New Paper: WP’s new faces

Eye on election
Question time

The Workers’ Party unveiled three likely candidates. DAWN CHIA and LOW CHING LING find out what makes them tick?


Potential candidate 1:
Mr Brandon Siow Wei Min, 30, married, no children. Sales manager with Singapore Airlines Cargo. Honours degree in Political Science from NUS. Joined WP in 2005, treasurer of the Eastern Area Committee.


Potential candidate 2:
Mr Abdul Salim Harun, 24, single. Sales co-ordinator with Wing Tai Holdings. NTC-2 certificate in wafer fabrication. Joined WP in 2005, member of North Eastern Area Committee.


Potential candidate 3:
Miss Glenda Han Su May, 30, single. Entrepreneur with a degree in Economics and Japanese Studies from NUS. Joined WP in 2004, deputy secretary of the Youth Wing

Pictures: CHOO CHWEE HUA, HEDY KHOO

Q Why do you think the Opposition has not revealed any new candidates until now?

Mr Siow: I don’t think that we’re not prepared. We’ve actually been walking the ground in the constituencies for some time now. It’s just that we have not officially announced our candidacy in the media. The party will announce the official candidates when they feel it’s the right time.

Q Why did you join the Opposition and not the PAP?

Miss Han: All of us generally have a consensus that you do need thoughts and rationales that represent the flip side of the coin. You can’t have ideas, laws and rules coming from one angle. There has to be reasonable debate coming from another angle.

Mr Abdul Salim: If everyone decides to join the PAP, then why have elections in the first place? Everyone should have a choice. I believe in a two-party system – to check and balance.

Q If you had a choice, who would you want from the PAP to join your, say, GRC team? Why?

Mr Siow: Maybe Dr Vivian Balakrishnan. I think he’s more open to new ideas, more receptive to criticism, more willing to hear out alternative ideas.

Miss Han: I can’t answer that because I don’t have a personal preference or dislike for any particular member.

Q Is it important to have a track record like a PAP candidate to be a credible Opposition candidate? Why?

Miss Han: I’m not all for that, because you do have to go through and experience things first-hand to really understand what people actually feel. If you’re brought up in a comfortable environment all the time, you won’t really understand what hardship means to some people.

Mr Abdul Salim: The most important thing is to have the passion to serve the people. Qualifications, in the Singapore context, do matter. But if you have the qualifications, and not the passion, dedication and sincerity to serve the people, then there’s no point.

Q What’s your favourite makan place and favourite hangout? What do you do in your free time?

Mr Siow: Changi Village, because it’s near to my office. Borders because it closes quite late and it’s always nice to spend some time browsing.

Mr Abdul Salim: KFC. Every time, I order a two-piece chicken meal, crispy, I’ll request specially for both to be thighs. Because thighs are meatier. Esplanade. It’s very peaceful. Sit by the waves and look at the stars. It’s very beautiful and calming. I like to ‘jalan jalan’. I like nature and greenery.

Miss Han: Home – I prefer home-cooked food. My favourite hangout is my cocktail bar, Les Chameaux – it means camels. In my free time, I like to go out for coffee with friends.

Q What do you wish you could change about your current life or past?

Mr Abdul Salim: Because my qualification is NTC-2, I wish I had worked harder in the past. But I have no regrets. Currently, I’m also looking into my future and planning to further my studies. I realise that to live in Singapore, you need qualifications. So I’m planning ahead and now I’m looking at my choices to take up studies in the near future.

Mr Siow: I wish I could have spent more time brushing up my Mandarin. I went to Catholic High and did CL1, and I had a difficult time because we spoke English at home. The only Mandarin I spoke was in school and with the tuition teacher. Now, it’s important to converse not just in English, but also in Mandarin, so I wish I had used it more in my younger days.

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New Paper: So, what moves you, Sylvia?

Eye on election

Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim talks to SYLVIA TOH PAIK CHOO about her days as a policewoman, turning 40 and entering politics


Picture: KUA CHEE SIONG

POLITICS is not for the faint-hearted.

