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GE2020: Fielded in PAP’s Aljunied ‘suicide squad’, Alex Yeo wants only to serve

SINGAPORE — The People’s Action Party’s (PAP) new candidate for Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Alex Yeo, 41, is a man with a no-nonsense approach.

Mr Alex Yeo is part of a five-man People's Action Party team contesting Aljunied GRC.

Mr Alex Yeo is part of a five-man People's Action Party team contesting Aljunied GRC.

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  • Mr Yeo began volunteering in Potong Pasir in 2014, moved to Paya Lebar in 2017
  • He is a director at law firm Niru & Co, grassroots advisor and PAP branch chairman for Paya Lebar
  • If elected, he wants to champion better preschool education, community healthcare

 

SINGAPORE — The People’s Action Party’s (PAP) new candidate for Aljunied Group Representative Constituency (GRC) Alex Yeo, 41, is a man with a no-nonsense approach.

His hobbies are running with his wife at Punggol Park and reading. The last book he read is “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”.

There is an exactness in the way he greets residents: He hands a flyer, exchanges a few words, bows and heads to the next nearest resident.

When residents wave him off, he politely persists and places the flyer in their hands.

“Usually for most Singaporeans, if you try hard enough, you show sincerity, they will eventually warm up to you,” he told TODAY in an interview on Saturday (July 4) morning after a walkabout at Lorong Ah Soo Market.

On Polling Day this Friday, Mr Yeo will try to wrest the constituency from a heavyweight WP team that includes its chief Pritam Singh and chairman Sylvia Lim. WP has held Aljunied GRC since its historic win in 2011 that unseated two full ministers and a senior minister of state, with 54.7 per cent of the vote.

Mr Yeo’s five-member team, however, comprises candidates with no parliamentary experience and is the PAP’s only GRC team without an anchor minister at the helm.

Three of its current members — Mr Victor Lye, 57; Mr Chua Eng Leong, 49; and Mr Shamsul Kamar, 48 — were part of the Aljunied team in 2015 that was dubbed the “suicide squad” because it comprised four newcomers and former Aljunied GRC Member of Parliament (MP) Yeo Guat Kwang.

They gave a tough fight, losing with 49 per cent of the vote.

Mr Alex Yeo takes no heed of the “suicide squad” label.

“We stand by our track record,” he said.

“We can only try our very best… (serving) as we have done for the past nine years, three-and-a-half years for me. And we will continue doing it.”

The last member of the team contesting this GE is Ms Chan Hui Yuh, 44, who was set to be fielded in GE2015 but withdrew due to family commitments.

Mr Yeo believes it is the team’s quiet persistence that will eventually win residents over.

He recounted an incident in 2017 when a mother approached him for help. When Mr Yeo and his team of volunteers visited the home, the father, knowing they were from the PAP, shooed them away and told them not to return.

They returned two weeks later to check on the family. Why, this reporter asked.

“Because the initial problem she came to see us for, it wouldn’t have disappeared right?” Mr Yeo said. “So we came back and we helped, and now it's not like he's super friendly but he acknowledges us and we still continue to help the family.”

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NO POLITICAL AMBITION

Mr Yeo, a director at law firm Niro & Co, never had ambitions of joining politics. In fact, the former civil servant describes himself as camera shy and has an aversion to media interviews.

He was part of the debate team in Victoria School and Tampines Junior College. He entered the National University of Singapore in 2000 to study economics and political science, before heading to the University of Sydney for a second degree, this time in law.

He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a foreign service officer when he returned to Singapore.

It was there that he met his wife, Ms Priya Pillay, with whom he now has two children. They had both left the ministry after three years to start a family together and are now directors in the same firm.

The journey to his candidacy began around 2014 when he met Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, who was the MP for Potong Pasir, through his line of work. Mr Sitoh asked if he would help out at his constituency and Mr Yeo agreed, and together with his wife set up a legal clinic in Potong Pasir.

Two years later, Mr Yeo was asked to join the Aljunied team to fill the vacancy left by Mr Murali Pillai, who was elected MP for the Bukit Batok single-seat ward in the 2016 by-election. Mr Yeo was appointed PAP branch chairman for the Paya Lebar ward in 2017.

As to how he felt being fielded in an opposition-held ward, he said: “I chose to serve willingly, I will not think about the difficulties, or any barriers to me doing this.”

RIVALRY IN AN OPPOSITION-HELD WARD

Mr Yeo is also the Paya Lebar division’s grassroots adviser — a role which in a PAP-held ward is normally filled by the constituency’s MP.

Over the years, opposition MPs have complained that grassroots advisers are usurping the powers of MPs by, for example, presenting government bursaries to students or most recently heading the ward’s mask collection exercises.

Asked about this, Mr Yeo said: “They are two different worlds. One is what the political party is doing. Our grassroot is separate, so I don't think that should be conflated.”

People’s Association grassroots leaders are appointed by the government of the day to represent them in explaining policies to residents, he said.

“I see the role as very separate. We’re not there for any political purpose.”

There also seems to be a stronger sense of rivalry in opposition-held wards, even outside of election seasons.

Twice a month, while the incumbent WP holds their meet-the-people sessions, Mr Yeo holds what he calls “CaRES sessions” in his PAP branch office where he hears appeals and requests from residents.

Some, like 75-year-old retiree Mr Lin, who declined to give his full name, thinks it is beneficial for residents to be able to see both parties in the constituency often.

“In Aljunied, having the competition is good,” he said.

Mr Yeo said his team is only doing whatever they can to help residents and does not feel there is any rivalry.

“It’s not a competition over here,” he said. “Whichever resident approaches us, we just try our best to help.”

IF ELECTED...

Mr Yeo has two pet topics he wants to champion if elected as MP.

He hopes for less differentiation in the services provided in different preschools and wants to support the work done by the Ministry of Education Kindergarten to ensure all children have access to preschool.

He also wants to support the Government’s push towards community health so that Singapore’s ageing population can be better cared for.

Some of these issues can be worked out at the constituency level, he said, such as assisting families whose children are not attending preschool and organising mobile clinics to bring health checkups for seniors to the housing estate.

Ultimately, Mr Yeo wants to be elected to have more resources to expand the work he is currently doing in the community.

“We are just asking our residents to give us a chance, to represent and do more,” he said. “And if we are able to run a town council, we will have even more resources. And we think we can do better.”

Mr Yeo’s personal mantra is one he adopted from his mentor Mr Sitoh — Acting Beyond the Call of Duty, or the “ABCD spirit” as he calls it.

And it is this spirit that continues to drive Mr Yeo to serve in Aljunied.

Related topics

PAP Singapore General Election SGVotes2020 Alex Yeo

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