Yesterday, I attended the wake of long-time WP member, Mr Ng Ah Chwee. He had passed away on Tuesday at the age of 66 from heart failure due to complications from various ailments.
I first met Ah Chwee a few weeks after I started ground campaign in Joo Chiat for GE2011. I was then a newbie in the Party. Everyone in the Party was busy with their own campaigning. Ah Chwee had volunteered to help on my campaign. He had been the elections manager for Dr Tan Bin Seng in 2006, who had also contested in Joo Chiat SMC.
Ah Chwee was already in poor health when I met him, having been diagnosed with diabetes and kidney problems not long before then. Yet he insisted on helping whenever he could, when he was less unwell. Along the way, I found out that Ah Chwee had been a long-time member of the Barisan Sosialis, which he joined after leaving secondary school in the 1960s. He would have worked alongside Lim Chin Siong and company. I later heard he helped as a volunteer for JBJ in the 1980s. When Barisan Sosialis merged with The Workers’ Party, Ah Chwee became a WP member. He became the Organising Secretary of WP from 1992 to 2006, during what would have been difficult years for the Party. The Organising Secretary plays a key role in a political party, often directing campaigning activities and logistics before and during elections. He stepped down in from the Party’s Central Executive Committee in 2006 in an exercise that saw many young members take over the Party’s leadership.
What struck me about Ah Chwee was his keen desire to help despite his failing health. He had decades of political experience yet he did not impose any of his views on me. He would share with me what he had done during the 2006 GE campaign when he was Elections Manager for Joo Chiat SMC. I would listen and decide what I could use, but I would run the campaign the way I was comfortable with. Ah Chwee was happy just to come along, introduce me to residents and then step aside for me to interact with them.
Once, on a gruelling campaign visit at Villa Marina in Siglap, we had to cover 28 blocks of walk-up apartments on a hot Saturday afternoon. Ah Chwee insisted on coming along. After completing a few blocks, he struggled to keep pace. He slipped and fell and we arranged for him to take a cab home. A few days later, he would come back again to join on the campaign trail.
Post GE, I met Ah Chwee often at Party events, at by-election rallies and at the weekly Hammer Sales. Sometimes he would show up at various Meet-the-People sessions. He came whenever his health permitted him to. He came not to interfere in anyway. He would offer help and assisted when help was needed. When help was not needed, he would cheer the rest on.
I recall at a Members’ event, some veteran Party members said that they felt left out by the changes that have been taking place. Ah Chwee stepped forward and told them that they should just come for events and make themselves useful; and if they were not needed, they can be happy that the Party is progressing. Ah Chwee certainly lived by example, doing as he had said. He made himself useful during my GE campaign despite his poor health and did not try to impose his views on anyone. He was happy to let me do what I thought was best.
Whenever I look at veteran opposition warriors like Ah Chwee, I try to imagine what politics was like in their times; the turbulent 1960s, the barren 1970s, the moments of breakthrough and struggles in the 1980s, the ups and downs of the 1990s and the renewal from the 2000s. Ah Chwee lived through all that. He once used a Chinese proverb, “长江后浪推前浪” to tell me why it was necessary that new people like us came forward. The phrase translated means that from the back, the new waves of the mighty Yangtze river pushes the earlier waves forward. It means that the new will come forward to take over from the old. That’s the only way progress can be made. One day in the future, like Ah Chwee, I hope I will be able to use this phrase on a new batch of younger people who can continue on the progress that have been made.
Farewell my friend and comrade. Rest in peace.