Straits Times: Opposition MPs, PAP rivals team up for estate upgrading

Hougang and Potong Pasir will use funds to go barrier-free

BY PEH SHING HUEI


IT’S FOR THE PEOPLE
“The funds are meant for the people and are not going to the WP or the PAP.”
MR ERIC LOW (in white), saying this is the first time he is offering the CIPC funds to Mr Low Thia Khiang (far left)

FOR the first time, Singapore’s two opposition MPs and their opponents from the People Action Party (PAP) have come together to work on a project to improve their estates.

After years of barbs and battles, the long-time rivals in Hougang and Potong Pasir are teaming up to create a barrier-free environment for the elderly and the disabled.

The money for the projects will come from the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) fund, the source of much frustration for the two opposition MPs who have not been able to dip into the kitty on their own previously.

The CIPC, which reports directly to the Minister of National Development, disburses funds for minor improvements to estates.

However, access to the money is possible only through a constituency’s Citizens’ Consultative Committee, a grassroots organisation whose adviser is always a PAP representative.

As a result, the two opposition MPs – Mr Low Thia Khiang in Hougang and Mr Chiam See Tong in Potong Pasir – have long complained that the CIPC discriminates against them, denying them money for improving their estates.

But in this instance, Mr Eric Low in Hougang and Mr Sitoh Yih Pin in Potong Pasir – the PAP men who had the funds – made the first move in approaching the MPs, who run the town councils.

They did so as the nationwide move to make Singapore elderly- and handicapped-friendly would require the building of ramps and handrails in public places, which come under the purview of a town council.

This tie-up is a break from the past, when Mr Sitoh, for example, had avoided the town council by leasing state land from the Government to build solar lamps and a playground in Potong Pasir.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan told The Straits Times last night the teaming up was a Government decision, prompted by the tight deadline to make Singapore estates barrier-free by 2011.

“We have been encouraging them to work together. Both of them have been responding,” he said, referring to the opposition MPs.

Mr Mah stressed that this project is unlike the Lift Upgrading Project (LUP), which all constituencies will get, but Hougang and Potong Pasir are at the end of the queue as they are opposition territory.

Under the LUP, almost all HDB blocks will have lifts that stop on every floor by 2014.

On whether the cooperation was a sign of things to come with more projects undertaken jointly, Mr Mah said: “If it is a project that benefits the residents, then I think both the advisers and the town councils should work together.”

Mr Eric Low said the Workers’ Party leader has accepted his offer of $100,000 for the project.

The PAP man said: “I asked him to give me the plans on where to install the ramps and handrails and he has done so.

“I should be able to approve it within the next two weeks.”

Mr Low Thia Khiang confirmed with The Straits Times that he had handed over a plan but declined to elaborate.

Mr Sitoh also said he is working with Potong Pasir’s town council and added: “This project is for the good of the residents.”

Mr Chiam welcomed the move last night, saying it is a “very sensible thing”.

“I have met residents who are in wheelchairs and they need to have barrier-free places,” said the Singapore Democratic Alliance chairman.

Mr Eric Low said the upgrading will be done across the estate where over one-quarter of the residents are approaching their 60s or older.

“Just as Mr Low said that he does not oppose for the sake of opposing, I also do not oppose for the sake of opposing,” he added.

“And don’t forget that I’m the opposition in Hougang.”

Hougang residents like retiree Chew Hiang Tiak are delighted. Said the 69-year-old: “It’s good the politicians put aside their differences to work for the residents. There are lots of old people here, so these changes will make our lives easier.”

Mr Eric Low and Mr Sitoh ran against the incumbents in the 2001 and 2006 General Elections, and lost both times.

Following their failure last year, the PAP suspended its weekly Meet-the-People sessions indefinitely in both wards.

shpeh@sph.com.sg

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JEREMY AU YONG

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New Paper on Sunday: New face of WP? We’re just ordinary Joes say youth wing members

Ng Tze Yong
tzeyong@sph.com.sg

OLDER FACE OF WORKERS’ PARTY: FIREBRANDS


David Marshall


JB Jeyaretnam


Everyday folk: Mr Koh Choong Yong (far right) and Mr Bernard Chen.


Party hearty: Party chairman Sylvia Lim (far left) and secretary general Low Thia Khiang (far right) mingling with party supporters last night.

pictures | kenneth koh, ng sze yong

THE new face of opposition politics is one you might miss in a crowd.

