Singapore's ruling People's Action Party has named a 40-year-old colorectal surgeon as its candidate in the upcoming by-election in Punggol East what is expected to be a multi-cornered fight.
Dr Koh Poh Koon, who is married with two young children, joined the PAP three weeks ago, and was introduced by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in a press briefing Thursday morning as someone who "has the commitment and energy to look after the residents of Punggol East ward".
Koh, who spent his early childhood in a farmhouse at Lorong Cheng Lim in Punggol before his family moved to a four-room HDB flat in Toa Payoh, said Punggol has always occupied a special place in his heart.
"My family and I are proof of the success of Singapore's meritocratic system," said Koh, who is the eldest of five children, born to a bus driver and a housewife. "When I was called to serve, I felt I was duty-bound to stand adn be counted," he continued. "I want to help create the same opportunities that will help Singaporeans achieve their fullest potential."
He bought his first HDB flat in 1998 with the help of his uncle who loaned him some money. "As a HDB heartlander myself, I can readily identify with many of the issues and the daily struggles faced by Singaporeans," he said.
Koh's priorities for the single-member constituency include improving childcare facilities to help the Punggol East residents, many of whom are made up of families with young children, and the building of a community centre to improve facilities for resident activities.
"I hope the residents of Punggol East will trust me to do my utmost best for them just as I've always given the best for my patients with all my heart," he said.
Koh spent 14 years at the Department of Colorectal Surgery in Singapore General Hospital before setting up his practice at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.
He was educated in MacRitchie Primary School, Maris Stella High School and Hwa Chong Junior College. He earned his medical degree at the National University of Singapore, graduating in 1996, and obtained his Fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh as well as the Academy of Medicine, Singapore in 2005.
Koh is also actively involved in grassroots work, serving in Telok Blangah -- where he now lives with his family -- as a Resident's Committee Executive Member (RC) since 2002.
"I think at the end of the day, I've always been committed to serving people, and I felt that even at the RC level I was able to contribute," he said.
Asked why he only joined the party after deciding to respond to the PAP's call to stand in the by-election, Koh said, "I think nobody expected a by-election to happen, so when the opportunity (arose) I wanted to stand and be counted, and to contribute to the residents of Punggol East."
Koh also said his entry into politics to help residents as a community leader is "an extension" of his calling as a doctor helping patients.
"But the difference is that as a doctor you help one patient at a time... but as a leader, as a parliamentarian, we have the opportunity to shape policies that will impact our wider society," he said.
"My aim has always been to serve the needs of the residents first. As long as the focus is on serving the needs of the residents, the residents will be able to make the wise choice to decide who can best meet those needs," he added.
He is also an NSman who is currently the Commanding Officer of a Combat Service Support Battalion, and that he was the top graduate of the 10th National Service Command Staff Course in 2009 and the Singapore Armed Forces Command and Staff College.
Political parties are expected to submit their candidates for nomination on Wednesday, 16 January, and the polls will be held on 26 January if more than one candidate qualifies to run.
The Punggol East seat was left vacant after MP Michael Palmer stepped down due to an extra-marital affair last month.
Pasir Ris-Punggol MP, Teo Ser Luck, has been standing in as caretaker MP in recent weeks.
The single-seat constituency is expected to be hotly contested with as many as five parties -- including the Workers' Party, Singapore Democratic Party, the Singapore Democratic Alliance and even the Reform Party -- expressing interest in contesting the by-election in recent weeks.
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