And this former cop is one gutsy lady.

She remembers the day she got called out to a Geylang hotel.

The hotel owner was worried about a guest who had overstayed and had not checked out.

“He had shot himself in the head with a carpenter’s nail gun,” said Ms Sylvia Lim (right), chairman of the Workers’ Party.

“It was very sad. So sad, when we found he was listening to sentimental Thai songs at the time.”

She has seen life in the raw, but it has not numbed her sensibilities.

Ms Lim later left the force to become a lawyer – like her father.

It was not a conscious move to follow in his footsteps.

“My father was a police officer who decided he wanted to be his own boss. He became a lawyer after 35.

“I did my master’s (in law) in London, but got the sense that people do law for the glamour and the money.

“I wanted to gel law and public service.”

From 1991 to 1994, she was a police inspector. The petite lady cop was never ribbed by male colleagues. In fact, it was her mother who made the point of remembering her “mata-mata (police, in Malay slang)” uniform.

“One time, shopping in Hong Kong, my mother told the salesman that her daughter is a policewoman. So what kind of bag to buy her?” she chortled.

The laugh-out-loud personality continued: “And that’s the bag I lost when I got robbed.”

This was after she’d left the police force. “I was walking along Claymore Hill when two men on a bike snatched it from me.

“It was dark, they had helmets and it happened so fast.”

She had handed in her badge because she felt, “at the time, women officers were not being treated fairly”.

“My contemporaries were promoted in two years, but I was told for women, it’d be five, six years.

“Of course, things have very much improved since.”

To put it in common context, Ms Lim has moved from Law & Order to The West Wing.

She watches neither TV dramas, but has the entire set of Band Of Brothers.

“Leadership and camaraderie,” she said.

Then, “Do you have the DVD of Women Warriors Of The Yang Family?”

No, but Cheng Pei Pei (lead actress) is my friend.

TRIPPY LADY

Ms Lim is one peppy lady.

She is still nursing an ankle injury from student days – “I fell into a drain” – which has cut back her jogging routine.

The old injury means taking extra care. Just last week she was in record shop HMV to buy a CD, “and I tripped and had to hobble”.

Were you looking to buy Daytripper (Beatles)?

I had to hold on to her chair as she almost fell off laughing.

“Platters,” the 41-year-old leader of the opposition party said. “My father’s kind of music, great singing.”

The readily likeable Temasek Polytechnic law lecturer turned 41 on Tuesday and looks 30.

We met in the Lemongrass restaurant in Siglap.

Happy birthday. You order, I’ll pay, I said like a yaya papaya (show-off in Malay slang).

“Quick, take your picture, after that we can get messy,” she said to our photographer.

“Turning 40 was harder psychologically because it’s a milestone.”

The single girl continues to receive hongbao. “Fortunately, I don’t have many relatives,” she mused, at the annual so-when-are-you-going-
to-get-married recital from distant family.

“Not anytime soon” is her response.

There are two younger siblings, a brother with NUS and a sister in New Zealand.

What’s a pretty career woman like her, with discretionary income, doing in the world of politics?

You’ve got to give 150 per cent of your time, with none to spare to stop and smell the Starbucks. “I can still commit the time,” she said, seriously.

“Concerned friends quote that Chinese saying about opposition candidates ‘die ugly death’, but succeed or fail, I know I would have done my bit.

“To inject balance into the system.”

She held a thought. “Or move on to the next glass of wine!” she chuckled.

Her family is supportive.

“We’ve always talked politics at home, so it’s a natural step. They were not surprised.

“My father comes to the functions. My mother, being Catholic, prays for me. And my sister, who works for a bank, says send her the money and she’ll put it in an account with a funny name!” she rocked with laughter.

“Would that I had any,” said the heartlander who shops mostly in Tampines. “It’s close, we are in the east.”

Visiting residents and WP meetings take up most of her non-poly hours.