Mr Koh Choong Yong, the 34-year-old vice-president of the Workers’ Party (WP) youth wing, is gently guiding his pregnant wife down the Marina Square escalator.

Mr Koh, who runs a two-man IT consultancy firm from his home, is carrying a square, brown canvas bag and wearing Crocs.

He drives a grey Nissan Latio.

He seems to have little in common with the firebrand opposition politicians of the past.

As WP turned 50 yesterday, the political observer might well ask what happened to the battle-scarred warriors of the past. Like former leader JB Jeyaretnam who used to hawk his book outside Centrepoint Shopping Centre.

But today’s young guns are more like Mr Bernard Chen, WP’s youth wing organising secretary.

The 21-year-old had come from Temasek Polytechnic, where he is into his second year studying leisure and resort management.

He said: “I see my role as offering an entry point of sorts for ordinary young people. I want to show them opposition politics is something very normal.”

An everyman politician as a counter to the elite figures offered by the ruling party?

“Many WP members aren’t the high-flying elites that get co-opted into the PAP but ordinary everyday folks you see in the coffee shops,” noted Dr Terence Chong, a sociologist with the Institute of South-east Asian Studies.

Ordinary Joes. No loudhailers. No theatrics. Quite different from the WP of 50 years ago. The party’s founder was firebrand lawyer David Marshall.

WP did not have any seats in independent Singapore until 1981.

That was when Mr Jeyaretnam became the first opposition MP to enter Parliament since 1963.

WP embarked on a renewal process in later years, with rising star Low Thia Khiang, a Teochew-speaking businessman.

Today, WP has two members in Parliament: Mr Low, who has been MP for Hougang since 1991, and Ms Sylvia Lim, a Non-Constituency MP.

“The WP has a brand differentiation from SDA and SDP,” said Dr Chong.

“It is seen as the most cohesive opposition party today while SDP has a more confrontational strategy and the SDA has been rather quiet.”

But looking forward to the next 50 years, what’s the plan for succession?

Mr Koh readily admitted the party can’t attract the best.

“But then again, what do people mean by ‘the best’?” Mr Chen shoots back. “Academically?”

He played down the divide between WP’s youth wing and Young PAP.

To engage the post-65 Singaporean, Young PAP events have been held at hip places like Dragonfly and Indo-Chine.

Where do WP’s young guns hang out then?

“Hawker centres. KTVs, sometimes, when it’s someone’s birthday,” said Mr Chen.

Last night’s 50th anniversary dinner was held at Fortunate Restaurant on Toa Payoh Lorong 4.

The 700-odd well-wishers, many of them in their 50s, broke out in spontaneous cheers during the course of the night, as they tucked into shark’s fin, abalone and drunken prawns.

It resembled a boisterous wedding party. The audience was treated to a sideshow showing WP’s “birth”. Outside, old friends gathered for a smoke under giant red lanterns at the restaurant entrance.

Politics is not a high-brow business, said Mr Koh. It is about telling people how their lives are being affected.

Said Mr Chen: “People cannot join us for material benefits, to get their kid into the right school.

“Politics should be about helping Singaporean. Nothing else. Full stop.”

It’s not that Singaporeans are apathetic, said Mr Chen. They just don’t know what to do about their grievances.

“When people ask us how to join WP and we give them an application form, they’re surprised. They ask: Wah, so easy, ah?”

So what do these young guns want to do in WP? Mr Koh wants to increase environmental awareness while Mr Chen wants to engage the young.

But what about the economy, the main plank of Singapore’s success?

“A country is more than about budget surpluses and deficits. A country is about people and people have emotions,” said Mr Chen.

Sunday Times: WP chief sets target of winning GRC in next election

Low Thia Khiang speaks of party’s goal at its 50th anniversary dinner held last night

By Peh Shing Huei & Jeremy Au Yong


ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM
WORKERS’ PARTY MEMBERS raise their glasses at its 50th anniversary dinner last night. Among them are (front row, from left) Mr Low Thia Khiang, Ms Sylvia Lim and Dr Poh Lee Guan; and Mr Eric Tan (extreme right). To Mr Tan’s right is Ms Lee Wai Leng and, next to her, Ms Glenda Han. The dinner was attended by about 700 people.

THE Workers’ Party (WP) aims to achieve a breakthrough in Singapore politics by winning a GRC in the next General Election, said its leader Low Thia Khiang last night.

