New Paper: Too late or right time?

Workers’ Party’s Youth Drive

By Clarence Chang
clarence@sph.com.sg


Picture: CHOO CHWEE HUA
WP Youth Wing exco members: From left, Mr Melvin Tan, Mr Chia Ti Lik, Mr Tan Wui Hua (in white shirt), Mr Goh Meng Seng, Ms Ng Swee Bee and Ms Glenda Han.

BETTER late than never?

Or a calculated move to create maximum visibility as possible year-end elections draw near?

Whatever the reason, 48 years after it was formed, the Workers’ Party (WP) finally has a youth wing to call its own.

In fact, if you had taken the train to the Padang for Tuesday’s National Day Parade, you might have spotted its members in blue polo shirts hovering around MRT stations from Hougang to City Hall, brandishing 1,000 mini Singapore flags. You might even have taken a free flag from one of them.

Yup, it was the WP Youth Wing’s first official acitivity and its first public foray since its launch last month.

Its president, Mr Tan Wui Hua, 39, chief financial officer at Lend Lease Real Estate Investments, said: “Politically, we may be the opposition. But we’re still proud citizens of Singapore, and our independence is a cause for celebration.”

You could say, with rumblings of an early election, it’s an ingenious move to tap voter sentiments.

Mr Tan, who is also WP Treasurer, added: “It’s our way of saying let’s celebrate, be happy, but let’s not be conceited. We’d still like to push democracy here to a higher level.”

He had joined WP in mid-2001, and is expected to contest in Aljunied GRC at the next polls. He now heads the new Youth Wing which boasts a nine-member Executive Committee ranging in age from 25 to 39.

The new team – seven men and two women – seem fired up.

“I believe in political competition,” said sales executive Melvin Tan, 31.

“Why sit around and fret when you can do something about things?” asked entrepreneur Glenda Han, 29.

“It’s time our youths stand up and step forth because it’s their future and their country,” added lawyer Chia Ti Lik, 32.

PLAYING CATCH-UP

Other Exco members include an IT consultant, an assistant engineer and even a pre-school teacher. And despite their youth, four of them sit on WP’s central executive council.

Although setting up its own youth recruitment arm is a milestone for WP, it’s clearly playing catch-up – since Young PAP and the Singapore Democratic Party’s Young Democrats already have a headstart.

“We’re still in our infancy, so we want to raise our profile first,” admitted Mr Tan.

“We’ll recruit along the way, but there’ll be no hard sell and no internal benchmarks.”

Besides helping to spread WP’s platform to younger voters, like its call for more political space, its focus on the plight of the poor, and its opposition to casinos, the Youth Wing is also expected to plug the gaps in “succession planning”.

In short, grooming the “next generation”.

TNP understands that WP currently has about 20 active members between 18 and 40 years old – the target age group for its Youth Wing.

Young PAP, on the other hand, boasts a membership of over 6,000 with an average age of 33.

So for sure, WP will have its work cut out for it.

“We’ll leave it to the younger members of our population to choose where to go and what they should do,” stressed Mr Tan.

A Young PAP spokesman declined comment when TNP asked for the group’s reaction.

As for WP, its Youth Wing’s drawcard could well be its social and sporting activities – something its predecessor, the former Hougang Youth Action Committee, had also embarked on.

Now the group is aiming to expand nationwide, and not just confine its reach to its Hougang stronghold.

It is even prepared to take in youngsters keen on joining the Youth Wing but not the Workers’ Party itself, calling them “associate members”.

Desperate? Or clever?

Too little, too late?

Or right move, right time?

“This is the first time I’m hearing about them,” Institute of Policy Studies political analyst Jeanne Conceicao, 40, told The New Paper.

“There doesn’t seem to be much publicity. So unless elections are held only next year, there won’t be enough time to make much of an impact.”

Or it seems, to grow WP’s overall support base.

With no clear-cut plans or targets, Ms Conceicao feels, the new unit’s impact will only be felt at the “next GE”, not “this” one.

Well, with the clock ticking fast to the big day, and with WP already touted as the opposition party to watch, Singaporeans can only wonder.

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