Win or lose, she has her teaching job, which is not all civil and criminal procedures.

Yes, students do get crushes on their teachers. “It’s normal,” she shrugged.

“They invited me to Zouk for a retro night, and I didn’t even recognise one song!”

And she was off, to a church choir practice, rehearsing a musical.

TODAY: Compare apples with apples: WP’s Low

General Election 2006

IF MY rival can do it, then so can I, indicated Opposition MP Low Thia Khiang in response to reports that PAP’s Eric Low had promised to help Hougang residents privatise their HUDC estates.

He said that if his constituents wanted their estates privatised, he would certainly fight for it as hard as Mr Eric Low had.

“Is he saying the Opposition MP can’t fight for it in Parliament or is less effective in fighting for certain rights or interests? I think we are equally effective,” said the Workers’ Party (WP) chief.

Speaking to reporters after his meet-the-people session last night, Mr Low also touched on the issue of upgrading which, he acknowledged, could be important for residents.

“But when it came to improving amenities, MPs should be given similar resources, he said. “The current situation now is not like comparing which candidate is more capable but whose father is richer,” said Mr Low.

“If the Government gives me the same amount of resources as the other PAP wards, I’m very sure that if I can’t do a better job than PAP MPs, at the very least, I can do an equal job.”

Mr Low also leapt into the lift upgrading debate started by Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong, who said his Town Council’s proposal to stop lifts at every floor had been rejected two years back.

The HDB then stated that the previous Town Council Act had prohibited the use of residential sinking funds to upgrade the lifts to stop at every floor. The act was amended last year.

Mr Low claimed that his Town Council had a lift upgrading programme approved by the HDB six years ago, though he clarified that the money had come from the Town Council’s surplus funds.

But one year after that, another application to carry out similar works also using surplus funds had been rejected, he said. The HDB said it was looking into Mr Low’s remarks, made late in the day. – LOH CHEE KONG

Straits Times: WP chief: HDB blocked lift upgrading in Hougang

BY ZAKIR HUSSAIN

WORKERS’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang yesterday revealed the obstacles that he faced in trying to upgrade lifts in his constituency, Hougang.

His comments come in the wake of the Housing Board disputing another opposition MP’s account of his difficulty with lift upgrading.

The HDB said it was because of a law that Mr Chiam See Tong could not use his town council’s sinking fund to provide lifts that stop on every floor for some blocks in his Potong Pasir constituency.

Last August, the law was changed. The Town Councils Act now allows up to 10 per cent of a council’s sinking funds to be used for lift upgrading if the cost for each home that gained from it did not exceed $5,000.

In his press statement, Mr Low, however, pointed out that the Act does not disallow town councils from introducing lifts that stop on every floor. In 2000, the HDB approved such upgrading and the Hougang Town Council paid the entire bill. But in 2002, similar lift upgrading works were not approved by the HDB, he said.

Giving details, Mr Low said HDB gave its nod in August 2000 to the upgrading of 16 lifts in six blocks in Hougang Avenue 3 and 7. The work was completed in October 2001.

But in December 2002, the HDB did not allow the same to be done to 58 lifts in Blocks 301 to 334 in Hougang Avenue 5 and 7. The town council later replaced the lifts as they were old, he said.

But the lifts could not stop on every floor because landowner HDB had refused to approve it, Mr Low said, adding: “The law was not the reason.”

HDB’s reason for saying “no” was not given in his statement yesterday but the subject was reported in the Hougang Town Council’s annual report ending March 31 last year.

It said: “According to the HDB, the town council would not be fair to all residents as the additional landings created would not serve all the residents of the blocks.”

It also said: “The fact that the town council would progressively work towards providing this by first upgrading the existing lifts was not acceptable either to the HDB.”

In Potong Pasir’s case, Mr Chiam had blamed HDB for thwarting his plans to upgrade the lifts in six point blocks in Toa Payoh Lorong 8.

Responding, HDB pointed out that despite the change in the Town Councils Act, Mr Chiam had not made any application to use the council’s sinking fund for lift upgrading.