The task is “a must”, said the Hougang MP, if Singaporeans want its parliamentary democracy to function properly.

“In my view, as long as the opposition is unable to secure a breakthrough in a GRC, the opposition remains a marginal player and at risk of extinction one day,” he told about 700 people at a dinner to celebrate the WP’s 50th anniversary.

“Any talk of checks and balances and alternative government would be just talk, let alone the dream of seeing an opposition party winning an election and taking over the government like in mature Western democracies.”

The dinner, held at the Fortunate Restaurant in Toa Payoh, was a lively occasion, with people seated at 67 tables.

Guests included the wife and son of the WP founder, the late Mr David Marshall – Jean, 81, and academic Jonathan, 38, – along with leaders of other opposition parties such as MrChiam See Tong of the Singapore Democratic Alliance and the National Solidarity Party’s Sebastian Teo.

Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam, the WP leader before Mr Low took over the helm in 2001, was absent.

Since the GRC was introduced in 1988 to ensure minority representation in Parliament, no opposition party has won such a group representation constituency, which has at least three seats.

Its introduction has divided elections into two leagues, said Mr Low, who is the WP secretary-general.

The first league is the GRC and the second is the single member constituency (SMC) where no opposition candidate has unseated an incumbent since 1991.

He slammed the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) for redrawing electoral boundaries to dissolve SMCs and create new ones.

Now, even single wards are hard to win for the opposition as the PAP fields office-holders such as ministers of state, or incumbent MPs with strong grassroots support, he observed.

“If the situation continues, the opposition will be significantly weakened and its ability to contest elections to allow Singaporeans to exercise their political rights will be affected.”

He is, however, optimistic that there is a general aspiration among Singaporeans for the opposition to thrive.

This aspiration has not materialised because of the ruling party’s moves to limit political space and change election ground rules, among others, he said. But he acknowledged that it is also due to voters not having enough confidence in the opposition.

“For those who feel that WP is not up to the mark, how about coming forward to do some public service? I challenge the critics of WP to join the Workers’ Party to make it better,” he said.

Both Mr Low and party chairman Sylvia Lim paid tribute to veteran members – including former party chairman Tan Bin Seng and former organising secretary Ng Ah Chwee – who made “great sacrifices” for the party.

Speaking to reporters at the dinner, Mr Chiam, the MP for Potong Pasir, welcomed Mr Low’s bid for a GRC win.

“The fact that the opposition has not grown shows that the PAP has put obstacles in the way.

“I believe we must win a GRC. If he wants to, he should get the strongest team,’ he said, adding that he would not rule out joining forces with Mr Low.

shpeh@sph.com.sg

jeremyau@sph.com.sg

Channel NewsAsia: Workers’ Party aims to secure a GRC at next GE: Low Thia Khiang

By Wong Siew Ying


Low Thia Khiang (centre)


Sylvia Lim

SINGAPORE: The Workers’ Party (WP) will stay the course and work towards another watershed at the next general election (GE) 2011 to secure a GRC (Group Representation Constituency) ward.

This assurance was given by the Workers’ Party’s Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang at a dinner reception to celebrate the party’s 50th anniversary.

The event was attended by some 600 supporters and friends.

Among them – 81-year-old Jean Marshall, wife of the party’s founder David Marshall, as well as fellow opposition MP Chiam See Tong.

During the dinner, Workers’ Party Chairman Sylvia Lim thanked members who had kept faith with the party despite the odds and challenging political climate.

She also launched the Workers’ Party 50th anniversary commemorative book which traces the origins and journey of the party since 1957.

But it’s not all about history and Low outlined future plans for the party.

He said while the party has made good progress, it must continue to build public confidence and attract members of good calibre into the ranks. This will strengthen its bid to win a GRC in the next general election.

Low said: “I challenge the critics of WP to join the Workers’ Party to make it better. Only when there’s a pool of credible human resources can Workers’ Party perform better. Only when there’s new blood can Workers’ Party continue its renewal to meet society’s expectations.

“In my view, as long as the opposition is unable to secure a breakthrough in a GRC, the opposition remains a marginal player and at risk of extinction one day.” – CNA /ls

Posted in 2007 11. Comments Off on Channel NewsAsia: Workers’ Party aims to secure a GRC at next GE: Low Thia Khiang

Straits Times: Does the Hammer want to bang louder?

