Straits Times: Call to go beyond just online views

THE Internet could hinder civil society activism if young people did not go beyond expressing themselves online to getting organised and taking action, said both an opposition politician and an activist on Saturday.

It was not enough to be “rambling in the distance”, said Workers’ Party deputy organising secretary Chia Ti Lik.

“Expression must be linked to action,” he said.

His view was echoed by activist group Think Centre vice-president Tan Kong Soon, who was concerned that youths may be content to just post their views on the Internet or sign an online petition, instead of attending a forum as well.

Both were speaking at a forum organised by Think Centre focusing on ways to engage youths, including using the Internet. About 30 people turned up.

The role of the Internet in reaching out to the public was also raised by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech last Sunday when he said the Government intends to use new media like podcasts to convey its message to citizens.

The forum speakers did not refer to Mr Lee’s address, but Mr Chia said the Internet could result in people interested in politics just talking among themselves, rather than engaging others who are politically apathetic.

The 32-year-old lawyer also noted that political parties are creating youth wings to free them from having to take “more extreme views” that the youth wing can adopt.

The Workers’ Party set up its youth wing in June last year.

Youths should speak for themselves, with bold remarks, sharp arguments and, if the situation calls for it, sarcasm, he said.

Other speakers included Nanyang Technological University lecturer Ho Khai Leong, who proposed lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, as a way to include youths who might otherwise feel detached from politics.

TODAY: Cheaper transport on WP’s wish list

THE Workers’ Party (WP) yesterday sent its birthday wishes to the nation – and a brief wish list to the Government.

In a “National Day address” released to the media, the party “reflect(ed)” on the applications by transport operators to raise fares due to rising diesel prices.

The WP pointed to ComfortDelGro’s and SMRT’s respective net earnings of about $200 million and $100 million last year, and asked if the operators considered passing the benefits of lower Certificates of Entitlement (COEs) for taxis to the commuting public.

The Opposition party argued that public transport should not be profit driven or listed.

“This is so that these operators do not have the anticipated pressure by shareholders, largely government-linked companies, to produce increasing returns on investments and quarterly profits,” wrote the WP in its address.

It asked the Government to ensure that the operators serve primarily “the interests of public commuting needs and not only the shareholders”.

The party also questioned if proposed changes in the foreign worker policies were enough to enable Singaporeans to compete on an even keel with foreign workers.

Next year, the Manpower Ministry will raise the levy to moderate the demand for foreign workers while allowing the service sector to hire more such workers to give businesses more flexibility.

Said the WP: “The management’s challenge is to extract maximum productivity from the cost of labour. Are we giving employers an easy way out by allowing them more access to cheaper foreign workers?”

It asked for a “more satisfactory solution” to raise the salaries of the lower income group and repeated its call in May for Cabinet ministers to “benchmark their performance on their ability to uplift the conditions” of Singaporeans in the bottom 20 per cent of income earners.

Straits Times: WP criticises proposals to raise fares

THE Workers’ Party (WP) has criticised public transport operators for wanting to raise fares on buses and trains, saying they should not be profit driven.

Repeating the point it made at the General Election in May, it said: “Public transport operators, as the name suggests, should not be profit driven, let alone be listed.”

Its argument is that if they were not listed on the stock exchange, the companies do not have to face pressure from shareholders to produce increasing returns on investments and quarterly profits.

The opposition party made the point yesterday in its National Day statement published on its website. The statement was signed by WP’s treasurer Eric Tan and organising secretary Yaw Shin Leong.

Bus and train operators ComfortDelGro and SMRT have applied to increase fares by between one and three cents from October.

The WP said that while operators have blamed rising diesel prices for the proposed increase, listed operator ComfortDelGro posted net earnings of about $200 million last year and SMRT, about $100 million.

The party did not elaborate on how such companies should be run. But in its earlier election manifesto, it wanted trains and buses on trunk routes to be brought under a non-profit-oriented National Transport Corporation. The manifesto had proposed opening feeder bus services to individual private operators as well.

In its statement yesterday, the WP also voiced its opposition to the higher cab fares introduced last month. The flag-down rate rose by 10 cents to $2.50 and the peak-period surcharge doubled to $2.

The Government should come up with a better way for raising the salaries of the lower- income group and close the income gap, it said.

The opposition party argued that the new foreign worker policies and levy put the Singaporean worker at a great disadvantage and added: “Are we giving employers an easy way out by allowing them more access to cheaper foreign workers?”

It also expressed disappointment at Today newspaper’s suspension of blogger mr brown’s column last month, after the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica) had criticised its commentary on the high cost of living here.

Such “intolerance” is not evidence of an open society, and Mica’s response is “unbecoming”, it said and added: “While Mica has the right to rebut anyone, the Workers’ Party calls on our First World ruling regime to do so logically and with dignity.”