Mr Chiam replied that by the time the law was changed, the lift upgrading works had been completed.

Lift upgrading looks set to be key in the People’s Action Party’s quest to recapture the two opposition-held wards in the coming General Election.

TODAY: Not afraid to speak his mind

Yaw Shin Leong wants to do ‘something’ for S’pore and believes that political competition is the way to go

DERRICK A PAULO
derrick@newstoday.com.sg


WEE TECK HIAN
STRONG CONVICTION: Mr Yaw Shin Leong of Workers’ Party says he decided to enter politics after ‘Cheng San 1997’.

BARELY six months after joining the Workers’ Party, an ambitious Yaw Shin Leong got into a heated argument with party chief Low Thia Khiang.

Mr Yaw had grand plans for the party after being appointed chairman of the WP’s youth action committee in December 2001.

He wanted to have WP chapters in Nee Soon, Sembawang and beyond. But secretary-general Mr Low disagreed. A huge debate erupted.

“I said we should expand, we can’t be so passive, we can’t be so conservative, we need to have more. I was thinking: Why doesn’t he see where I’m coming from?” he said.

“Within less than a few months, I realised where he was coming from. I tried (to expand). It wasn’t as easy as I had thought.”

These days, Mr Yaw, 30, is nonetheless as energetic and enthusiastic as before.

The secretary and co-secretary of WP’s northern and eastern area committee respectively has been seen recently working the ground in East Coast, Sembawang and Ang Mo Kio.

He will probably stand in one of these GRCs at the upcoming polls.

He now agrees with Mr Low, the MP for Hougang, that the party must first consolidate and “build from the core” rather than scatter its resources – a sign of how important Aljunied GRC, which surrounds Hougang, will be at the General Election (GE).

It is not the first time Mr Yaw has changed his views on politics.

When he was about 12, he began reading books on “Maoism, Stalinism, communism and democracy”. He “particularly grew quite attached” to socialism and communism.

But came June 4, 1989 – the Tiananmen Square massacre – and his nascent political views came crashing down.

“I was deeply disappointed. How could paradise on earth, supposedly in the construct of communist utopia, end in the bloodshed of innocent lives? I began to question,” he said.

“Of course, I was young and toying with ideas. I became more of a democratic socialist without realising it.”

As a National University of Singapore undergraduate, he joined the Democratic Socialist Club and became its president.

After Speakers’ Corner opened in 2000, Mr Yaw became a regular speaker. He also joined civil activist group Think Centre.

However, the event that stiffened his resolve to enter politics was “Cheng San 1997”. “The chain of events leading up to Polling Day convinced me that I must do something for my country,” he said, choosing his words carefully.

Probed further, he added, “There was a sense of political unjustness in terms of the political climate – how political campaigns were conducted at that point in time.”

Cheng San was the scene of the most heated contest in the 1997 GE. The rallies held by the WP team of Mr J B Jeyaretnam, Mr Tang Liang Hong, Dr Tan Bin Seng, Mr Huang Seow Kwang and Mr Abdul Rahim Osman drew huge crowds, and eventually, then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong had to step into the fray and up the stakes by putting his whole government on the line.

Mr Tang, labelled a dangerous Chinese chauvinist by the leaders, was sued for defamation and fled Singapore.

In 1999, Mr Yaw became a Potong Pasir grassroots volunteer for MP Chiam See Tong. But he later asked “Uncle Chiam” to terminate his membership due to his mother’s objections.

“It was nightmarish for my mum,” he said. “She used to pray and fast for me. She would tell me: ‘Son, I don’t mind you entering politics, but why don’t you join the PAP’.”

Mr Yaw still remembers the day his mother – who single-handedly raised him and his younger sister after his father died when he was 13 – gave him her blessings to join the Opposition: June 2, 2001.

Twenty days later, he joined the WP.

Explaining his switch within the opposition ranks, the e-business analyst, who is married, said: “WP gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling in terms of its ideological platform.”

