Translated by Donaldson Tan
This is a non-verbatim translation of Zaobao report 《’他打开了我政治的窗口’——罗文丽谈詹时中》 dated 7 April 2011.
(2011-04-07)● 游润恬 报道
“He opened my window to politics” – Lina Luo
7 April 2011. Yew Lun Tian reports
When Lina Luo was 16-year-old, Chiam See Tong presented her a carnation flower to commemorate Valentine’s Day. She was elated but Chiam See Tong turned out to be a wet blanket. “I bought this flower because I sympathised the elderly flower seller,” he told her.
“At that time, I thought he was stingy, but later I learned he is a very thrifty person. He developed this virtue after experiencing 2 world wars and extreme poverty,” Lina Luo told Zaobao. Lina Luo is the wife of Chiam See Tong, Secretary-General of the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) and Member of Parliament (MP) for Potong Pasir.
It is rumoured for many years in the Opposition circle that Chiam See Tong “sees the penny coin bigger than a car tyre.” Even his long-time follower cum SPP Chairman Sin Kek Tong complained last year that Chiam See Tong, being a SPP MP, underpaid his dues to the party’s coffers.
Although the SPP Constitution stipulates that each SPP MP must contribute 10% of his parliamentary allowance to the party fund, Chiam See Tong pays $500 a month to the party.
Lina Luo: Not eyeing double MP allowance
In an exclusive interview, Lina Luo (62 year-old) told Zaobao, “Although he pays SPP $500 a month, he has made significant contributions on other fronts. For example, when SPP was in legal dispute with the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) years ago, Chiam See Tong acted in the capacity of the party’s lawyer and absorbed the legal fees, which were in the magnitude of tens of thousands of dollars.”
There are rumours saying that Mr & Mrs Chiam eyeing double MP allowance is the main motivation for Chiam See Tong to lead a team to contest a GRC, while Lina Luo can comfortably inherit the stewardship of Potong Pasir from her husband. She protested at the accusation, emphasising that it is in fact a huge sacrifice by her husband to contest a GRC.
“Chiam See Tong has to walk out of his political stronghold at Potong Pasir and contest in unfamiliar territory. He is doing this as a bid to expand Opposition presence in Parliament,” she said.
In his game plan, even if his GRC team looses at the General Election, there is good chance that his team members can become NCMPs. Having been an elected MP, he has no intention to enter Parliament via back-door by becoming a NCMP himself.
If Mr & Mrs Chiam were defeated at the polls, would both of them retire from politics? Lina Loh said, “No. I will remain, working hard to grow the party.”
Her vision for electoral politics is that all the opposition parties will either merge or form a major alliance.
“Everyone’s view is different. I hope through enhanced understanding, we can develop a common view and become a louder and more effective voice,” she said.
It all started at Karl Marx’s grave 40 years ago
Lina Luo plans to host more dialogues to engage youths and to attract them to join Opposition politics.
She is not the same lady who accompanied her husband canvassing for votes 35 years ago. Today, she is a political figure who is learning the ropes from Chiam See Tong on how to provide political leadership.
For over 30 years, she has never accepted any media interview. However, this time, she shares with Zaobao on how Chiam See Tong entered her life and opened her window to politics.
Their love story begun in London during the 1970s. It was winter when Chiam See Tong first first met Lina Luo at a Chinese New Year celebration ball organised by the Singapore-Malaysia Student Association. Her porcelain white skin and red dress caught his attention. He invited her for a dance and asked for her telephone number.
At that time, Chiam See Tong was studying law in London. He was a son of a Teochew merchant and previously studied science at university. He taught at Cedar Girl’s School for 8 years before embarking on legal study in London. 14 years his junior, Lina Luo was a ‘Kampong Girl’ who grew up in Kuala Lumpur. She was in London on a 3-year nursing program.
“I was shocked that he brought me to Karl Marx’s grave during our first date. I had no idea who Karl Marx was at that time. Chiam See Tong later then told me Karl Max was the Father of Communism,” Lina Luo remembered fondly.
Chiam See Tong, being passionate about politics and history, brought Lina Luo along when he toured castles and visited war museums. She admitted she had no interest in politics and history in the past, but it was Chiam See Tong who brought her into his intellectual world.
He used to drive a red and white Volkswagen Beetle when he was in London. After both of them graduated, he decided that they would travel in this car from London to Singapore, via the English Channel, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and India. At India, they would take a ferry to Penang, then dropped her at her home in Kuala Lumpur before he returned to Singapore.
This three-month journey across two continents widened her horizons.
“We stumbled upon some local punks when we were lost in a Afghanistan desert. At first, I thought they were a threat. However, they turned out to be very friendly and helpful. They spent half a day helping us to find our way and even offered their homes should we can’t find any accommodation. I was moved by their kindness and compassion,” she said.
Lina Luo: Knowing Chiam See Tong transformed me
“I begin to be aware of the world beyond the nursing sphere, no longer like other nurses who only eat, cook and buy.”
Lina Luo not only became curious about new things, but also travelling became their common hobby.
Not long after both of them married in Singapore, Chiam See Tong begun the pursuit of his political career. Now that she has followed his footsteps, does she have his capabilities?
After being a nurse for a year in a local hospital, she started helping out at Chiam See Tong’s law firm. She believed that her working experience is relevant to being a MP.
“I was a nurse at the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. I was in charge of a ward which meant I had to oversee 40 babies every night. It was quite chaotic but the experience taught me to appreciate a step-by-step systematic approach.”
Her nursing training also cultivated her eye for details. For example, she would meticulously inspect the cleaners hired by the Potong Pasir Town Council and evaluate if they had carried out their work seriously.
“There was a time I spotted them using the leaf-blower to transfer leaves into the drains. This is unacceptable as it would facilitate the breeding of mosquitoes.”
She admitted that she had never studied political and economic theories but this should not disqualify her to be a MP.
“There are many issues that affect ordinary people, and these issues are not limited to democracy and economics.”
She added that among her friends are lawyers, doctors, statisticians and former civil servants who are willing to help her to write parliamentary speech and carry out policy research.
“While they have ideas, they lack political ambition so I can be a conduit for their ideas in Parliament. However, I would not blindly accept every idea.”
She is also no stranger to preparing parliamentary speeches. Due to his medical condition, Lina Luo assisted her husband to write parliamentary speeches for this year’s Budget debate.
She also accompanied Chiam See Tong when he was interviewed or assigned to attend international conferences in the capacity of a MP.
“I have my own set of political views. I don’t belong to the youth category too. As long as I am healthy, have confidence, empathy and sincerity, have the humbleness to accept criticism and the intention to serve the people, I am a good politician.”