Wong Wee Nam
Some years ago, my old teacher, a retired principal from Raffles Institute (RI), brought me to a small café near his house for lunch. Over some roti prata and tea, we spoke about many things but the only thing that stuck in my memory was his mention of his son in UK.
He told me that his son was very happy there and looked like not coming back. However, he could not be sure. He told me I would find him interesting as he shared concerned about social and civic issues. Instantly a thought flashed across my mind: What a waste if he doesn’t come back. He would have made a good minority candidate.
Few years later, I was invited to a brainstorming session by the SDP. I listened as the members went about allocating work and duties for a coming event. I noticed a young man, who looked like a Bollywood-version of my favourite actor, Yul Brynner, being assigned a lot of work and accepting the tasks without hesitation. This was not a one-off behaviour of a rookie out to impress his superior. Subsequently, I was to discover that throughout his membership in the SDP, he was to show the same kind of enthusiasm and dedication, never shirking any task given to him.
(There was one exception however. When he promised to cook at the SDP Kampung Kook-off event, he did not. Instead he bullied his aunties into doing the job for him. Nevertheless, the use of free involuntary women labour was the only blemish in his impeccable human rights record.)
On that day, he left the meeting soon after accepting his job assignment and I had no opportunity to be introduced to him. I later found out he was Dr Vincent Wijeysingha.
After the meeting, Dr Chee Soon Juan approached me. He told me he was keen to have Vincent as a candidate for the next general election and wondered if I could have a chat with him to give him some encouragement. He mentioned that Vincent’s father was the ex-RI principal. Immediately, my mind went back to the roti prata lunch meeting I had with his father a few years earlier. I assured Dr Chee that Vincent would not need any encouragement. Furthermore, with his talent, he would not need to worry about being jobless after the election.
Vincent confirmed my faith when he announced his intention to contest the coming general election not long afterwards. To give him moral support, I organized a dinner for him. The dinner was well-attended. His parents were also invited so as I thought they, too, might need some psychological comfort. In Singapore, it is expected that most parents would suffer some anxiety and insomnia when they see their children going into opposition politics.
At the dinner, Vincent did not disappoint. He spoke eloquently about his vision and impressed his listeners with intelligent answers to their searching questions. He performed like a season veteran. I was wrong when I thought Vincent would make a good minority candidate. He is too qualified to play a cameo role. He is a natural leader in his own right.
I told his father Vincent was very impressive and he should be proud of him. Mr Wijeysingha replied, “If he debates with me, I will easily demolish all his arguments.” We laughed heartily. Of course, Vincent did not know we had spoken behind his back.
Subsequently when I joined him in other brainstorming sessions; I found his intellect not limited to the gift of the gab. He talks and acts as well. Moreover he is not only endowed with a good brain but also has a soft heart and an affable nature that makes him connect easily with people.
Here is an elite who does not sneer at the ordinary folks, a person with a middle-class background who can empathise with the poor and the exploited; a talent who does not look down on the unskilled; the intellect who does not pour scorn on the common folk; an activist who does a service without a selfish motive and a campaigner who believes that the law and society should be just and fair to everyone.
These are all the reasons why Vincent would have made a good politician. They also make Vincent’s departure from politics a great loss to the country.
Perhaps Vincent may be right to choose to focus his work on human rights at this point of time. His future endeavour may slowly help to break down prejudices, bigotry and discrimination against all kinds of minorities that still exist in our economic, social and political life. If his future work can remove the mental obstacle to allow a minority, whether he or she is a Malay, Indian, monk, divorcee or gay to be elected a Prime Minister on his or her own merit, then his resignation from electoral politics would not have been in vain.
Dr Wong Wee Nam is a medical doctor and a member of the SDP’s Healthcare Advisory Panel.