Straits Times: WP eyes ‘hot ward’ Aljunied, PAP team gears up

• BY LI XUEYING

WORKERS’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim wants to contest again in Aljunied GRC for the next general election (GE).

Although it is her “personal preference”, the final decision will be made by a committee appointed by the party’s council, she told The Straits Times yesterday. And it would depend on the constituency remaining intact on the electoral map.

The five-MP group representation constituency was the hottest battleground in the 2006 election, when Ms Lim led her party’s “A” team to secure 43.9 per cent of the valid votes.

They stood against a People’s Action Party (PAP) team helmed by Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo.

As the top loser, Ms Lim, a law lecturer, has been serving as a Non-Constituency MP in Parliament.

Explaining the reason for her preference, she said: “I’d like to return to Aljunied GRC again because I have invested so much there. It’s very heartwarming when people share their real problems with us… There is a comfort level in going back to Aljunied, which we now know better than before.”

She also said that WP has some support there and residents have “more awareness of its work”.

“Familiarity does help,” she added.

However, Aljunied GRC residents will see a partially different WP team.

Only Ms Lim and vice-chairman Mohammed Rahizan Yaacob are still active in the party. The other three in the 2006 team have left the country or the party.

The trio are: researcher James Gomez, who has quit the party and is now a university lecturer in Melbourne; financial controller Tan Wui-Hua, who is working in the United Arab Emirates; and businessman Goh Meng Seng, who left the party and is now with the National Solidarity Party where he is its secretary-general.

Ms Lim declined to disclose who may replace them but said the slate would be a “balance of strengths”, including those who have been “active and are suitable”.

This is the first time the WP chairman has given an indication of her plans for the coming general election, which is due by February 2012.

She said there are “several” groups working the ground there along division lines.

And while one-third of the 75,000 homes in Aljunied GRC are private property, the WP are focusing on HDB home-dwellers owing to limited resources, she said.

On a broader level, the WP is actively discussing its party manifesto for the next GE. It will be updated to include new issues, such as Singapore’s population and health-care financing, that have emerged over the past four years.

But its broad theme will likely be in the same vein as that in the last GE – “You Have A Choice” – disclosed Ms Lim.

At the same time, the PAP team in Aljunied GRC is gearing up. Its leader, Minister Yeo, told The Straits Times he has told party activists to be ready for an election either at the end of this year, or in the second quarter of next year after the national Budget.

The machinery has been kick-started, said Miss Tan Bee Lan, Mr Yeo’s branch secretary.

Responsibilities have been parcelled out among the five divisions’ branch secretaries, each taking care of intelligence, logistics, publications, rallies and walkabouts, and finance.

Projects promised during the last campaign, such as lift upgrading and gyms, are completed or slated to be done by the end of the year.

Mr Yeo said: “All have been implemented.”

Meanwhile, he has been working on being “accessible” to residents, by making informal visits before his Meet-the-People sessions or via his Facebook page and blog.

Resident Razali Taufiq is looking forward to the prospect of a contest in his GRC. The 24-year-old undergraduate said he would like to hear different perspectives on national policies.

xueying@sph.com.sg

Posted in 2010 07. Comments Off on Straits Times: WP eyes ‘hot ward’ Aljunied, PAP team gears up

Straits Times: Ready to take on a bigger role

THE WP QUARTET OF NEW LEADERS

Insight

Four fresh faces joined the Workers’ Party’s new line-up of 15 leaders at a party conference on Sunday. Insight speaks to the quartet to find out what propelled them to take up the opposition cause

BY SUE-ANN CHIA
SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT

JOHN YAM (left)

Age: 48

Job: Technology consultant

Education: PhD, University of South Australia; Masters in Business Administration, University of Strathclyde, Scotland; Bachelor of Science (Electrical Engineering), National University of Singapore

Status: Married with two children: a son, 17, and a daughter, 12

Pet peeve: The stressful education system in Singapore

Passionate about: Changing the education system

DR JOHN Yam says it is no secret that he was a member of the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) youth wing in the mid-1990s.

