TODAY: Across the big divide


Ex-PAP member finds home in Workers’ Party

coffee with
32, lawyer

WHILE most Singaporeans keep politics at arm’s length, Mr Chia Ti Lik (picture), 32, has already given up one party membership and now holds an executive committee post in another. In spite of this, Mr Chia says he did not start out with political ambitions.

As a newly qualified lawyer in 1999, Mr Chia found himself recruited into the Young PAP (YP) through a toastmaster’s course set up at a community club by the YP. After the 2001 elections, Mr Chia began questioning his allegiances. Mr Chia tells TOR CHING LI how his comrades at YP took his crossover, and if he’s really a YP spy in the Workers’ Party (WP).

You started out wanting to debate, but ended up with a political party membership. How did that happen?

The recruitment techniques of the YP are pretty advanced. Most people get into the YP through community work. From my experience, most people who join the YP are more socially conscious than politically inclined. So, they are open to the suggestion of community work, which fits in with helping out at Meet The People Sessions where you fill out forms with residents’ complaints.

I know the PAP goes for lawyers, especially top lawyers who have established themselves. I suppose it is also natural for lawyers to be more interested in politics since we work closely with an organ of state, the judiciary. The nature of parliamentary work, such as the debating of bills and acts, is also closely linked to law.

Why jump ship?

In the course of listening to the people’s grievances, I felt that these would be better managed if they were aired more directly to the policy-making body and the Cabinet. For this to happen, Singaporeans have to be given an alternative voice.

In a sense, the PAP is a victim of its own success as the massive grassroots assistance offered to the MP may actually cut them off from some grievances. It is inevitable that some grassroots leaders will let the MP hear what they like to hear.

The way the PAP campaigned in the election, keen to hold on to every seat, also surprised me. To me, such an imbalance is not healthy for the political situation. So after the 2001 election, I decided to leave the party. I believe that Singapore politics will be a lot healthier with a multi-party system where different voices and opinions are aired in Parliament.

As it is, views may be aired but when it comes to voting, almost all MPs have to fall in line with the PAP.

Are your YP friends still your friends?

I knew some of them before I joined the YP, so they are still my friends. If we meet, we try not to discuss politics. But they did try very strongly to dissuade me. After the 2001 elections, I tried to gather some friends to contest for a Group Representation Constituency in the next elections as independent candidates. The reason was the stigma attached to opposition politics.

This was, of course, difficult and I couldn’t get the necessary team of six. Finally, I decided I was better off channelling my energies with the opposition. I approached the National Solidarity Party but found I fit with the Workers’ Party and joined last year.

Was the WP suspicious of your intentions or think you were a possible spy?

Well, they never asked me that! But when I first met Mr Low Thia Khiang, our secretary-general, he asked me: “Why do you want to join the WP?”. Then he said: “Do you know that, most of the time, even if we contest, we will lose?”

I told him I had gotten over that part of it. In contesting a general election, it is not the end if we do not win a seat. The people will be the ultimate winner of any contest if they get greater attention from one or both parties contesting the ward.

We also have nothing against the PAP distributing election goodies because this is what the people deserve. Conversely, however, if the ward is under the opposition, they should not lose their privileges as Singapore citizens.