WP has to rise above lawsuits & win back popular support: Pritam Singh

Lawsuits have caused uncertainty in party leadership renewal.

By Chan Cheow Pong | September 24, 2017

It is not often that you can read about Workers’ Party (WP) leaders being interviewed in the mainstream media.

Led by party leader Low Thia Khiang, they have mostly kept a low-profile and shunned the limelight, preferring instead to interact directly with the public through self-organised activities and social media.

In fact, Low has said in the past that he was elected as a Member of Parliament because he declined media exposure, reflecting the deep mistrust with the local mainstream media that goes back a long way.

Hence, it was somewhat surprising to see WP Assistant Secretary-General Pritam Singh granting an interview that was published in local Chinese language daily Lianhe Zaobao on Sept. 24.

Found on page 10 of the paper – on the left-hand side of the broadsheet, it’s the kind of article you might miss if you flip too fast.

We summarize some key takeaways here to help you make sense of it.

1. Persuade Singaporeans that they need a stronger opposition

Speaking to Zaobao against the backdrop of WP’s 60th anniversary celebrations, and also ahead of the official opening of the party’s new headquarters, Pritam, who is also the chairman of the WP60 committee, gave an assessment of the party’s challenges and future prospects.

In particular, he addressed the impact of the lawsuits hanging over the heads of WP’s three key leaders — Pritam, Low and party chairman Sylvia Lim, has on public perception of the party.

Pritam thinks the “earliest” date of the court trial will be sometime in the second half of 2018, and is aware that the issue will continue to draw public attention in the lead-up to the next General Elections.

For him, it is up to WP to convince Singaporeans the value the party brings to Singapore politics.

“Public perception of WP will definitely be impacted…the party will have to rise above the lawsuits and deliver a persuasive message to the public, that there are grounds for WP to continue to have a stake in Singapore politics. Why you need a strong opposition, a stronger opposition than what we have now.”

2. Lawsuits have caused uncertainty in WP’s leadership renewal

As the most established opposition party currently, WP has has nine members in Parliament, including six elected seats representing Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC, and also three Non-constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs).

Source: Aljunied GRC Facebook

Pritam, who was named Assistant Secretary-General in Jun. 2016 (a post that had been vacant since 2006), is seen as the front-runner to take over the reins of the party from Low.

He told Zaobao candidly that the lawsuits have injected uncertainty into the leadership renewal process, but there are no plans to accelerate the grooming of other party members to take over as leaders.

“Over the years, some party members have proven that they have ability to take up leadership positions. Currently, the potential to take over the leadership of the party is not limited to one or two individuals, there’s actually a team that is capable of becoming the core of the next leadership team. This is a very healthy development, and I think we may be the only opposition party that treats leadership renewal with such seriousness.”

3. Pritam – the new face of WP

Accepting a one-to-one interview with a Chinese language paper reflects the party’s growing confidence in Pritam, and his stature in the party.

While gaining exposure to the Chinese community, he can also help to moderate the image of a party who some see as being weaker in connecting with minorities.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam had noted earlier in a forum that WP only fields Chinese candidates in single-member constituency after J B Jeyaretnam, to illustrate the point that race matters in elections.

Pritam told Zaobao that Shanmugam “did not complete the story.”

“Having different people in important positions warms the heart of some people, but people of our generation have different views. If all our leaders come from the Chinese community, as a minority, do I have a problem with that? The answer is no.”

WP60 activities

This year marks the 60th anniversary of WP’s founding in 1957. To celebrate this historical milestone, the party has lined up a series of activities.

Besides the opening of their new HQ on Sept. 29, WP will also be launching their heritage exhibition on the same day.

An 80-table dinner will also be held by the party to thank its supporters.

Source: Aljunied GRC Facebook

Top image by Tan Guanzhen

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About Chan Cheow Pong

It took Cheow Pong two decades to recover from the trauma of memorising General Paper essays before he was ready to be an English writer. In between affliction and recovery, he thoroughly enjoyed his time writing in Chinese and doing Chinese translations.

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