after talking to his wife and ‘a lot of prayers’, he adds. However, he kept a low profile until a year later when he wrote on his blog a piece titled Why I Joined The Opposition. In it, the alumnus of Anglo-Chinese School said he had not always been an opposition supporter, and that most of his friends and teachers would know him as someone who always followed the rules and did not question authority.
He was studious, and did well enough in his O levels to gain direct entry into the University of Southern California. His interest in politics was piqued during his undergraduate days, where the level of political activism was high.
When he returned home, he could not wait to contribute to Singapore society. He was involved in the South West Community Development Council and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He also believed the only way to effect change was from within the PAP machinery, not through the opposition.
He soon changed his mind.
‘Changes to the finer details are possible from within, but fundamental changes to the way the country is governed can come only if the top echelon of leaders in the party either radically change their mind, or are replaced,’ he wrote on his blog. ‘Neither is about to happen soon.’ [Comment: I also wrote this in my book, Singapore version 2.0.]
Now that he is in a position to try to effect change, what would he change?
‘For a start, we need to revamp our immigration policy,’ he says. ‘Although immigration is important and I value the contributions of immigrants, the massive influx of foreigners in the past few years has been too extreme. ‘It has put a strain on so many things, such as public transport, housing, health care, jobs and incomes.’
While the Government has pledged to stem the flow of foreigners, he argues it is not enough. ‘The residents I talk to do not feel any difference from before.’
He wants a Singapore where citizens come first.
He also wants a more comprehensive social safety net for needy Singaporeans, especially the elderly poor.
While he is confident that the best days are ahead, he is no naive idealist. He still has to convince people like his older relative to give the opposition a chance.
Yet, the boyish-looking bespectacled man, who is willing to contest the next general election, is optimistic he can sway such voters.
‘I believe I can. They just need to see a certain level of sincerity,’ he says.