INSIGHT SATURDAY

The Workers’ Party celebrates its 50th anniversary tonight. Peh Shing Huei surveys the opposition party’s fortunes as it greets its golden year, including whether it will enlarge its presence beyond Hougang to win more seats or even a GRC

WHEN Mr Eric Tan began planning for the 50th anniversary of the Workers’ Party early this year, he was bursting with ideas.

A “Youth Parliament” for students to debate; a cycling event along East Coast Park; and a snazzy video to be played during the commemorative dinner.

But the debate was canned because schools and parents were hesitant to be part of an opposition party’s event; cycling was disallowed because the authorities refused to give a permit; and the video was a no-go because it could be deemed a “party political film”, contravening the Films Act.

The only event left is a dinner tonight at the Fortunate Restaurant in Toa Payoh, with just a simple slideshow as entertainment.

“Reality sinks in,” says the party treasurer, also the organising chairman of the celebrations, with a chuckle.

Reality, indeed, has often been an unforgiving check on the WP for the last five decades.

Despite half a century as an active political party here – second only to the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) – its record struggles to pass muster.

Limping through obscurity for the early half of its existence, the WP has never managed to snag more than one elected seat in Parliament at any one time.

But at last year’s elections, it mounted the strongest challenge among the opposition parties, capturing an average of 38.4 per cent of the votes in the wards contested.

It also made a brave, albeit suicidal, attempt at gunning for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Ang Mo Kio GRC and put up a fierce fight in Aljunied GRC.

As it crosses a milestone tonight, the question flashing before members’ minds must be: Is the party ready to break from its past?

The quiet Hammer?

WHILE it is not surprising to see antiestablishment postings on the online forums and blogs on Singapore, it is a tad odd when the criticism is directed at an underdog like the WP.

After PM Lee announced the Central Provident Fund (CPF) changes in his National Day Rally speech in August, forum postings wondered why the WP – known by its party logo, the Hammer – was so quiet.

“Does it agree or disagree with the PAP?”, asked one, days after the Rally.

Another said: “An opposition party should be proactive and always take the initiative to counter the Government instead of lazing around waiting for things to happen.

“Just look around at the spontaneous outpouring of views from forumers. If the WP cannot perform even up to the standard of these anonymous netizens, it should seriously consider de-registering itself as a political party.”

It was, to be fair, an overzealous remark.

But it points towards a gradually changing electorate and society, which demand instant answers compatible with their broadband speed.

As former British prime minister Tony Blair said in June: “When I fought the 1997 election – just 10 years ago – we took an issue a day. In 2005, we had to have one for the morning, another for the afternoon and by the evening the agenda had already moved on. You have to respond to stories also in real time.”

All these are contrary to the current WP model, one fashioned after the views and experiences of its leader Low Thia Khiang.

The Hougang MP swept to a surprise victory in 1991, a little-known Chinese-educated former teacher contesting in only his second election.

His win, achieved largely away from any media glare, paved the way fora modus operandi that the WP subsequently adopted when he took over from Mr J. B. Jeyaretnam as secretary-general in 2001.

Low’s Way has four main characteristics: wariness of the media; quiet, even secretive, ground work; an avowedly pro-Singapore stance; and non-confrontational politics.

It is a radical departure from Mr Jeyaretnam’s style, which favoured a combative approach towards the PAP.

The former WP leader, who left the party acrimoniously, declined to comment on the present leadership except to say cryptically that “it was a great party”.

Going Low’s Way?

THE party’s activities this year suggest that Low’s Way remains very much in vogue.

Only one forum (on Penal Code changes) was held and only two public statements – on Myanmar and a Labour Day message – were issued.

Locations of its weekly public outreach programmes to sell its Hammer newsletters have been removed from the party website. Party members would tell Insight only that they did it for “security and tactical” reasons.

Says organising secretary Yaw Shin Leong: “The media is not reporting our activities on the ground and we do not want the media to report.”

In short, after last year’s General Election, the WP has gone, as the netizens say, into a quiet mode.

This, in a year where the Government announced three controversial policies – an increase in goods and services tax, a hike in ministerial pay and the recent CPF reforms.

Besides parliamentary speeches by Mr Low and party chairman Sylvia Lim, as a Non-Constituency MP, not much has emanated from its Syed Alwi Road headquarters.

