From ‘I’m not seeking sympathy: Koh’, 14 Jan 2013, article by Amanda Lee, Today online
Sharing his hard-knock story was aimed at getting residents to understand him better and “not about garnering sympathy votes“, said Dr Koh Poh Koon, the People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate for the Punggol East by-election.
…At his introduction as a PAP candidate last week, Dr Koh shared how he was born to a bus driver, did odd jobs to help support his family of seven and studied medicine on a student loan. When he and his doctor wife bought their Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat in 1998, they had to borrow money from a relative and were left with just S$11.50 in their bank account.
This led to some criticism that Dr Koh was “milking for sympathy votes“. Asked about this yesterday, he said: “It’s inevitable that people will think that way. But the way I look at it is that there is no better way for people to know me without understanding where I come from, where I started, because this is me.“
‘THIS IS ME’ happens to be Dr Koh’s campaign message, a slogan that pitches down-to-earth openness and honesty, but is also a statement embraced by people asserting their identity in the face of prejudice, like transgenders or homosexuals for example. ‘This is Me’ is about being ‘true to yourself’ no matter what others say, even if it means walking down Orchard Road in bikini and jeans like Ris Low. As with any election candidate one should reserve a tinge of healthy skepticism when he delivers a moving rag-to-riches story as his selling point. Humility is a virtue that should be in every politician’s toolkit when appealing to the ‘everyman’, but one also shouldn’t brag about ‘hard-knocks’ childhood poverty like it’s a major career achievement in your CV before it cuts too close to the plot of Slumdog Millionaire.
If taken at face value, Koh’s story of triumph over adversity and making it big as a surgeon despite being a humble ‘kampung’ boy is somewhat admirable, but it’s unlikely that anyone would ‘sympathise’ because that’s all in the past. What matters is you have a HDB flat now, a car each for yourself and your wife, and in the noble and lucrative business of fixing people’s intestines. Nobody’s going to vote you in out of sympathy even if your daddy kicked you out on the streets to make a living selling fish hooks handcrafted out of discarded paper clips. Besides, nobody knows for certain if you’re not merely exaggerating your personal history, especially if you’re an unfamiliar face. It’s what you can do for us, NOW, that makes the difference between voting you in vs the more experienced guys in the blue, red and yellow shirts contesting for Punggol East.
A sympathy vote is usually cast when a recent event, usually a misfortune, is witnessed leading up to elections, because people generally tend to forget or ignore what happened to you years before. If your wife left you because of your commitments in ‘pounding the streets’, I may give you a chance because you paid the ultimate price for serving the country. If you said ‘sorry’ for letting the nation down just before polling, I may be swayed by your earnestness. If you severed your arm rescuing a kitten during a walkabout I may vote you in without even thinking. But telling me about how you once had less than $12 in your bank account doesn’t do it for me, because it’s not a sacrifice or a heavy cost that has anything to do with your passion for politics. Still, if all else fails you could resort to CRYING on stage and national TV. This is how you do it:
So, son of Punggol, you don’t have to worry about sympathy votes because you’re not getting any from me (if I were a Punggol voter). But that’s just ME.