TODAY: Day Hougang MP broke his silence

Media-wary Low takes over, talks about JBJ and party’s plans

by Ng Boon Yian

UNLIKE the typical limelight-seeking politician, opposition MP Mr Low Thia Khiang is one who goes out of his way to avoid media attention.

So much so that he sat down at a coffeeshop, refusing to move, when a reporter insisted on following him on his walkabout during one election campaign, said Mr Low, who has been Hougang MP since 1991.

His reason: “I don’t trust the media.” Yesterday, Mr Low decided to break his silence by holding a press conference for about 45 minutes.

The occasion: The Workers’ Party’s annual general meeting (AGM) in which he was unanimously elected as its new secretary-general.

The run-up to the AGM had been accompanied by media speculation about a possible power struggle within the party.

And there were whispers that even though Mr J B Jeyaretnam had stepped down as secretary-general, Mr Low was not keen to assume the mantle as he did not wish to be seen as another Chee Soon Juan who had earlier ousted veteran opposition leader Mr Chiam See Tong from the Singapore Democratic Party.

At his press conference, Mr Low said that Mr Jeyaretnam helped to organise the AGM even though he was not present.

Now a normal party member, his role in the party will be decided at the council meeting, said Mr Low, 45.

The party also has no intention of kicking Mr Jeyaretnam out even if he is declared bankrupt, but “whether he’ll stay, you’ll have to ask him”, Mr Low added.

Despite the fact that Mr Jeyaretnam has sued Mr Low to raise money to settle his legal bills, the MP pointed out that Mr Jeyaretnam “has done a lot for the party”.

“In terms of personal relations, we’re all right. In terms of working relations, I think we’re all right. In other words, we don’t quarrel with each other. But there may be some misunderstanding,” he said.

For a man who shuns the media, Mr Low was adept at dealing with rapid-fire queries – sometimes straight-talking, but mostly guarded with his words.

Will he contest a Group Representative Constituency? “I may contest a GRC but I don’t know the possibility,” he replied.

How many seats will the party contest? It depends on the number of candidates fielded and the resources available, he said.

Does he feel that there may be a stigma attached to opposition parties such as his? “I don’t know. I have been with Workers’ Party for so many years. I don’t feel any stigma. From the responses I get, from Web sites, I think we’re pretty all right.”

As the new man at the helm, his key focus is renewal of fresh blood – a problem he said even the PAP faces.

Mr Low also does not rule out the possibility of working with other groups or individuals to pool their resources together.

On the new proposed opposition alliance – the Singapore Democratic Alliance – Mr Low said he is not too familiar with it and declined comment.

“I think what is important for the opposition is to offer the opportunity for the voters to exercise their right of voting.”

On the oft-heard lament that Singapore has a weak opposition, Mr Low said: “Some people say we don’t have a credible opposition. My question to them is where are the credible candidates? The kind of opposition depends on the kind of Singapore we have.”