He was helping out in then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Teck Ghee ward in Ang Mo Kio, as his friend’s father was a grassroots leader there.

But he stopped his PAP activities after two years and let his membership lapse.

He did not feel very engaged, he says, and decided to focus his energy on pursuing his PhD.

Yet, his heart was never very far from politics. Before the 2006 general election, he began to consider being a political activist again. This time, in the opposition.

Why not the PAP?

“I want to play a constructive role. I don’t think I’ll be effective in the PAP as I won’t have the same freedom to talk about issues I feel strongly about,” he says.

He also thinks the current batches of leaders are not as inspiring or as grounded as those of earlier days.

The Workers’ Party (WP) caught his attention and he attended all its election rallies.

“I found them to be very responsible. They don’t want to rock the boat just for the sake of it,” he says.

“They want to provide competition, and were gentlemanly in their ways.”

But it took him almost three years before he joined the party, answering a calling he could no longer deny, says Dr Yam, who is a Christian.

He became a member in the middle of last year, with an aim to speak up for those who cannot do it themselves.

What issue does he want to raise?

The answer rolls readily off his tongue: Change the education system.

What gets his goat is the elitism, undue stress and what he describes as “aggressive streaming” in schools.

He writes regularly about these issues on his blog, criticising the system which he says penalises late bloomers.

“Education is not about competition but learning,” he says, sharing his personal experiences.

The former Beatty Secondary School student says he started concentrating on his studies only in Secondary 3, and did well enough in his O levels to get into the then Hwa Chong Junior College.

He then went on to get a bachelor’s degree, a master’s and a doctorate.

But he believes if he was in the current system, he would have been “finished” as he did not do well in his Primary School Leaving Examination.

Despite the pressure in schools, his advice to his two children has always been: Don’t worry about exams.

“Daddy will be happy as long as you put in your best effort,” he says, adding that what is more important in life is character building.

He says the flaw in the education system can be seen in our lack of Nobel Prize winners or even innovative companies like Ikea, Nokia or Apple.

He wants to set it right in Singapore.

“It starts with cultivating the right passion,” he says.


MUHAMMAD FAISAL ABDUL MANAP (right)

Age: 35

Job: Freelance counsellor

Status: Married with three children: two sons aged eight and four, and a daughter who is 10 months old

Education: Bachelor of Arts (Psychology), Monash University, Australia

Pet peeve: Nothing comes to mind, he says

Passionate about: Keeping families intact

FOR the past four years, Mr Muhammad Faisal Abdul Manap has been counselling couples on marriage or divorce. At the same time, he was also a WP member.

Both roles converged, or perhaps collided, when he decided to step up to the plate and be part of the WP leadership.

They converged because he felt ready to contribute and play a bigger role in the opposition owing to his better understanding of the issues in his community.

“After working closely with the community, I have the experience to back up my arguments,” he says.

Yet his career and political path appear to have collided, as he has just resigned from his job as a counsellor in a social work agency. He now calls himself a freelance counsellor. He intends to send his resume to various voluntary welfare organisations to seek ad-hoc work.

The sole breadwinner and father of three young children seems sanguine, despite the lack of permanent employment.

“I do not worry,” he says, adding that he is deeply spiritual. “I believe there’s something in store for me in the future.”

He went into counselling after graduating with a psychology degree from Monash University in 2005.

Before that, Mr Muhammad Faisal – who also has a diploma in civil and structural engineering – worked as a technical officer in HDB between 1998 and 2002.

Asked why he changed course, he says: “I felt there was a calling for me to serve the community. I’ve had a smooth-sailing life. I’m born with a, not silver, but copper spoon in my mouth, and I felt it was time to give back.”

This impulse extends to serving the community through politics.