Ms Lim tells Insight that it is not a deliberate move by the party to limit the focus on just herself and Mr Low.

“As and when a policy matter is scheduled for parliamentary debate, we may deliberately defer public statements to the debate itself for various reasons,” she says.

“Specifically on CPF, after PM Lee made his general remarks at the National Day Rally, there were further details in later days by the Manpower Minister. We did not want to just jump in prematurely, when the matter was coming up for debate anyway.”

The Low’s Way has both supporters and detractors.

Says political scientist Ho Khai Leong from the Nanyang Technological University: “It is a conservative approach to survival, but given the limitations imposed on the opposition parties in the city state, the WP seems to be holding up.”

WP Youth Wing president Perry Tong also agrees with the strategy, citing proof of its strength in the party’s vote share last year.

Law lecturer Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University calls its “pragmatic non-overreach” as the party consolidates after the unrealistic exuberance of the elections.

“They do not have the machinery and resources of the PAP – it is quite clear that they are opting for an incremental approach in terms of raising their public profile on the political landscape here.”

But at the same time, he believes that the party needs to have a greater presence beyond Parliament.

“Lying low does not do the opposition any good,” he says. “It is important for Singaporeans to know that the WP is not just functioning for elections.

“It is about having the party being on people’s mental maps and making the party relevant in between elections.”

By falling off Singaporeans’ mental maps and disappearing from conversations, it is hard to see how the party can continue to recruit and retain talent – arguably its most critical task in the face of a behemoth PAP.

Although hundreds thronged its open house after the elections, the flow has now trickled to a few a week and there are only about two dozen members volunteering regularly.

While the PAP’s man in Hougang, Mr Eric Low, observes new faces among his opponent’s volunteers, five of the WP’s most prominent young election candidates have dropped out.

Lawyer Chia Ti Lik, 34, who led the team in East Coast GRC, left the party late last year due to differences over Internet regulations.

Ditto for businessman Goh Meng Seng, 36, who was part of the the WP’s “Team A” led by Ms Lim, which claimed 43.9 per cent of the valid votes in Aljunied GRC.

Researcher James Gomez, 41, and financial controller Tan Wui-Hua, 40, who were also part of the Aljunied team, are working overseas.

Business manager Lian Chin Way, 37, the only rookie to contest in a single- ward in the polls, is not in the party central executive council or involved in party work.

As Mr Low tells Insight, the challenge of the party is not just to recruit young talent, but also to keep them actively involved.

The next 50 years?

TO DO that, observers believe the party needs to tweak Low’s model by having a higher party profile which would excite the young and sustain interest in the five long years between polls.

There remain murmurings among the party ranks of impatience with Mr Low’s perceived conservative and overly cautious stance.

Says Mr Eugene Tan: “Low’s approach has worked well for him in Hougang and it may be sustainable for him but only in that electoral ward. This is because he has a standing and reputation with his constituents who have largely supported him since 1991.

“This will not work, however, in constituencies where the WP is trying to make inroads and trying to reach out and win over the “un-converted”. Doing ground work in an area can be enhanced if there is some level of visibility.”

A way forward is to set the agenda and not just react to the PAP, he adds.

Dr Terence Chong of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies agrees:

“Singaporeans do not look to the WP to fine-tune PAP policies, that’s what the Administrative Service is for. They look to the WP to offer radical alternatives and to expand their political vocabulary.”

Mr Tan cites the Hougang constituency as a possible test bed for different ideas, ranging from operation of the town council to the party’s engagement with residents.

Thus far, the Hougang experience – as is the case with the other opposition ward in Potong Pasir – is still very much modelled after the PAP’s, with weekly Meet-The-People sessions and community events similar to the PAP’s, albeit on a much smaller scale.

‘Laid-back stance’

ANOTHER space to exploit is the Internet. Mr Tan Tarn How, a senior research fellow with the Institute of Policy Studies specialising in the Internet, observes that the WP has done a good job with its website, using four languages and featuring unique articles on their election campaign.

But after the polls, the party has chosen a more “laid-back stance” with its website, he says.

He suggests that the WP keep voter interest up by exploiting the interactivity of the Internet with online discussions and surveys.

These moves do not necessarily need to be done by the party itself. Instead, the WP can choose to be faster and more aggressive, and yet not sacrifice its moderate stance, by giving its Youth Wing freer rein.

Its president Perry Tong, 35, already labels the Youth Wing a more “liberal” element of the party.

