I have taken the trouble to attend a seminar in Hong Kong which explains to potential young candidates what is Rhodes scholarship is all about. All we know it is a "Prestigious" scholarship but what exactly make it prestigious? According to the presentation, there are very limited places for Rhodes scholarship allocated according to different regions or countries. They are looking not only for students who are exceptionally good in their studies but also students who have a dream or aspiration to be the future LEADERS in their countries and fields of their work.
Yes, it is an ELITIST scholarship in every sense where students are expected to be leaders of the world. This actually makes CSM stands out because it means that he is not only bright but also has aspiration to be "leader" and this explains why he has chosen to give up his legal practice to become opposition MP. The most important thing is, although he has gone through such elitist scholarship program, he is able to maintain that humility and humble self in him!
The most striking qualities of CSM are not his "scholar" credentials but rather his personal charisma derived from his humility. He has always been seen as a humble person who cares, particularly towards the elderly. He is also seen taking public transport and going to the wet market near his house very often.
However, apart from that, there has been much criticisms of his "performance" in parliament. His maiden speech on "Weizheng" (魏征) was generally well received (I do not really agree though) but the subsequent performance in parliament was considered by many as disappointing. This is especially so when it involves the cut and thrust of "debating". I thought my own assessment may be somewhat "bias" initially but this assessment comes not only from other political observers, commentators and PAP, but also from many hardcore opposition supporters whom I have spoken to as well.
But on second thought, I believe CSM might be constrained by WP's Party Whip in his parliamentary speeches. He may also be limited by the fact that he has been away from Singapore for far too long that he may not really understand local policies well enough to be effective in his parliamentary speeches and debates. I hope that he can overcome this inevitable shortcomings due to his background, very quickly.
As far as I know, CSM has given up his lucrative legal practice in US and Beijing as corporate lawyer to focus and concentrate in Singapore opposition politics as FULL TIME MP. If he doesn't have the spirit of public service, he won't have done that. However, the strange thing is that he wasn't appointed to any important position in the party nor the Town Council. This is really puzzling to me because by right, he should have the abilities, capabilities, time and intelligence to do more than just an ordinary MP. Isn't WP not fully utilizing his talents? Or that the leaders of WP do not think highly of CSM's capabilities at all? Or that CSM really lacks talent in management skills to contribute to his party and Town Council?
I decided to pay CSM a visit during one of his Meet the People Session to clarify all these doubts in my mind. I have long heard about the "uniqueness" of his MPS but it is always good to see for myself.
I didn't manage to talk to him during my visit because he was quite busy attending to his constituents' needs. But I was pretty impressed by the way he conducted his MPS. There are a few conclusions I have made from this little visit to CSM's MPS.
1) He has revolutionized the way MPS is being conducted, enhancing the processes by using the combination of technology and improvement on the human processes without compromising the important element of human touch. It just shows that he is able and willing to effect CHANGE when there is a need to, as long as it is within his control. His international corporate world exposures has allowed him to be more open and receptive to more creative methods of organizing processes. Hopefully this will add value to other aspects of political management and engagement.
2) The people who are helping him are very different from the past usual people I have seen in opposition MPS. These people are highly educated and I won't be surprised if there are high flyers, high caliber scholars or corporate individuals among them. It seems that CSM has a very unique and exceptional following which is very different from the rest. It is not easy to get people like them to help an opposition MP at all but CSM did it. It just demonstrates that his personal charisma is far beyond what I could perceive from the surface of Main Stream or Social Media.
In fact, there are many other signs that CSM has the exceptional charisma needed for political engagement. He has started the Lim-Kopi (Drink Coffee) sessions at HDB void decks and the turn out of residents has maintained as the highest among his party colleagues. PAP tried to emulate such Kopi Session but with little success so far.
Even an old welfare event like Free Hair Cut for the needy has become a greater success than those in other constituencies in the same GRC or Hougan, supported by well known celebrity in Singapore.
Of course, all these exceptional performances in grassroot activities are only restricted within his own constituency. But it just demonstrates that when given the chance and empowerment, CSM will be a top performer in carrying out his duties.
Thus I would say that it is really an unfortunate loss to Workers Party when it did not give him important appointments both in party level as well as Town Council management. I believe he could have effected better positive changes to the party as well as the Town Council management, which has suffered from various criticisms from the ground.
Party appointments are generally made by the Secretary General in Workers Party after the initial election of the Central Executive Committee by the cadres during the Ordinary Party Congress (OPC). The OPC will elect both the Chairman and Secretary General, as well as other CEC members. The other positions are then appointed during the first CEC meeting after the OPC. There could be more than one nomination of candidates for different party positions like Organizing Secretary, Treasurer, Vice Chairman etc, but normally there is hardly any contest for such positions.
It seems to me that for some strange reasons, CSM has been unreasonably sidelined all this while; i.e. if it is not by his own choice not to hold any important position either in the party or Town Council. Most probably it is not in WP's interests to continue to "under utilize" his talents as this will hinder WP's progress in every sense.
I was told that the next OPC for WP will be held at the end of this month, 27 July 2014. I hope that such situation will change for the better. After all, Chen Show Mao is deemed as one of the most important and brightest star and talent in WP and opposition politics as a whole. His talent and charisma should be put to good use instead of being sidelined. I believe that CSM will be able to bring in the X factor to improve WP if he is really given the chance to do so.
Well, on top of that, if CSM could improve his speeches and debate performance in parliament, that would be definitely be perfect. Such oratory skills aren't that difficult to pick up while charisma is something you can't "learn" that easily.
In light of the rapid deterioration of PAP's support base we are witnessing now, we really need opposition parties like WP to enhance its growth and development quickly so that any additional seats won by opposition parties will be in better hands.
I bet if CSM is given the appropriate leadership position, his following of good or even top caliber people will get even more involved in the party's development and thus, enhancing WP further. This is one of the most important factor in this critical moment of political development for Singapore.
Goh Meng Seng