Straits Times: Now more youthful, WP gets first woman chairman

The law lecturer is among the eight newcomers in the opposition party’s 14-member central executive council

By AHMAD OSMAN


STEVEN LEE
A law lecturer, Ms Lim is the new Workers’ Party chairman.

LAW lecturer Sylvia Lim, 38, was elected chairman of the Workers’ Party yesterday, the first woman to hold the key post in the party’s 45-year history.

Another seven new faces were also elected to the 14-member central executive council, rejuvenating the policy-making heart of the opposition party almost overnight with a more youthful face.

Most of the eight elected for the first time into the council are in their 30s, with one of them as young as 24.

“The election shows the party is open and is prepared to accept new blood and to support them to move the party forward,” said Mr Low Thia Khiang, the MP for Hougang who retained his post as secretary-general of the party.

Dr Tan Bin Seng, 52, who showed no rancour at having lost the chairman post to Ms Lim, said: “With the younger image, we hope to attract more talented young people to join us.”

Dr Tan has been the chairman since 1992. He will continue to be a council member.

The party’s self-renewal has been hastened since Mr Low took over the reins in May 2001. He became secretary-general after the departure of Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam, who quit after 30 years of leading the party.

With the latest line-up, the party has clearly moved beyond the former secretary-general and any residual influence he has on the party is insubstantial, if not completely dissipated.

The results of yesterday’s election at the cadres conference, held once every two years, also reflect the strong support for Mr Low’s aim to step up the pace of self-renewal.

He said: “My message to the conference is that to serve Singapore well… we need to have new blood. I think the conference got the message.”

Ms Lim, who is single and lectures at Temasek Polytechnic, joined the WP after the last General Election in 2001.

Commenting on her role as chairman, she said she would work with Mr Low, the top man in the WP, and the other council members to chart the direction of the party.

She can also speak up for the party and continue to build up its role “as a credible check on the Government” whenever it is necessary to do this.

She expressed the hope that her victory would reduce the fear among some Singaporeans of joining the opposition. “A few of us have taken the step and we are still around,” she said.

Mr Low, who does not adopt Mr Jeyaretnam’s confrontational style, chippped in: “You take the correct approach, you are responsible, even if you are in the opposition, you are okay.”

The other new council members are: Miss Lee Wai Leng, 24, a journalist in a private publishing company, Mr Yaw Shin Leong, 27, who is Mr Low’s legislative assistant, WP activist Melvin Tan, 29, Ms Jane Leong, a managing director of a firm who is in her 40s, researcher James Gomez, 37, financial controller Tan Wui-Hua, 37 and Dr Poh Lee-Guan, 41, a training consultant.

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