Mr Low can extend the young ones greater independence to issue statements and organise events that would veer to the left of the party’s stand.

This would provide the party a platform to be more visible, jazzing up its image and at the same time assuring more conservative elements in the party that the main body remains moderate.

The aim, of course, is to ensure that the WP would score bigger electoral successes and break the PAP’s stranglehold on the GRCs.

To bid to take over the Government now would sound sexy, but wildly unrealistic. As Mr Low said earlier this week, his party would need some 20 years before it can challenge the PAP as an alternative party to vote into power.

Says Associate Professor Ho: “The WP’s strategy in the next elections should be to win a GRC. If this happens, it would be a breakthrough, not just for the WP, but also for Singapore’s political development.”

Sources close to the party say that young members harbour hopes of Mr Low leaving Hougang and joining them in a GRC fight.

It is an aspiration that Mr Low has never snuffed out, saying on more than one occasion over the years that he is open to that possibility.

But insiders believe that it is highly unlikely, and that it is merely a carrot that Mr Low dangles to sustain his younger members’ passion, as they jockey to be picked as part of the dream team.

He dismisses such claims, telling Insight: “Well, I think the passion has to be their own. And they must have the political passion to serve. They can’t depend on whether I would join them one day or not. That is hypothetical.”

Asked by Insight if he would be like Mr Chiam See Tong and stay in Hougang like how the latter remained in Potong Pasir, Mr Low declines to comment, saying only that “you will know when the time comes”.

The quandary

FOR now, most of the younger members want to give Mr Low their full support.

But if they do not see results at the next General Election, either in the capture of another seat or the biggest prize yet, a GRC, impatience may grow and more pressure will mount on Mr Low to deliver.

As a member tells Insight, the bottom line is clear:

“The young ones have been sacrificing their time and they want to be MPs.”

But whatever the party does, its fortunes in the next 50 years remain dependent to a considerable extent on the PAP, says Associate Professor Hussin Mutalib of the National University of Singapore, who authored Parties And Politics, the only book on opposition parties here.

Therein lies the quandary for the WP going forward.

Its rise hinges in no small measure on missteps by the PAP that may or may not happen and with no timetable as reference.

But between surrendering passively to the PAP’s own performance and having unrealistic expectations of being the alternative party in a two-party system, there appears to be a lot more that the party can do.

That would entail a Hammer that bangs louder and more frequently, reminding Singaporeans that while it may not be ready to be the next government, it is prepared, qualified and eager to stake its claim for more seats in Parliament.

Otherwise, a quiet hammer is just an unused tool.

shpeh@sph.com.sg


>> INTERVIEW WITH WP CHIEF LOW THIA KHIANG

The young can turn WP into faster machine


‘A RESPONSIBLE PARTY’: It’s no mean feat that the Workers’ Party has survived until now, says Mr Low. It has been in the opposition since 1959.

>> You gave the PAP a passing grade earlier this week. But you also mentioned that they can be more tolerant. In what areas would you like to see more tolerance?

They can be more tolerant towards political activities by political parties, such as when we wanted to apply to cycle at East Coast Park, the permit was not granted. I’m sure that isn’t going to threaten public security.

So I believe there is room where the Government can look into allowing more political space, to a have more open and consultative kind of environment, where they allow some activities like peaceful demonstrations in an area. Currently, they may allow you to do so at the Speakers’ Corner. But I’m sure we can afford to have more than one Speakers’ Corner here.

>> How is your party’s recruitment efforts? Do people reject you now because of fear?

No. People do come forward to join us. The challenge really is whether people who join us will remain and be actively involved in the party activities because I think everybody is hard- pressed for time. We are all volunteers.

We do have young people joining us. But I believe we don’t have a sufficient number yet to have the critical mass of manpower that we want.

>> You have said that you might one day contest in a GRC. How serious are you about that?

Well, my answer, as I have said before, is that I do not rule out the possibility that one day I might contest in a GRC. Many people are very interested to know when it would happen. My answer is you would know on Nomination Day.

>> But what is the likelihood of that happening?

Well, I don’t want to speculate because there is still some time before the next election.

>> Some wonder if you might be just like Mr Chiam See Tong and stay in Hougang like he is staying in Potong Pasir?

You will know when the time comes.

>> But wouldn’t your younger members very much love you to join them and contest a GRC?

