TEO HWEE NAK
DEPUTY NEWS EDITOR
IN A country where Opposition parties hover only on the fringe of society and politics, the Workers’ Party (WP) is experiencing a revival.
Even though the party failed to capture more than Hougang at the polls, the WP is harvesting the seeds it started sowing in the 2001 General Election (GE).
In the days since the last votes were counted, the party has been pleasantly surprised at the email requests – numbering more than 100 – from Singaporeans wanting to join the party.
It is no wonder WP chairman Sylvia Lim, who was yesterday officially declared a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, called GE2006 “a watershed election – a sign of better things to come”.
Speaking to Today in an interview, the 40-year-old law lecturer said: “I expect the WP to grow. We will definitely make significant progress. Because of the people we had this round as candidates, I think it has inspired many others, especially younger people, to come forward.
“In a sense, it affirms that taking part in Opposition politics is something that will be soon accepted as a way of life, something normal.”
So as it winds down from the GE frenzy, the party is shifting to high gear on its road to renewal. On the agenda is a review of the organisational structure to put in more responsive structures to cope with bigger numbers.
The party is also considering bringing forward its council election to this year, even though it is not due until next year.
“Many of our newer members have leadership potential and they can certainly be put to good use. We need to find ways and projects to give them exposure to let them show what they are made of,” said Ms Lim. “We have to keep up the potential to try to give opportunities for people to grow within WP, to find that they can make contributions. That’s where people will feel valued and they will stay.”
One impetus for the party’s renewal drive is its crop of younger candidates, whom Ms Lim calls “the next wave”. Thirteen of its 20 candidates were from the post-Independence generation – born after 1965.
“I think to a certain extent the younger generation has also plugged in to what we’ve been doing because they also see younger faces among us. Once you see people of your age group, you tend to be more interested in what’s going on,” she said.
“It augurs well for subsequent elections because we can clearly see that we’ve got people in their 20s and 30s who are prepared and are capable of taking on leadership positions in the party as well.”
During the campaign period, Ms Lim had announced that the “long-term aims” of the party was to contest in more than half the seats available in future elections. Yesterday, she said that it could happen as soon as the next election, if the momentum is kept up.
In the eyes of many, the WP has already emerged a clear Opposition leader in Singapore, next to the Singapore Democratic Alliance – which is reliant on the popularity of 71-year-old Chiam See Tong, who has yet to embark on a renewal drive – and a splintered Singapore Democratic Party dogged by lawsuits and controversies.
Wards contested by the WP monopolised all the top positions in terms of performance among the Opposition in both GRCs and SMCs. Wherever it stood, the percentage of the spoilt votes was also the smallest, as compared to the two wards contested by the Singapore Democratic Party on the other end of the scale. This, according to the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies’ Dr Terence Chong, is a clear indication that voters in those constituencies were less likely to be in a dilemma because of the quality of the candidates.
National University of Singapore political scientist Kenneth Paul Tan added: “The WP candidates … conducted themselves most admirably during the campaign period, not taking the bait during the more difficult moments but standing firm on their principles and responding calmly,” he said.
Not at all coy about the party’s ambitions, Ms Lim said candidly that there is “no point in having a plethora of small parties”.
She added: “I think it’s our responsibility to build up the party, it is more so that it can be a serious counter point to the PAP. So long as the Opposition remains a fragmented bunch of small parties, the PAP is happy with this because there’s no real challenge. But once there is a party that is emerging in strength, it can exert political pressure on the PAP on its own.”