Yaw Shin Leong and a Potential Legacy Cut Short
Top image: Wpsingapore / YouTube

Politician turned businessman Yaw Shin Leong—also known as Amos Rao in his post-Workers’ Party years—passed away on Nov 10 at the age of 47. 

The obituary posted on his Facebook and LinkedIn accounts on November 15th did not specify the cause of death. It did, however, mention that it was a “sudden passing”. According to 8world, he was in Beijing at the time and collapsed after a jog. 

His controversial exit from the Workers’ Party (WP) after a rumoured extra-marital affair probably remains fresh in Singaporeans’ minds. After all, it was big news back in 2012. It’s also arguably the most newsworthy aspect of his political career. There hasn’t been an article that covered his passing without mentioning his expulsion from WP.

But is it fair to remember the man solely by the scandal that torpedoed his budding political career? 


WP’s Rising Star

Before his scandal, Yaw actually enjoyed some success in the General Elections. He proved to be pretty popular among voters.

Yaw joined WP in 2001, but only stood for election in 2006. In his maiden election, he boldly stood for election against one of the toughest opponents: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. 

He had led a WP Youth Team to contest the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Ang Mo Kio GRC stronghold. And though the team was labelled a “suicide squad” or “dare to die team” by the PAP (there was little doubt they’d lose), they managed to secure a respectable 33.86 percent of votes. 

Putting up a fight is one thing. Entering a fight knowing you’re going to lose is another. And Yaw’s fortitude was evident. 

He’d said back then during the campaigning period: “In some quarters, my team is considered as the ‘dare to die’ team. Let me make this clear. Life is sacred, life is precious, and politics is serious. More importantly, my courageous team-mates and myself are mentally prepared to lose but that does not mean we are pushovers. It’s because we have confidence in you, the people of Singapore.”

He was also remembered for having the balls to admit that he’d actually voted for a PAP candidate that election. Between PAP’s Teo Ho Pin and Singapore Democratic Party’s Ling How Doong, he had voted for Teo, he revealed on his blog. The reason was simple: he believed Teo was the better candidate. 

“I do not believe in opposition for opposition’s sake,” he’d said in response to the inevitable criticism that ensued. Honestly, that’s a pretty respectable stance.

Image: Amos Rao / LinkedIn

Yaw’s second election in 2011 was another tall order. As a WP candidate, Yaw contested Hougang SMC, which Low Thia Kiang had won in 1991. The SMC had been a stronghold for WP since then, and Yaw was essentially taking the reins from then-party leader, Mr Low. Big shoes to fill. 

With Yaw holding down the fort in Hougang, Mr Low was able to contest Aljunied GRC that election and won. 

‘Twas a historic milestone for both WP and the opposition in general. WP’s victory marked the very first time an opposition party had won a GRC. They’d also bested a strong PAP team, including then-Minister for Foreign Affairs George Yeo and current Minister of Health, Ong Ye Kung. 

Over in Hougang, Yaw won decisively with 64.8 percent of the vote, doing even better than Low. His victory speech was something to behold. With WP supporters packed shoulder to shoulder, Yaw thanked them for voting not just with their hearts, but with their minds. 

“Hougang people, we have a role to play. And this role is a role that has nationalistic importance.”

Flaming Out

It’s not a stretch to consider Yaw one of WP’s rising stars before his scandal. The fact that Low Thia Kiang had entrusted Hougang SMC to him is enough of a testament to his capability and standing in the party. 

In his short stint as a Member of Parliament (MP), Yaw advocated for Singaporean workers, pushed for more transparency in the Employment and S-Pass system, and more protections for the unemployed.

But Singaporeans will never know what he might have accomplished if he hadn’t had to step away from politics abruptly. 

In January 2012, rumours swirled of Yaw having an extra-marital affair. In February 2012, WP announced it was expelling Yaw as he had “broken the faith, trust, and expectations of the party and the people”. Yaw had failed to account for his behaviour, said WP.

The scandal didn’t just jeopardise Yaw’s political career. His expulsion from WP also triggered a by-election, in which the party’s candidate Png Eng Huat beat PAP’s Desmond Choo. 

The SMC has remained in WP’s roster, although subsequent candidates have yet to surpass Yaw’s impressive winning margin in 2011.  

Yaw kept a low profile, moving to Myanmar to work in the private education sector. A 2017 Straits Times article said he’d clinched the position of senior vice president at education provider Shenton Co. When contacted by the newspaper, he’d declined to comment and asked for “private space”.

He also appeared to be thriving in the business world. Before his passing, he was the country director (China) of AIMS China, a firm specialising in immigration services. 

He’d all but dropped off the radar of most Singaporeans. But he resurfaced in 2021 in the wake of WP’s Raeesah Khan saga to claim that he had, in fact, spoken to Low and party chairman Sylvia Lim about the affair allegations but was advised to stay silent. The party refuted this and denied Yaw’s claims

RICE approached WP for their comments on Yaw’s passing but understands the party will not be issuing a statement on the matter. 

Yaw had to have known his 2021 statement wasn’t going to clear his name. It was, ultimately, the party’s word against his. But the man stuck to his guns till the end. 

Unfortunately, his legacy will always be underscored by the way he made his exit from politics. But there’s plenty of room to discuss the good he did. 

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