STAYERS OR QUITTERS? PM’s poser gets people pondering

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AUGUST 20, 2002

PM's poser gets people pondering

ST polls almost 100 Singaporeans and finds older, established professionals generally more vocal in declaring their ties to nation

IT WAS a stark choice that Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong put to Singaporeans on Sunday night: Are you a quitter or a stayer?

When the chips are down, would you stay to fight for the nation or take flight at the first sign of a bit of trouble?

For some, the answer was crystal clear. As tour leader Zubaida Mohammad Salleh, 52, put it: 'Why should I run elsewhere? I'm a Singaporean. My family are all here and even though I've travelled to many places, I've never thought of living elsewhere.'

Undergraduate Mervyn Sek, 23, agreed. 'Quitting has never crossed my mind. This is home, where you grew up, where you establish your first friendships, your first relationships.

'I don't believe you cannot establish yourself well in Singapore. It's just a matter of putting in a bit more effort, a bit more heart and relying on your friends and family to pull through tough times.'

Among the almost 100 Singaporeans who responded to this question, either through interviews or via the Straits Times Interactive website, older, established professionals were generally more vocal in their support of the nation.

Mr Ron Chandran-Dudley, 68, president of the Disabled People's Association, said he and his British wife, Rena, were here by choice: 'Perhaps it's the familiarity of the people and places, but this is home and we will not leave.'

Dr Shirley Lim, president of Research Communication International, 53, said that depite her many travels overseas, she still returned to her 'anchor' as she felt a very strong sense of connection to the community here.

But for many others, the issue was not so clear-cut.

Among the reasons that might cause people to consider leaving: their children's education, more opportunities elsewhere, and a sense that this was not where they wanted to live.

Mrs Jessie Wee, 33, a human resource consultant, said that she would leave if her child could not deal with her second language. 'I want the best for her. Family comes first, and if it comes down to the fact that I have to go for her sake, I will.'

Some had a litany of complaints but were afraid to speak up in public. That fear was in itself a push factor, they said.

One 31-year-old IT manager said: 'the very fact that I'm not comfortable with saying negative things in print and putting my name down is why I want to go.'

Others took issue with the use of the term 'quitter'.

In this speech, Mr Goh had made clear that he drew a distinction between overseas Singaporeans who would 'come back when needed, because their hearts are here', and those who 'ran away' at the first sign of a little storm on the horizon.

Still, many found his uncharacteristically harsh words hard to stomach.

Said undergraduate Crystal Tien, 20: 'the PM should think about how he can get the quitters to be stayers. Personally, I'm a quitter because I do not feel much attachment to Singapore.'

Agreeing, Mr Keith Ong, 21, a law undergraduate, said: 'If the opportunity was there, I'd be a sort of quitter, I suppose. The word 'quitter' shouldn't be used. It's just a natural instinct – you want to live your life to the fullest and lead it somewhere else.'

Others found the quitters-versus-stayers divide unhelpful.

As undergraduate Kevin Tjan, 22, said: 'It cuts both ways. On the one hand, you're encouraging foreign talent to come here, while preventing Singaporeans from leaving. Does that mean we're taking in others' quitters?

'It's a bit ironic to use that label.'

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