New Paper: Opposition parties: Meet the next generation

In the last General Election, the Singapore People’s Party and the Workers’ Party were the only opposition parties to field winning candidates. None of their fresh faces triumphed – which must concern veteran leaders Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Khiang. Have the parties’ young stars – and hopes of grooming new ones – grown in oomph since? DENYSE YEO speaks to one youngster from each party


They must first ask themselves basic questions like whether they love the country or not.
– Mr Yaw Shin Leong (above) of the Workers’ Party, on how Singaporean youths should be ‘politicised’

‘The least he could do’

IN his well-pressed light blue Boss shirt, Mr Yaw Shin Leong looks every inch the Shenton Way yuppie.

However, the bespectacled 27-year-old is no banker or lawyer.

He is Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang’s legislative assistant – and a proud, card-carrying Workers’ Party (WP) member.

Mr Yaw ran in the last General Election.

His Aljunied GRC team, led by former Think Centre chief James Gomez, was disqualified from contesting against PAP’s team led by Trade and Industry Minister George Yeo, because its nomination papers were not in order.

Since then, Mr Yaw has moved on to be the deputy organising secretary in the central executive committee and a town councillor with Hougang Town Council – all before reaching 30.

Mr Yaw became a party member in June 2001. He rose up its ranks two years after graduating with a degree in political science and sociology from the National University of Singapore, where he had been president of the Democratic Socialist Club.

A year before joining WP, he had also joined the Think Centre as a partner and project director.

The eloquent young man, who wears a floppy fringe and a commitment ring to his “very supportive” girlfriend, likens joining the party to “answering a national service call”.

It was the “least he could do” to help address what he sees as the “dire state of political imbalance” here with a “one party-hegemony”.

YOUTH NETWORK

Aside from helping Mr Low prepare for parliamentary sessions, Mr Yaw also has a hefty role as chairman of the Hougang Constituency Committee’s Youth Action Committee, which tries to expand its youth network via social welfare and sports activities.

The 70 members are from all walks of life, and are “sincere and committed”, said Mr Yaw. There is also an independent e-mail network of 350 non-member supporters.

The party tries to recruit young people by various means, such as through the open houses at the party’s Jalan Besar headquarters every Monday, and at meet-the-people sessions.

So far, the response to this “youth outreach” programme has been “reasonable”, although “more will be better”.

Mr Yaw puts it down to the political apathy that he believes exists in Singapore. For instance, there are still people who say to him, ‘Hey, don’t waste your time’.

So, as a young opposition member, one way is to work towards the setting up of a dual-party system in Singapore.

He also feels that to “politicise” youths, politics cannot be seen as a high concept. “They must first ask themselves basic questions like whether they love the country or not.”

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