Then perhaps you can ask my younger members whether they like me or they think I am lao-kok-kok (old and stuttering) already – “You join us, you may spoil the chance”.

>> But by keeping the option open that you may one day join them in a GRC, is that one way that you encourage them, to sustain their passion in WP?

Well, I think the passion has to be their own. And they must have the political passion to serve. They can’t depend on whether I would join them one day or not. That is hypothetical.

>> The PAP is only three years older than the WP. Why do you think the two parties are so different in what they’ve accomplished?

You cannot compare at all because one is a ruling party, monopolising the power and the resources since 1959. The Workers’ Party has been the opposition since 1959.

And you know what the PAP has done after becoming government. They have moved to capture the ground in terms of grassroots, in terms of regulation, restriction and all that, curtailing the development of the whole political process.

I think it is no mean feat that the Workers’ Party has survived until now. And you look at the other political parties at the point in time, where are they? What happened? Why? I think people must ask these questions.

>> Over the last few months, quite a few netizens online wonder why the Workers’ Party has been very quiet, especially in the wake of the CPF changes. What is your response?

First of all, the Workers’ Party is a responsible party and I do not believe in just making statements, just making comments for the sake of making noise, or of being labelled or afraid of being labelled inactive or quiet, in particular for the CPF issue.

When the PM spoke at the National Day Rally, not all details were out. It is imprudent for a responsible political party to start jumping up and down without even knowing what are the details, what is the concrete plan.

We have made an informed statement and we can properly represent the public and tell the public what is our stand. I know this is the Internet age but I think we can’t just respond because people want us to respond.

>> But what if that is precisely what some people want now – speed, fast, instant?

I don’t know, but I think, I’m a bit slow, I have to admit that. I have to admit that I am slow. And people who want it faster should perhaps consider joining the Workers’ Party.

I’m old, maybe slower. The younger ones will be faster, so we have more younger ones, perhaps maybe the Workers’ Party will move faster. So those people who think that we are slower, well, come and join the Workers’ Party to make it faster.

PEH SHING HUEI


50 YEARS of the Workers’ Party


1957: Formation of the Workers’ Party with former chief minister David Marshall as leader


1971: Former district judge J.B. Jeyaretnam (JBJ) joins and revives the dormant party hibernating since Marshall’s departure in 1963.

1981: JBJ wins Anson by-election, ending the People’s Action Party’s 15-year parliamentary monopoly.

1986: JBJ loses Anson seat after being sentenced to a month in jail for false declaration of the WP’s accounts.


1987: The Marxist Conspiracy sees 22 arrested, some of whom were actively helping the WP. Party chairman Wong Hong Toy defects, joining the Singapore Democratic Party with close to 20 members in tow.

1988: The Barisan Sosialis and the Singapore United Front merge with the WP. The WP fails to take Eunos GRC with 49.11 per cent of the votes – the closest the opposition has been to winning a GRC.


1991: Former teacher Low Thia Khiang wins Hougang. The WP is back in Parliament after an absence of five years.

1997: JBJ returns to elections in Cheng San GRC, and loses, but takes up post of Non-Constituency MP as best loser.

2001: JBJ loses NCMP seat when he fails to pay damages to PAP leaders in a libel suit. He resigns as WP leader bitterly, claiming that the party and Mr Low did not help him enough in paying off the damages. Mr Low succeeds him as secretary-general.


2006: WP fields 20 candidates in the General Election, its biggest slate since 1988. Only Mr Low wins, retaining Hougang. Party chairman Sylvia Lim gets the NCMP seat as the best loser.

2007: WP’s 50th anniversary

TODAY: 20 years for Workers’ Party to match PAP?

Sec-Gen Low wants WP to be respected and reliable first

AS THE Workers’ Party celebrates this weekend its 50th anniversary, and Secretary-General Low Thia Kiang (picture) takes a measure of satisfaction with his party’s performance so far, he already has hopes for its 60th anniversary.

He hopes he will no longer be party chief by then.

It is a sign of the confidence he has in the prospects for the party, which was the best performer among the opposition parties at last year’s General Election.

Come WP’s 70th anniversary, he reckons it will be ready finally to match the quality of the People’s Action Party (PAP) and have a good go at forming Singapore’s government.

In a broad-ranging interview with Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao, Mr Low – who became WP secretary-general in 2001 – gave the PAP a definite “passing” grade. And he said that there is more space in Singapore politics now.