When he returned from Australia, he paid more attention to the opposition, in particular, the WP. “I’m thankful for what the PAP has done for Singapore, but they lack the human touch these days.”

It is this “human touch” he believes the WP has, in how it reaches out.

He joined the WP in February 2006, a few months before the election, serving as an election agent for the WP campaign in Aljunied GRC. Led by WP chairman Sylvia Lim, it faced the closest fight, securing 44 per cent of the votes there.

But the WP also recognised that it failed to capture the Malay vote, an issue it said it would rectify by drawing in more minority candidates and engaging the various ethnic communities. Mr Muhammad Faisal intends to do just that.

But while he wants to tackle the issues within his community, such as higher divorce and re-marriage rates, he also believes he has to take a broader approach.

“To assist the community, I have to touch on national issues, such as the cost of living and income gap, as these will impact on their livelihoods,” he notes.

Yet the issue that remains close to his heart centres on the family.

Something should be done about the stressful work environment, he says, adding: “A lot of marriages end up in divorce because the couple spend too much time at work.”


FRIEDA CHAN (right)

Age: 34

Job: Social worker

Status: Single

Education: Bachelor of Arts (Social Work and Sociology), National University of Singapore

Pet peeve: People who mouth off without checking their facts

Passionate about: Developing young people as “servant leaders”

MS FRIEDA Chan grew up in a family that was very pro-PAP.

Her maternal grandfather and father were once activists who volunteered in the ruling party. Thus, her family reacted with great dismay when she joined the WP in October 2006.

Her father, who used to be a grassroots leader in Boon Lay, did not speak to her for a few months, she recalls.

Though he has stopped the silent treatment, the rift has yet to heal fully.

They used to bond over watching news and current affairs programmes, including parliamentary debates, when they would discuss hot political issues.

These days, she often lets him speak.

Why then did she go over to the other side, knowing the wrath she would incur?

“It was more pull than push factors. The WP is a credible team and my own personal philosophy is that absolute power corrupts,” she says. “I believe in having diversity in politics.”

She reveals that her image of the opposition was negative, thanks to her family.

“‘The opposition always points out things that are not true, and (they) are an emotional lot of people’,” she says of what she was told. “There was also the fear factor of joining the opposition.”

Ironically, it was her political exposure at home that sparked her political activism when she was an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore.

She was a member of the Democratic Socialist Club, where she got to know Mr Yaw Shin Leong, who later joined the WP and led a team which unsuccessfully contested Ang Mo Kio GRC at the 2006 general election. Their friendship led her to help Mr Yaw during the polls.

Consequently, she got to know the WP members and found they were unlike what her family had painted the opposition to be. They were rational people who cared deeply for residents, she says.

This was a good fit for the social worker who says she has a passion for meeting people’s needs.

In 2004, she founded a charity organisation, Life! Community Development, which offers disaster relief services and trains volunteers. She has been on overseas missions to help rebuild tsunami-hit communities. On returning from one of them in 2005, she cried for three days.

The emotional release perhaps paved the way for her entry into politics. She says she realised the need to help people at home, too.

Now she finds fulfilment in meeting residents during walkabouts and helping to solve their problems. She is also keen to groom young people to serve.

“What is needed is a change in political climate. There shouldn’t be such an atmosphere of fear,” she says.

Citing her own situation, she says her family has been more accepting of her decision to join the opposition.

“Seeing that nothing happened to me week after week, they grew more at ease,” she says with a smile.



ST PHOTOS: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

GERALD GIAM (right)

Age: 33

Job: Senior IT consultant

Status: Married, with a 20-month-old daughter. His wife is expecting their second child, a son, due by National Day.

Education: Bachelor of Science (Electrical Engineering), University of Southern California

Pet peeve: Immigration policy

Passionate about: Putting Singaporeans first

TWO months before Mr Gerald Giam joined the WP, he had a casual chat with an older relative who dismissed the opposition as opportunists.

