TEO HWEE NAK
DEPUTY NEWS EDITOR
WEE TECK HIAN
PREPARING FOR THE ELECTION: WP’s Sylvia Lim
THE irony of her party’s manifesto becoming such a compelling subject of debate does not escape Ms Sylvia Lim.
Soon after Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen labelled suggestions in the Workers’ Party manifesto as “time bombs”, the phone started ringing and she started to receive emails by the dozen.
The manifesto had been launched more than a week earlier, but media coverage of it ended in a day. The criticism by Dr Ng, who is also the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) organising secretary for special duties, changed everything.
“There is now intense interest in this booklet,” said Workers’ Party chairman Lim in an hour-long interview at her Bukit Batok apartment. “I think it’s very healthy that people want to read it and decide for themselves whether the picture the PAP is trying to paint is true or not,” she said.
Despite having her grip on ground realities questioned by the minister, and despite her party’s stand having been dubbed “poison”, the 40-year-old Temasek Polytechnic lecturer is neither defensive nor angry.
Instead, talking to Today, she leaned forward and said in her low voice: “I feel it’s rather strange that the ruling party is trying to tell us how to write our manifesto. If you don’t agree with us on the issues, then you come out with your own manifesto! Being the Opposition, we don’t expect them to agree with us, and neither should they presume that we should share their views.
“I guess they are trying to vilify us and set the election agenda. Let that be. We will just take it as background and we will still set our own election agenda.”
She said her party has been working on the 52-page manifesto since 2002, when it started public consultation and formed a six-member manifesto committee, led by WP secretary-general and MP for Hougang Low Thia Khiang.
After a first draft was produced last year, the party embarked on a second round of consultation. Then, over October and November, every sentence was scrutinised in meetings that Ms Lim revealed sometimes ended at 1am.
This is how serious the party is about its manifesto, she stressed. “The PAP does not have a monopoly on ideas and they should not think that knowing the ground is the territory only of the ruling party,” she said.
“We have our own views on how things should be run or done. While certain things may coincide with the ruling party’s point of view, some may not. We let people decide what makes sense.”
She said the manifesto would be put up online over the next few days. As she prepares for the electoral battle that will follow, the woman, accused of being a political newbie, felt she has garnered a lot of experience in the past four years, meeting people – to whom she hands out namecards with her picture and mobile number printed on them – on weeknights and Sunday mornings.
And no, she doesn’t think Singaporeans are apathetic. Ms Lim chuckled as she recalled a woman in her 60s she met during one of her walkabouts.
This ah sim (old lady) had political advice to dish out to WP.
“Don’t make wild allegations during the elections. Don’t talk about loans to Indonesia – you have no proof! Just look at the plight of the people and whether the Government is doing its job,” the old woman told them.
Having seen how politics can turn personal, are there any skeletons in her closet that Ms Lim wants to declare now?
The former lawyer laughed.
“I don’t know what people consider skeletons. I’ve been in civil service for most of my life – I was in the police force, and now I’m teaching in a polytechnic – so if they find that I’m unfit, what does it say?
“I’m not too concerned,” she said.
Finally, to rumours that she will be contesting in Aljunied GRC in the elections, she would only say: “I’ve been seen there, I’ve been doing some work there. Possibly … but things may change.”