But he noted that the ruling party had the backing of many scholars to help draw up policies, while the WP’s resources and ability to mobilise people are limited. So, what the WP can do currently is propose refinements to government policies.

One of Mr Low’s main grouses about current policies is that they have not engendered sufficiently, in his view, a sense of belonging in the country.

“For example, in the debate on CPF, some people say: Might as well take out CPF and migrate,” he said in describing the sense of insecurity caused by a higher withdrawal age.

“Identification with a country is a feeling; it means that no matter what, I was born here, so I die here. I think Singapore has not reached such a stage of emotional identification.”

At this point, though, his main preoccupation is to make the WP a respected and reliable party.

“Our main aim is to … garner more support from the constituents, and make a breakthrough in the elections, especially in the Group Representation Constituencies. At the same time, we hope that the WP can play an important role in Singapore’s democratic process, and as a result, make the democratic process more competitive,” he said. “Politics should be about responsible politics. The opposition should be a watchdog, not a mad dog. That’s the right path for a political party.”

As for succession in the WP, when asked by Zaobao if party chairman Sylvia Lim would take over the reins eventually, he said it was for all the WP members to decide. He did say, however, why he did not invite the PAP to his party’s anniversary.

“When we had our 40th anniversary celebration, we did invite them, but they replied to say ‘thank you for inviting but we cannot attend’. So, I thought, don’t make things difficult for other people. So, we didn’t send an invite this year,” he said.

Straits Times: Greater openness here now, says WP chief

Low Thia Khiang points to debate on Section 377A as an example of a more relaxed political atmosphere


“The environment has changed compared to when I just joined politics in the early 80s…People are more vocal and people are more comfortable to air their views in public. So I think it is an improvement.”
WORKERS’ PARTY LEADER LOW THIA KHIANG

WORKERS’ Party (WP) leader Low Thia Khiang sees the Government’s handling of the recent debate on the law against male homosexuality as a sign of greater openness here.

He cited the Section 377A debate as an example of a more relaxed political atmosphere, as he gave the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) a “passing grade” for its governance.

“You don’t see very strong reactions from the Government towards criticisms and citizen initiatives,” he told The Straits Times last night.

“The environment has changed compared to when I just joined politics in the early 80s…People are more vocal and people are more comfortable to air their views in public. So I think it is an improvement.”

The highly charged debate over Section 377A took place both in and outside Parliament.

It was sparked by a citizens’ petition to the House to repeal it from the Penal Code and over two days last week, 16 MPs spoke on the controversial issue.

The WP is holding its 50th anniversary celebrations on Saturday.

In an interview with Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao ahead of the celebrations, Mr Low was asked how he would grade the PAP government. He said it was “definitely a pass”.

But at the same time, he criticised some of the Government’s policies, arguing that the recent Central Provident Fund (CPF) changes are unfair to the elderly.

He said that by delaying the draw-down age of the CPF Minimum Sum, the Government is essentially leaving older Singaporeans with no choice but to continue working.

While supporting the Government’s anti-terrorism moves, he expressed concern that they may increase the authorities’ power.

Still, the WP secretary-general – who said he hoped that he will not be the party leader when it celebrates its 60th anniversary – insists it is not right for a political party to oppose for the sake of opposing.

“The term opposition is a legacy of the Western parliamentary system, and I have never believed that an opposition party should oppose for the sake of opposing or to shoot one’s mouth off.

“Politics should be about responsible politics. The opposition should be a watchdog, not a mad dog. That should be the path for a political party.”

It is also not the job of the opposition here to offer alternatives to all government policies, he argued.

While the ruling party has specialists to study and research various issues, the opposition lacks the resources to come up with alternatives.

He pointed out that the WP is unlike the opposition parties in the West, which come up with alternative policies for everything.

The WP’s role is to revise and improve on government policies. Moreover, the opposition should not shoot its mouth off, and offer alternative policies on a whim.

“A political party needs to reach a certain stage before it can offer alternative policies, that is, at a stage where it is capable of replacing that government. And WP still has a very long way to go before reaching this stage.”

In fact, he did not think his party is ready to challenge the PAP for government in the “near future”.

Said the 51-year-old: “To become ready to take over the government is a very long-term goal. Every political party wishes to be ready to form the government and eventually become the ruling party. But to me, this is still very far, we need to take one step at a time.”