To its supporters, it pledged to continue to provide them with a “credible choice”.

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Straits Times: Youth Wing: WP’s building block


THE Workers’ Party (WP) intends to rely on its youth wing to bring in new members, as part of broader plans to reach out to a younger generation of voters.

Established in June last year, the youth wing, which the WP says has 100 members, aims to double its membership yearly, its president Perry Tong said yesterday.

Youth wing members automatically become WP members.

“The youth wing will be driving the recruitment of the party itself and I hope we can increase our membership by 100 per cent every year,” said the 35-year-old management consultant, speaking ahead of the youth wing’s annual conference on Sunday.

The youth wing will also serve as a “test bed for new and different ideas” which, if found workable, will be adopted by the party itself.

One such idea: a faster pace of rejuvenation and renewal of leadership posts. At Sunday’s conference, Mr Tong will suggest members put this into practice. But he declined to go into details.

The youth wing’s president is elected by the WP’s central executive committee. But its vice-president, secretary and six executive council members are picked by youth wing members.

All the executive council members, including the president, serve a two-year term. There is no limit on how often they can be re-elected.

The WP has seen its ranks grow by more than 100 members after the May general election, when it was the best performer among the opposition parties, winning 38.4 per cent of valid votes. Mr Tong said a “substantial” number of new members are young Singaporeans.

The WP has been busy on other fronts. It brought in new members to its Hougang constituency committee, spruced up its website with new content, and reorganised its area committees.

These include having a new central area committee led by organising secretary Yaw Shin Leong, 30. The IT consultant led the WP team that lost in Ang Mo Kio GRC.

His committee will cover Ang Mo Kio GRC, Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC and Yio Chu Kang as part of plans for the next general election due by 2011.

He said the committee will have some 20 members, and he hopes to start activities like house-to-house visits in the next two months.

ST MindYourBody: Balancing politics and life



Politician Sylvia Lim enjoys working out and sipping wine with loved ones to chill out.

You hit the headlines when you became chairman of the opposition Workers’ Party. Was it a trial?

Certainly, it was not a “tryout”, if that’s what you mean. It is a responsibility I have undertaken to fulfil so long as it moves the party forward.

How did you prepare yourself, your voice and your stamina for the role?

No deliberate preparation in the physical sense. Knowledge-wise, I try to read as much as I can about public policy matters so as to make informed contributions and to note social trends. However, maintaining balance is important – so I make it a point to exercise, and meet family and friends so as not to burn out.

How about getting candid in front of a crowd or for the camera?

I will give my frank opinions but when it comes to confidential matters within the party or my personal life, that should be protected.

You have been referred to as telegenic. What do you think of that?

A compliment. I have never thought of myself as such, and in fact, I avoid watching myself on TV as I tend to be very self-critical.

Now that you are a recognisable figure, is keeping trim on top of the agenda? If not, then what is?

At the public level, top of the agenda is to keep tabs on public policy concerns and hence, doing a lot of homework, especially to prepare for my Non-Constituency MP role. Of course, taking care of my health is important to ensure that I can go the distance.

Too tough to get stage fright?

There are times when I feel apprehensive, especially if I have not done something before – for example, my first few general election rally speeches. But I do learn and adapt.

What does it mean to be a member of the opposition?

It means having to perform better than the People’s Action Party. We have less resources and infrastructure, so we must be very nimble and committed.

Why not simply join the ranks?

I want to be where I am needed. There is really no need at all for me to carry coal to Newcastle.

How do you deal with public attention?

So far it has been fine. I find it very rewarding when members of the public come up to me to talk about politics or their worries in the supermarket or on the street.

Do you have a wild side?

Of course. There are hedonistic tendencies… but as one gets older, these tend to become a bit more civilised.

Not one for spiritual solace?

I do embrace my Catholic religion, and attend mass regularly. When in doubt, I pray to do the right thing.

Ever get intimidated by age?

I did not like turning 40 but I have got over it already!

Which would you prefer to last – being healthy, wealthy or wise?

I suppose being healthy. Wealth is not important to me. Wisdom is but it will not be easy being wise but sickly.

How do you keep fit and healthy?

I exercise about three times a week. I enjoy running outdoors but due to long-lasting ankle injuries, I have had to cross-train with swimming and gym work.

Do you find keeping fit a pleasure or pain?

Definitely a pleasure. It helps me so much to bring up my energy and concentration levels.

How do you kick-start your day?

Caffeine (coffee) is necessary.

How do you chill out?

Exercise, and having wine with family and friends.

Do you have a motto?

To live life as fully as possible and without fear.

What then is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear is overstaying my welcome in anything I do. By that, I mean staying where you are no longer contributing.