Dr Koh Poh Koon made an impassioned speech to a crowd of about 500, including his two daughters and wife, at his maiden political rally on Friday night at an open field in Rivervale Crescent.
The People’s Action Party candidate for the by-election in Punggol East, who spoke in Mandarin and Malay as well, got the crowd cheering when he started his speech with a reference to the intermittent light-to-heavy drizzle during the rally.
“You have turned the rain into showers of blessing,” he said in the first political rally of the by-election since campaigning began on Wednesday.
The colorectal surgeon, 40, quickly turned his attention to his main points: that he can connect with residents as well as struggling families and that he plans to help improve infrastructure and facilities in the single-member constituency.
More importantly, he said he understood how vital it was to have a system which helps to break the cycle for those in need of financial help.
Citing a story from his childhood days, Koh said there were times when his family did not have a stable income.
“I know what it is like, when all we could afford for a family of seven was a single kuning fish and some porridge. My mom will strip the fish bare of all the flesh, mash it up, mix it in the porridge… and that’s all we get for a meal.
“For her, she will just take the bare bones, the head and the tail because she believed in giving and saving the rest for us. There were times when we could not even afford this," he said to a mixed crowd of people in their 20s and 30s and more elderly folk.
"And those were the days when a tin of biscuits given by my uncle will be the ration for the family for a couple of weeks,” he told the crowd, while adding that he wasn’t relating this to raise eyebrows or create headlines.
Connecting his story to the point that families today can still get stuck in a rut, Koh said systems need to be put in place to give them the leg up and that there always was a solution if one was willing to work hard.
His success story was due to the opportunities society had provided, he said.
Reiterating that it’s important to not just help people but to implement policies that enable the downtrodden to stand up on their own feet, the PAP candidate used an old saying, “You give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
If elected, he said he will be the residents’ voice in parliament and bring up important issues.
“I will push for more help for our fellow citizens in need, the poor, the vulnerable and especially the elderly... and practical issues that families face, on education, childcare and cost of living. I will do all I can to push for more policies to help more individuals and families to stand on their own two feet,” he said.
The 40-year-old seamlessly connected the stories of hope, his family’s struggles and his belief that action must be taken to improve lives.
“Hope, family and action. These three words have shaped me and made me the person today and I humbly offer myself to be at your service as your MP,” he declared.
Koh said that among the many improvements for the ward he would push for would be more childcare centres, a job placement centre and possibly more coffeeshops.
He added that he would also seek quicker implementation of dual-carriage LRTs as well as work with the transport ministry to provide additional feeder bus services in relevant areas.
“To do all this, I will need all of you to be behind me… with your support we can make Punggol East a home with a heart,” he said.
Other speakers at the rally included Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, Senior Minister of State ( Law and Education) Indranee Rajah and Parliamentary Secretary (Health and Transport) Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim. Four party activists also spoke and gave testimonials on Koh.
Koh, one of four candidates contesting the ward, is expected to hold another rally, but no details have been released yet.
The Worker's Party candidate, Lee Li Lian, will hold her rally on Saturday night at 7pm at the same venue.