They serve out of self-interest and ulterior motives. Capable individuals would be out of their mind to join them and oppose the ruling party which has governed well, his relative concluded.

While he was dismayed, the words did not deter him from taking the plunge into opposition politics.

“This is the view among the older generation of Singaporeans who had seen the country’s success since independence,” he tells Insight.

He says the PAP has changed over the years and believes that complacency has set in “which is partly a result of a lack of political opposition to question their policies and compete with them with alternative policies”.

This belief has shaped his political journey since the last general election: from a non-partisan blogger on sociopolitical issues to opposition member.

The thought of joining the WP first crossed his mind in 2007, after getting to know its members and liking what he saw – people who had the interests of Singaporeans at heart, he says.

But it was almost two years later, in January last year, that he found the conviction to stop being an armchair critic and be part of the team to build a credible opposition that could form an alternative government.

The decision was made after talking to his wife and “a lot of prayers”, he adds.

However, he kept a low profile until a year later when he wrote on his blog a piece titled Why I Joined The Opposition.

In it, the alumnus of Anglo-Chinese School said he had not always been an opposition supporter, and that most of his friends and teachers would know him as someone who always followed the rules and did not question authority.

He was studious, and did well enough in his O levels to gain direct entry into the University of Southern California.

His interest in politics was piqued during his undergraduate days, where the level of political activism was high.

When he returned home, he could not wait to contribute to Singapore society.

He was involved in the South West Community Development Council and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He also believed the only way to effect change was from within the PAP machinery, not through the opposition.

He soon changed his mind.

“Changes to the finer details are possible from within, but fundamental changes to the way the country is governed can come only if the top echelon of leaders in the party either radically change their mind, or are replaced,” he wrote on his blog. “Neither is about to happen soon.”

Now that he is in a position to try to effect change, what would he change?

“For a start, we need to revamp our immigration policy,” he says. “Although immigration is important and I value the contributions of immigrants, the massive influx of foreigners in the past few years has been too extreme.

“It has put a strain on so many things, such as public transport, housing, health care, jobs and incomes.”

While the Government has pledged to stem the flow of foreigners, he argues it is not enough. “The residents I talk to do not feel any difference from before.”

He wants a Singapore where citizens come first.

He also wants a more comprehensive social safety net for needy Singaporeans, especially the elderly poor.

While he is confident that the best days are ahead, he is no naive idealist. He still has to convince people like his older relative to give the opposition a chance.

Yet, the boyish-looking bespectacled man, who is willing to contest the next general election, is optimistic he can sway such voters.

“I believe I can. They just need to see a certain level of sincerity,” he says.

sueann@sph.com.sg

Posted in 2010 07. Comments Off on Straits Times: Ready to take on a bigger role

TODAY: Workers’ Party re-elects stalwarts

SINGAPORE – The Workers’ Party re-elected 11 of its 14 Central Executive Committee members yesterday, with party chairman Sylvia Lim and secretary-general Low Thia Khiang keeping their posts.

Four new members were elected, including those who had joined in the last two years.

Mr Gerald Giam, 33, a senior consultant with a global technology consulting firm joined the party about one-and-a-half years ago.

Another new council member is Dr John Yam, 48, whose blog states that he is in the telecommunications industry and that he holds a doctorate from the University of South Australia.

The other two are members who have been active in the WP Youth Wing.

Ms Frieda Chan, 34, joined the party in October 2006 and was elected as a member of the WPYW Executive Committee in 2008.

She was listed as the co-founding board director and chairperson of Life! Community Development and serving as social work ambassador for The Singapore Association of Social Workers.

The fourth new member is Mr Muhammad Faisal Abdul Manap, who served on the WPYW Executive Committee between 2006 and 2008.

Making way for these new faces were three candidates for the party at the previous General Election: Dr Poh Lee Guan, 48, who had contested in Nee Soon East; Brandon Siow, 34, and Perry Tong, 38, both of whom were part of the team which contested the East Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC).

