Weekend TODAY: A touch of blue, a matter of choice

INTERVIEW/BY NG BOON YIAN

New WP chief Sylvia Lim on what it takes to win an election or convince someone to vote for you


TODAY photo by WEE TECK HIAN

JUST back from climbing Mount Kinabalu and white water rafting down Padas River, Ms Sylvia Lim (picture) from the Workers’ Party (WP) was game for yet another interview, despite nursing a hurt ankle.

Ever since the sporty lady was elected as WP’s new Chairman, the 38-year-old has been willy-nilly swept up in media attention – flooded by interview requests, even from women’s magazines.

Over lunch, Ms Lim casually mused over the stir in the media caused by her entry into opposition politics. It showed how “politically-backward” Singapore was, she said.

It would not have happened anywhere else in the world.

“So, are we really first world or not?” Ms Lim asked with her easy laughter.

Well, not yet in terms of politics, seemed to be the Temasek Polytechnic law lecturer’s verdict.

To correct the balance, her party is going in for a makeover of sorts.

From the new party brochure to the revamped WP website to the shirt that Ms Lim was wearing, they are all washed in the party colour of blue, blue and blue – a consistency worthy of brand campaigning.

And the image polishing is all part of a renewal crucial for WP to keep pace with an emerging generation of Singaporeans, said Ms Lim.

“Most people know that our party is ageing. So, we must keep up with the public and still remain relevant. We know from statistics that by the next election, about 60 per cent of the voting public will be born after Independence,” she said.

Of course, the renewal goes beyond the surface.

Fresh blood, including 20-somethings, have also been infused into the party ranks.

Organisationally, more sub-committees on areas such as policies and current affairs have been set up.

More importantly, the party is stepping up its efforts to work the ground.

Not only are there public outreach programmes every Sunday, WP has also started house visits recently, said Ms Lim. “We have to start work early because the public also needs time to assess us to see whether we are sincere.”

And because of the uncertainty over possible redrawing of constituency boundaries, WP is working on the “larger areas” too so that if some unexpected demarcation takes place before the elections, there will hopefully be “some spillover effects” from the earlier efforts, said Ms Lim.

“We have been making progress but we still need to reach a critical mass. We are not there yet,” said Ms Lim.

But all this ground work has left her reflecting on what it takes to win votes.

“In the past one and a half years, I have come to realise that to win an election or convince someone to vote for you, it may not be so important to the people to have grand ideas about policies sometimes,” she said.

It might be more important to convince Singaporeans of one’s sincerity and to engage them in everyday concerns like healthcare costs, said Ms Lim.

The former police inspector has dealt with people from different walks of life but as someone who is English-educated, Ms Lim does face some limitations in the heartlands.

Now, not only is she brushing up her Mandarin with tuition, Ms Lim, a Teochew, is also learning to say specific terms like Central Provident Fund in dialect.

The renewal notwithstanding, Ms Lim stressed that WP’s traditional commitment to speak up for the underprivileged and working classes will not change.

At the same time, the party is also not going to neglect the so-called “New Poor” too, an idea first brought up last election, much to the withering scorn of People’s Action Party.

Referring to Singaporeans made poorer by hard times – from the retrenched middle-class professionals to the jobless graduates – Ms Lim said that it is “a very real phenomenon” that WP would still focus on.

But WP wants to hammer home another point first. That there is a need for opposition parties, especially now that former Government critics like Mr Vivian Balakrishnan and Mr Raymond Lim have been roped into the PAP.

But Ms Lim does not think that will satisfy Singaporeans’ desire for more alternative voices.

She argued: “The thing is: Ultimately at election time, there’s no choice if there are no candidates from another party.

“At the end of the day, we will be living in a system where the PAP can decide what we can discuss, when we can discuss it and who they want to hear from.

“And that is subjugating people to a level of dependency where we are depending on the patronage of the PAP to give us the freedom to discuss.

“I think that is wrong. The people should realise that it is their right to express either approval or disapproval with the Government at the ballot box,” she added.

It’s an idea that the opposition has been pushing for some time and it remains to be seen how far the renewed WP can take it by the next election.

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