Mr Yaw and his party colleagues helped to conceptualise and vet the WP manifesto (http://www.wp.org.sg/party/manifesto_2006.htm).

For his part, he feels the political pillar is missing in Singapore’s total defence – a concept in which he firmly believes.

“Political defence, in the context of political competition, enhances a country’s survival,” he said.

He hopes to inculcate a robust political culture here is via Project Breakthrough – a team-up between the WP and Singapore People’s Party to open the communication lines between the two parties.

Though it is mostly younger opposition members who seem keen on this, he still draws inspiration from his veteran opposition colleagues.

Referring to his big debate with Mr Low, he gave his boss credit for allowing him to try new things. “We may sometimes have differences in approach, but that episode told me that if he has thought of it and disagrees, there must be valid reasons … So I’d rather take a few steps back and understand why,” said Mr Yaw.

“There is mutual respect.”

TODAY: Low: SM may swing votes but …

Workers’ Party chief confident of retaining his seat

VAL CHUA
ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR
val@newstoday.com.sg

HE admits that the presence of the Senior Minister will help his opponent, but the incumbent MP for Hougang, Mr Low Thia Khiang, says he is neither intimidated nor distracted by what is shaping up to be a highstakes battle in the single ward.

Speaking to reporters for the first time since Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong pledged to help PAP candidate Eric Low win the opposition ward, the Workers’ Party chief said: “Why should I worry? At the end of the day, it’s the voters who decide. Not the PAP.”

Adding that he “welcomes” the visit of the Senior Minister – which will start this Sunday during a community walkabout – he added tongue-in-cheek: “He’s not coming here to contest, right?”

Last Sunday, SM Goh was given the special assignment to help his PAP mates win back the opposition wards of Hougang and Potong Pasir.

Mr Low had held onto his ward with a 55 per cent win during the 2001 election.

Commenting on speculation that Mr Goh’s presence would force the opposition leader to guard his home turf instead of helping his colleagues elsewhere, Mr Low said: “The PAP must know by now that I am not a person who can be easily intimidated.”

But he admitted that the presence of SM Goh may swing some votes.

“Of course he will improve the chances of my opponent. There will definitely be some impact because he’s the Senior Minister.”

But he added: “I know I’ve done my best and I’ve not disappointed my supporters.”

In fact, he said the harder the PAP works at wooing voters, the more residents gain.

“Where can you find free breakfast? Where do you find abalone porridge? It’s the special privilege of opposition wards,” said Mr Low, referring to the giveaways by Potong Pasir’s PAP candidate Sitoh Yih Pin.

He said his opponent, Mr Eric Low, had done his job.

“I will not say he has done a good job. But he has done his part, and in so doing, residents in Hougang benefited. We have also free medical treatment here, we have a lot of free things here, which is against the PAP principle, but we have it here, so why not?”

TODAY: WP checks out Ang Mo Kio

WHILE Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was rallying support for the People’s Action Party in nearby Yio Chu Kang, Workers’ Party (WP) cadres were working the ground in Mr Lee’s Ang Mo Kio ward – which they indicated they might contest.

Led by Mr Yaw Shin Leong, an ex-co member of the WP’s Youth Wing, they covered some 15 residential blocks and the Cheng San wet market.

Said Mr Yaw, 30, an e-business analyst: “If it is in the national interest to come here, and if the WP leadership should so decide, my team mates and I are prepared to be fielded.”

He said his party knew the area well. “A portion of Ang Mo Kio actually belonged to Cheng San GRC” – which the WP had contested in 1997.

And like the ruling party, the WP could field more female candidates. Ms Lee Wai Leng, 26, a member of WP’s Central Executive Committee, said: “I hope to be called upon to contest. It would be the first time I’m contesting the elections. If the party is willing to send me, I’m prepared.”

Ms Lee, a graduate running a translation company, has been active in WP grassroots activities in Hougang, Aljunied and Nee Soon East. – LOH CHEE KONG