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Meet the 'son of Punggol'

Surgeon Koh Poh Koon introduced as PAP's man for Punggol East single seat. -TNP
Koh Mui Theng and Judith Tan

Sun, Jan 13, 2013
The New Paper

Colorectal surgeon Dr Koh Poh Koon, People's Action Party (PAP) candidate for the upcoming by-election for Punggol East Single Member Constituency (SMC), shaking hands with a resident during a visit to Rivervale Plaza. The by-election will be held on 26 January 2013.

SINGAPORE - Until three weeks ago, Dr Koh Poh Koon wasn't even a member of the People's Action Party (PAP).

But he has been doing volunteer grassroots work at Telok Blangah since 2002 and has had the obligatory "tea session" with party bigwigs to assess his suitability as a candidate.

Dr Koh, 40, was to have been introduced as a candidate only at the next General Election (GE).

But the scandal last month involving Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer changed all that.

On Thursday, the colorectal surgeon was introduced as the party's man for the Punggol East single seat after MrPalmer's resignation on Dec 12.

At Thursday's press conference, Deputy Prime Minister and PAP first assistant secretary-general Teo Chee Hean said the ruling party had originally intended to field Dr Koh as one of its candidates for the next GE.

After considering several candidates, the party picked Dr Koh as the best choice.

"He has the commitment and energy to look after Punggol East well. With his experience and perspective, he will be able to contribute insights to national politics," Mr Teo said.

Dr Koh, a father of two girls, said he felt "duty-bound to stand and be counted". He said as a doctor, he can help one patient at a time. But a parliamentarian has opportunities to shape policies and impact a wider section of society.

Added Dr Koh: "It's my way of giving back... and creating opportunities for Singaporeans to benefit from the system, just like I have."

The son of a bus driver and a housewife, Dr Koh calls himself "kaki lang" (one of us in Teochew) and a "son of Punggol".

Punggol-born and bred, Dr Koh said he has many fond memories of his childhood in the north-eastern enclave.

He grew up in a farmhouse at Lorong Cheng Lim. The eldest of five children spent his early years playing in rubber plantations, pigsties and chicken coops before the family moved to a Toa Payoh four-room flat.

His father used to drive Trans-Island bus service number 82, where the route terminated at Punggol Point.

After his Saturday canoeing sessions, the young Dr Koh would have his meals at Choon Seng restaurant, a seafood zi char place at Punggol end jetty famed for its chilli crabs and mee goreng.

Home now is a Telok Blangah flat, which he bought and renovated with a loan from his uncle. Of his return to familiar turf, Dr Koh said: "Punggol has always occupied a special place in my heart with special memories.

"The fact that there are so many Teochews in Punggol itself kind of makes us like 'Teochew lang, kaki lang' (Teochew people, one of us).

"Coming back to Punggol East is a bit like coming home to me."

Dr Koh was first spotted with Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck at a Punggol East Meet-the-People Session on Tuesday night.

He was one of four surgeons trained in colorectal surgery who forged a partnership with Fortis Healthcare to set up the $70 million hospital.

His mentor and fellow partner at Fortis Healthcare, Dr Francis Seow-Choen, called Dr Koh "a caring doctor (who is also) a good thinking surgeon and very much into the nuts and bolts of things".

Of Dr Koh's decision to contest, Dr Seow-Choen added: "Poh Koon has his work and career and his aims and visions.

"If being an MP is part of it, or perhaps he is aiming for something even further up, I would wish him all my best and we would, as friends and partners, also try our best to help him as much as we can."

Fluent in English, Mandarin and Teochew, Dr Koh is banking on the connections he'll forge with young families and residents.

HDB heartlander

He said: "As an HDB heartlander myself, I can readily identify with many of the issues and daily struggles faced by Singaporeans.

"I want to make our community a better place to live in and to create opportunities for a better future."

That includes highlighting issues like childcare facilities and transport overcrowding when pertinent.

Of talk about a multi-cornered fight emerging, Dr Koh said: "My aim has always been to serve the needs of the residents first... The residents will be able to make that wise choice to decide who can best meet those needs.

"So it does not matter how many cornered fights there will be."

He said his campaign strategy is simple. "Focus on the needs of the residents."

Crediting Singapore's meritocratic system for his success, he said: "I want to help create the same opportunities for all Singaporeans to realise their fullest potential."

DPM Teo apologised to Punggol East residents for "putting you through a by-election".

He added: "We promise that we will continue to look after the residents of Punggol East and we want to fulfil this promise.

"So we have chosen carefully a good candidate, with roots here in Punggol, an HDB heartlander who can understand your problems.

"A person with young children, like you, who can empathise with the issues that you are facing."

Bio-data

Dr Koh Poh Koon, 40

- Eldest of five children.
- Wife, 40, is a doctor specialising in stomach and digestion.
- Two daughters, aged four and nine.
- Went to MacRitchie Primary School, Maris Stella High School, Hwa Chong Junior College.
- Studied medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
- Obtained fellowship from The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and Academy of Medicine in Singapore.
- Received two years' advanced training in the UK and US.
- Spent 14 years in SGH's colorectal surgery department.
- Set up practice at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.
- Part-time consultant at Changi General Hospital.
- Adjunct assistant professor at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School.
- Clinical lecturer at NUS' Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.
- Guards officer, currently commanding officer of a combat service support battalion.
- Resident's Committee executive member since 2002.

Punggol East SMC by-election
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: ST, Razor, Zaobao)


tnp@sph.com.sg


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