Posted in 2010 07. Comments Off on TODAY: Workers’ Party re-elects stalwarts

Straits Times: Four new faces in WP central executive committee

• BY SUE-ANN CHIA

EVEN as the top two leaders in the Workers’ Party (WP) remain unchanged, four new faces were elected to its 15-member central executive committee last night.

The four newbies elected at the party’s conference of organisers were Ms Frieda Chan, Mr Gerald Giam, Mr Muhammad Faisal Abdul Manap, and Dr John Yam.

They joined the party either during or after the May 2006 General Election (GE).

Mr Giam, 33, an IT consultant and well-known blogger, joined in January last year. Ms Chan, 34, who founded a charity organisation in 2004, became a member in 2006 and is a member of the WP’s Youth Wing executive committee.

Mr Muhammad Faisal, 34, a counsellor with a voluntary welfare organisation, also joined in 2006 and was previously on the youth wing’s council. Dr Yam, 48, a business consultant, is understood to have joined last year.

The election at the WP’s Syed Alwi Road headquarters saw Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim, 44, remain as chairman, and Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang, 53, continue as secretary-general.

Commenting on the new team, Ms Lim told The Straits Times that the party had again shown its commitment to a process of leadership renewal: “I believe the new council members will inject fresh perspectives so that the party can remain relevant to the electorate.”

Mr Giam said he intends to do just that: “Singapore needs an alternative political leadership that is capable of steering our country to its next level of development, should the current ruling party stumble.”

He believes the WP has the potential to be a future alternative government, and hopes to play his part recruiting new members, sharpening policy positions and explaining how the party can serve citizens’ interests.

Three central executive committee members who contested the GE previously, stepped down yesterday: private college lecturer Poh Lee Guan, 53, who stood in Nee Soon East twice; manager Brandon Siow, 35; and business management consultant Perry Tong, 39 – both of whom were part of the 2006 WP team that stood in East Coast GRC.

A meeting will be held later this week to decide on other positions within the new committee.

Posted in 2010 07. Comments Off on Straits Times: Four new faces in WP central executive committee

Channel NewsAsia: WP’s Sylvia Lim, Low Thia Khiang re-elected to posts


Low Thia Khiang (file picture)

SINGAPORE: Four new members have been elected into the Workers’ Party’s Central Executive Committee, while Chairman Sylvia Lim and Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang have been re-elected to their posts.

In a statement, the party said it held a Conference of Organisers at the party headquarters on Sunday, where 13 council members were elected into the Central Executive Committee.

The four new council members are: Frieda Chan Sio Phing, Gerald Giam, Muhammad Faisal Abdul Manap and John Yam Poh Nam.

Mr Giam is an IT consultant and a founding member of The Online Citizen, an online blog.

Ms Chan joined the Workers’ Party in October 2006 and was elected as a member of the WP Youth Wing Executive Committee in 2008.

Mr Muhammad Faisal was previously a council member with the party’s Youth Wing.

WP’s organising secretary Yaw Shin Leong had earlier said its new executive council will also be a ‘GE CEC’.

Singapore’s General Election is due by February 2012. – CNA/ir

Posted in 2010 07. Comments Off on Channel NewsAsia: WP’s Sylvia Lim, Low Thia Khiang re-elected to posts

Channel NewsAsia: Opposition MP urges MND to reveal town council benefits from upgrading programmes

By S Ramesh


Opposition MP Low Thia Khiang

SINGAPORE: Opposition MP for Hougang, Low Thia Khiang, has called on the Ministry of National Development to let the public know how much each town council has benefited from various upgrading programmes from the time they were started.

These are the Interim Upgrading Programme (IUP), Main Upgrading Programme (MUP) and Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) funds.

In his latest salvo on the Town Council Management Report released recently, Mr Low said in a statement on Thursday that he had asked in Parliament, and again on June 14, for the information on the amount of funding to be made public.

