Overcoming heckles to become beloved MP: Tin Pei Ling on building & maintaining trust with residents


Member of Parliament Tin Pei Ling was bubbly despite being slightly under the weather when she met the Petir.sg team (it wasn’t Covid-19, she assured us).

This easygoing, sunny disposition has become a very visible trademark of the MacPherson SMC MP today; much of the content on her social media pages feature that wide smile and easy, heartfelt connection with her constituents.

It’s a far cry from the Tin Pei Ling of 2011 who, subjected to a rocky start in politics, chose to keep out of the spotlight and focus on working the ground.

Through that difficult time, she held fast to one piece of advice, courtesy of a former boss: Keep your head down and do the work.

“This is how I interpreted it,” she said to Petir.sg.  “Words may hurt, but in the end, it’s the actions, it’s what you do — the results that come out of what you do — that matter.”

“So don’t engage in all those quibbles. Don’t engage in those petty squabbles for example. Or wallow in self pity. In the end it is about actually doing the work, walking the ground.

And I think looking back, I thought [the advice] was very wise.”

“In the end, it’s the actions, it’s what you do—the results that come out of what you do—that matter.”

Rapport and trust not a guarantee

It was wise advice indeed because MP Tin has the results to show for it.

In 2015, when the Party fielded her in MacPherson SMC for the first time, she won 65.58 per cent of the vote. And in the 2020 General Election, she defended her seat with 71.74 per cent of the vote.

Clearly, the constituents of MacPherson SMC trust her, and it’s a trust that she does not take lightly.

“To me, to be an elected MP is a very sacred duty, it’s a very sacred responsibility that is upon my shoulder,” she explained. “So it is therefore important that me and my team work very hard, try our best to serve.”

She is also acutely aware of the fact that this rapport and trust she has established with her residents is not a guarantee.

“The so-called good results today can always be very easily lost the next day, if we are complacent. And so complacency must never take root.”

Engaging with residents in the small things

Aside from that, perhaps what makes MP Tin so effective is her approach to serving her residents.

It doesn’t always have to be about big issues like requesting a covered walkway or solving some traffic problems.

Many times, connecting with a resident means being there to listen to the small things, like their day at the market, or what they’re excited about. Such small encounters inform her work in and outside Parliament.

Building that trust was “a bit more challenging” at the start when she was a new face to MacPherson residents in 2011, she said with a chuckle. Residents wondered if a young woman in her twenties could understand their struggles.

It took plenty of time and effort to establish that rapport with her constituents, and today, she features them regularly on her social media pages.

Like “Aunty” here who is always warm and supportive of community events:

Or Mdm Tan and Mr Paliappan who have bridged the cultural divide to become close neighbours:

Today, MP Tin’s mind is occupied by another problem — albeit a happier one — how to maintain good relationships with her residents, and meet their expectations, managing what she calls the “mini disappointments” that arise when she and her team are unable to solve an issue fast enough or come up with a solution that is satisfactory.

Here, she interjected to add that she has been very fortunate to have both a good team to assist her in her MP duties as well as big-hearted residents who voted for her and gave her the opportunity to serve.

And yet, while it’s a very precious opportunity, it also instils in her a tiny bit of apprehension.

“Because it’s so precious, I start to get very worried, [thinking to myself that] I must work even harder to try to protect this. And then I will start to wonder, ‘Is there anything that I’m not doing enough? What if I have done my best already, and I still can’t quite solve that problem?’”

Heckled on Polling Day

MP Tin readily shared with Petir.sg one such incident that happened way back in 2011 when she was first fielded. On Polling Day, she was outside a polling station when she was heckled by two older persons.

“They were like saying, ‘I don’t know what to say! I don’t know what to say!’ But it was quite obvious that they were trying to taunt me a bit,” the MP recounted.

Subsequently, when she came across their unit during a block visit, they scolded her and shouted, “You’re the worst MP!”

As a new MP, that encounter left her shell-shocked, of course.

But years on, MP Tin views such “not-so-nice moments” as part and parcel of engaging her residents. After all, MPs are here to serve all residents, even those who show little affection.

“And so from that perspective, of course, there will be moments where it’s not so warm, and it’s useful to remind ourselves why we are here,” she added.

It also helps to exercise empathy and understand why the person is acting in such a way.

“From that person’s perspective, then there could have been life events that had led the person to become like that.”

And then there are the tender moments that prove to MP Tin that she and her team are on the right track.

Recently, an uncle came to her Meet-The-People Session and waited for a few hours just to tell her that the appeal she made on his behalf was successful. 

That gesture touched MP Tin, but it was the subsequent sharing, when Uncle bravely opened up about his family’s plight and a major health scare involving a family member, that moved her.

“These are moments which give me a certain affirmation. It tells me that he trusts me enough and I feel that therefore, it’s worth continuing.”

Capturing attention and imagination

Having been an MP for more than a decade, what is one thing that MP Tin thinks the Party can improve on?

She has the answer right off the bat —it’s the Party’s communications—although it comes with some qualifiers:

“Actually, the Party’s communications have improved a lot. But I don’t know why somehow we just don’t capture attention and imagination as ideally as the Opposition does it.”

It’s not an issue of competence either. Maybe it’s because of the Party’s position as the incumbent, she mused.

Also, as a “multi-issue” government which tries to solve multiple things at once, it’s hard to have a “single, clear, distinct key message”, MP Tin observed.

Invariably, it results in a wave of communications that overwhelms even internal party members.

“So I don’t have a solution,” she concluded. “I hesitate to say that it’s something that needs to be improved because the nature of being the incumbent is that you will have to do all of these things.”

As we rounded up our chat, MP Tin shared with us about a MacPherson resident who treats her as his god-daughter.

This uncle always has a word of encouragement for her and regularly brings the most random but heartfelt gifts — Chinese calendars, shampoo and bath gels, and pineapples — for MP Tin and her volunteers.

He has no appeal and no issue that requires her help, but regularly turns up at her Meet-The-People Sessions to pass her the gifts — his way of showing that he cares.

It’s one of the sweetest things that a MacPerson resident has ever done for her, according to MP Tin, once again showing the appeal that she has among her constituents.

Well, we’re pretty sure that at the rate she’s going, this won’t be the only heartfelt anecdote coming out of MacPherson SMC.

Editor’s note: MP Tin has been hard at work too on improving the Maintenance of Parents Act (MPA) 1995 for Singaporeans old and young. These amendments, led by MP Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) will improve financial protection for aged parents as well as their children.

MPs Seah and Tin worked on these amendments to the MPA alongside PAP MPs from all over Singapore — Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok SMC), Mohd Fahmi Bin Aliman (Marine Parade GRC), Ng Ling Ling (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC), Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC), Carrie Tan (Nee Soon GRC) and Melvin Yong (Radin Mas SMC).

Look for Petir.sg in early July when we publish breaking coverage from Parliament of this PAP initiative for protecting Singapore’s seniors from financial abuse.