Living under the spotlight

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MP Lee Li Lian outside Punggol East Town Council

SINGAPORE - If there was one regret veteran politician Cynthia Phua, 55, had from her 10 years as a public figure, it would be that her late father had to wait till the end of the Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS) just to see her.

"He would turn up at the MPS, wait till it ended after midnight, just to chat with me," said the former Member of Parliament (MP) for Aljunied GRC.

It was only when Madam Phua stepped down two years ago that she managed to spend time and take care of her ailing father.

The former mechanic died in March last year from stomach cancer.

Madam Phua is not alone in having to grapple with the demands of being in the public eye, serving residents and being with loved ones.

And it can take its toll.

Opposition politician Nicole Seah has been a casualty. She bared her soul through a recent Facebook post about her struggles and self-doubt after being propelled into the spotlight at the 2011 General Election. She wrote that she has been used for her public profile by others, faced rape threats and death threats, lost two jobs and contracted dengue fever.

These issues were part of a "meltdown" that put her in and out of hospital.

Social media, especially, tends to put public figures under scrutiny - US President Barack Obama's selfie with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt at a recent memorial for late South African leader Nelson Mandela drew flak for making light of a sombre event. Punggol East MP Lee Li Lian seems to be holding up well to such pressure.

But even she has her moments of doubt. Since taking over the Punggol East seat after winning the by-election in January, Ms Lee, 35, has dedicated most of her time to her ward.

"The most challenging issue for me (during these months) was managing people's expectations and also trying to resolve some of the pertinent issues in Punggol East," she told The New Paper.

These include the acute shortage of childcare centres, food establishments and bus services for Rivervale Crescent.

She is impatient for change. But she is also realistic. "I understand that changes cannot occur overnight," she said.

Knowing she has half a term left before the next general election (GE), Ms Lee began her house visits shortly after the by-election, hoping to complete all 135 blocks by the next GE.

She admitted there were times she had wanted "to do much more".

"But I would also need to think about the volunteers. They need a break too," she said.

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