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Tharman a ‘great MP’ who will be missed, say Jurong GRC residents

Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam handing out groceries to families at Taman Jurong Community Club in September 2020, as part of an initiative to support single parents struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Mr Sundararajan Palani has owned a small minimart at Taman Jurong Shopping Centre for the past 14 years.

About a decade ago, he met Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam for the first time during one of the MP’s visits to the building. He and other shopkeepers mentioned the poor and unusable condition of the public toilets in the shopping centre, which was opened in 1995 and has about 60 stores.

Renovation work on the toilets started within a month, said Mr Sundararajan, 48.

He noted: “No major works were done on the toilets during my first four years here, but Mr Tharman took immediate action and the toilets were improved greatly.”

Like many of the 50 residents who spoke to The Straits Times on Thursday, he said Mr Tharman has been a “great MP” for the people of Taman Jurong.

Mr Sundararajan described him as a genuine and compassionate MP who gets things done promptly.

“Mr Tharman running for presidency is a big loss to the constituency but a great gain for the country,” he added.

Mr Tharman, 66, announced on Thursday that he will step down from his political appointments and run for presidency in the upcoming election, which must be called by the end of President Halimah Yacob’s term on Sept 13.

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Many residents in the nearly 40,000-strong Taman Jurong ward had stories of how Mr Tharman had helped them, sometimes without being asked.

Mr Tharman has been the MP of Taman Jurong since the start of his political career in 2001. He is the anchor minister of the five-member Jurong GRC.

A Taman Jurong Residents’ Committee (RC) member, Madam Lee Lian Peng, recalled how the Senior Minister visited her in her flat when her husband had a stroke five years ago. 

She was thankful and touched that he lent an ear and reassured her they would receive the necessary support from the RC.

Madam Lee, 76, said she had met him many times at grassroots events, and he was always kind and approachable. 

She said: “I’ll miss his presence around the neighbourhood.”

Another resident, accounting professional Mabelline Ong, recalled how Mr Tharman had visited her friend’s family of five in the hospital after their home caught fire. He provided help with the refurbishing works of the flat by arranging for subsidised repainting, some new furniture and National Trade Union Congress vouchers.

He also assisted in arranging an interim rental flat for them to stay in while their home was being refurbished.

In his 22-year political career, Mr Tharman has held key positions such as Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Minister for Education, Minister for Finance, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Social Policies and Senior Minister.

Jurong GRC MPs Rahayu Mahzam and Xie Yao Quan also paid tribute to Mr Tharman in Facebook posts.

Ms Rahayu said Mr Tharman was “kind, compassionate, highly intelligent and sharp, yet always humble.” 

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In his post, Mr Xie said: “SM Tharman has been a towering figure in Jurong GRC for 22 years.”

He acknowledged that residents were understandably concerned about their highly respected MP stepping down from his role. 

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Any successor to Mr Tharman will have big shoes to fill, said Mr Abdul Alif, a 31-year-old warehouse operator who has lived in Taman Jurong his whole life.

Mr Alif said he often attended the Meet-the-People sessions with Mr Tharman to get help for his family, especially with his children’s education. 

“He always responds quickly to my problems and has helped me many times,” he said.

Another resident, a 25-year-old systems engineer who wanted to be known only as Axel, said the Jurong-Clementi Town Council has been efficient under Mr Tharman’s charge and hopes his replacement will be similarly effective.

Friends and family all feel that Mr Tharman would make a good president, he added, a sentiment echoed by other Jurong GRC residents.  

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Madam Thanalakshmi, 71, a 25-year resident of Bukit Batok East, said: “He has been a great role model for the youth in Jurong GRC by regularly interacting with the community. If he becomes president, I hope he continues to inspire more youth to be active citizens.”  

Mr Francis Chea, 39, a Clementi resident who works in the legal field, feels the same. 

“On the international stage, Mr Tharman has proven to be a man of great credentials. This is a long-awaited move from him after the years he has served in Jurong GRC.”