TODAY: Birthday smiles and defiance

WP’s birthday number

by Lee Ching Wern

Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang, right, and Central Executive Committee member Dr Poh Lee Guan, left, at the celebration. – TODAY photo by ALVIN TOH

ANYONE entering Toa Payoh’s Lucky Restaurant last Saturday night would have thought he had walked into a cosy family celebration.

Chinese music played softly in the background while people kept leaving their seats to shake hands with each other.

Only the flashing cameras and the throng of recorder-armed reporters hinted that this was not one of your run-of-the-mill birthday parties.

The Workers’ Party was turning 45. Its leader, Mr Low Thia Khiang, was smiling broadly and other Opposition figures such as Mr Chiam See Tong were at hand to celebrate with him.

This usually tense and tight-lipped fraternity was completely relaxed.

“You know my daughter is a journalist,” offered Mr Chiam, who doesn’t always open up to the media.

The Potong Pasir MP then revealed that he had retired from his law practice last month. But, contrary to what some have speculated, he has every intention of running in the next election.

Non-Constituency MP Steve Chia, who had been criticised by columnist Ravi Veloo in this newspaper a couple of months back, said he had shrugged it off. “If you are going to be so sensitive to criticism, you shouldn’t join opposition politics,” he explained, saying that he was glad his response to the article was published in full.

Meanwhile, women members of WP, all wearing identical puffed sleeves, made a fashion statement. “We went shopping together at Toa Payoh to get this,” laughed Ms Sylvia Lim, one of the party’s latest recruits.

But the restaurant fell silent as WP, showing its embrace with technology, made a PowerPoint presentation of its history.

As sentimental background music played, dusty newspaper reports on its triumphs and disappointments were flashed on the big screen. Most of them referred to the one man who spurned the invitation to dinner that night. It was obvious, though, that the party’s former chief, Mr JB Jeyaretnam, who has had a public falling out with Mr Low, would always be a part of WP’s history.

His aggressive style, though, may have left the stage with him. Mr Low agreed that there seemed to be a greater convergence of views between the PAP and opposition parties.

“Is the PAP moving closer to the Opposition … or is the Opposition leaning towards PAP?” asked Mr Low. “The Workers’ Party will confront when necessary … but we must not lose sight of the national interest. Our role is that of a watchdog. We do not propose to be a mad dog,” he said.

All the six new central executive committee members introduced at the dinner – Dr Poh Lee Guan, Mr James Gomez, Mr Yaw Shin Leong, Mr Tan Wui Hua and Ms Sylvia Lim – are young educated professionals. So expect WP to field a team to contest in a GRC at the next polls, said Mr Low.

He said he had once asked Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew if he was certain that there would never be a PAP Government that might squander national reserves. SM Lee responded that while he could say he knew Mr Low, he couldn’t say how Mr Low’s son or grandson would turn out.

In other words, no one could predict the future. In that spirit, Mr Low said his party would continue to provide choices. “We fall, we stand up and move on – and 45 years of holding up is no small feat,” he said.