But he said he was disappointed that the ministry had kept silent on this.

Mr Low was replying to several points made by Senior Minister of State for National Development, Grace Fu, in her statement released on Wednesday.

Ms Fu had said that Mr Low was using the town council report to pursue his political objectives.

The opposition MP now argues that the PAP government has spent huge sums of money over the years to upgrade HDB flats in PAP constituencies. He said this has benefited the PAP town councils immensely.

As a result, he said these town councils could have saved substantial sums of expenditure in cyclical works and routine maintenance. And the savings, he argued, would have contributed to the operating surplus and higher sinking funds over the years.

So Mr Low felt that the public should know how much additional funding is given to the town councils of the PAP wards – directly or indirectly – through the upgrading programmes.

He said Singaporeans can then judge for themselves whether this could affect the outcome of the town management and financial position of the town council.

– CNA/al

Posted in 2010 06. Comments Off on Channel NewsAsia: Opposition MP urges MND to reveal town council benefits from upgrading programmes

TODAY: Low Thia Khiang suggests two new criteria for town council reports

LEONG WEE KIAT
weekeat@mediacorp.com

SINGAPORE – Amid a debate on how future Town Council Management Reports can be fine-tuned, Opposition Member of Parliament Low Thia Khiang has suggested adding two more new criteria: The extent of Government funding that each town council receives and the amount of service and conservancy charges (S&CC) it has written off.

Mr Low said the Government funding should include the amount received – either directly or indirectly – to improve common areas the town council manage.

Grade 5 – the lowest score – should be given to the town council which receives the most funding or has the biggest S&CC amount written off, added the Workers’ Party chief.

Mr Low made these suggestions yesterday in response to Senior Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu’s comments.

On Sunday, Ms Fu had rebutted Mr Low’s earlier comments that Opposition wards were disadvantaged as they were at the end of the queues for various upgrading programmes. Ms Fu also said the criteria for HDB’s upgrading programmes are clear and not all People’s Action Party (PAP) wards qualify for them, too.

In a press statement yesterday, Mr Low accused Ms Fu of “sidetracking the issue” and “attempting to mislead Singaporeans (into) believing that the PAP Government is fair to all town councils, including those managed by Opposition parties”.

“Is she saying that upgrading programmes have no impact and implication on estate maintenance?” he said.

Mr Low argued that upgrading programmes “do not just build additional facilities” but also include upgrading of common areas like common corridor and replacement of lift lobby tiles as well as upgrading of playgrounds.

“If the staircase railing is replaced with stainless steel railing instead of the existing mild steel railing inherited from the HDB as part of the upgrading programme, one will not expect the railing to become rusty and corroded to become a maintenance issue.”

In the first Town Council Management Report (TCMR) ever released last week, maintenance – such as the condition of wall tiles and playgrounds – was an area where no town council scored the top grade of 1.

While almost all PAP town councils scored a grade of 3 – the exception being Ang Mo Kio-Yio Chu Kang Town Council which received a 2 rating – Hougang scored a 4 and Potong Pasir was awarded a grade of 5 – the lowest possible score.

Another area that has come under scrutiny is over the management of S&CC arrears. While PAP town councils scored 1s and 2s for arrears management, Hougang and Potong Pasir both scored 5s in this area.

Mr Low felt that PAP Town Councils manage arrears better because they have more surpluses due to additional funding received through upgrading programmes. Thus, these town councils are able to use their own funds to help residents pay S&CC arrears by offering them part-time employment.

“However, the more serious question is whether this is fair to other residents who pay promptly,” Mr Low said.

When contacted yesterday, the Ministry of National Development said: “We would like to reiterate that it is inappropriate to compare the TCMR results across towns. Town Councils should use the TCMR as a basis for discussion with their residents and to monitor the performance of towns over time.”

Posted in 2010 06. Comments Off on TODAY: Low Thia Khiang suggests two new criteria for town council reports
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