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It’s Pritam Singh vs Chen Show Mao for Workers’ Party chief role

Unless Chen drops out.

By Martino Tan | February 12, 2018

It was less than 48 hours ago when Workers’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim responded to The Straits Times on Saturday (Feb. 10) that WP will start the new session of Parliament with a new secretary-general.

But things have moved so rapidly that there is already a clear front-runner for WP Sec-Gen and a possible contender left.

The first 24 hours

The same ST report helped the WP leadership narrow its Sec-Gen contenders from its CEC members and cadre members to merely those in Parliament:

The Straits Times understands that Mr Low may ask the Speaker to allow the new secretary-general to take up his current seating position when Parliament opens. As opposition chief, Mr Low now sits across the aisle from Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. He is the only opposition MP to have a seat in the front row opposite the Cabinet ministers.”

It will be interesting to find out which WP leader offered this tidbit without identifying himself or herself.

Moreover, it is puzzling that ST is so confident to offer this important nugget of information to help the unnamed WP leader narrow down its WP Sec-Gen contenders.

With that in mind, the contenders are the following:

1. Sylvia Lim Swee Lian, Chairman, Aljunied GRC MP
2. Muhamad Faisal bin Abdul Manap, Vice Chairman, Aljunied GRC MP
3. Pritam Singh, Assistant Secretary General, Aljunied GRC MP
4. Chen Show Mao, Council Member, Aljunied GRC MP
5. Png Eng Huat, Organising Secretary, Hougang SMC MP
6. Dennis Tan Lip Fong, Treasurer, Non-Constituency MP
7. Daniel Goh Pei Siong, Chair, Media Team, NCMP
8. Leon Perera, Deputy Chair, Media Team and Webmaster, NCMP

Goh, one of the Sec-Gen contenders, immediately responded on his FB page that he would not be a contender.

1. Sylvia Lim Swee Lian, Chairman, Aljunied GRC MP
2. Muhamad Faisal bin Abdul Manap, Vice Chairman, Aljunied GRC MP
3. Pritam Singh, Assistant Secretary General, Aljunied GRC MP
4. Chen Show Mao, Council Member, Aljunied GRC MP
5. Png Eng Huat, Organising Secretary, Hougang SMC MP
6. Dennis Tan Lip Fong, Treasurer, Non-Constituency MP
7. Daniel Goh Pei Siong, Chair, Media Team, NCMP
8. Leon Perera, Deputy Chair, Media Team and Webmaster, NCMP

Sunday to Monday: No from Sylvia, Dennis, and Leon

The most senior and experienced politician among the remaining seven contenders is Lim.

Lim is the WP Chairman since 2003.

At 52, Lim is even younger than one of the front-runners for the next Prime Minister.

Moreover, Lim has almost 12 years of parliamentary experience, including five years as a NCMP.

But she has said no to the top post.

Lim told ST that she was not interested in the position, and intended to run for her current role as WP chairman.

The two NCMPs — Tan and Perera — also ruled themselves out to ST and Today, and expressed support for Pritam.

Tan cited “experience in Parliament” and “being able to speak on issues” as important criteria for supporting Pritam.

Perera shared similar considerations with ST, saying that Pritam is “a tried and tested leader who has served creditably in many roles in the party and town council, is effective at the grassroots and has performed well in Parliament”.

Goh’s views are the most comprehensive and clear, and you can read them in his Facebook post this morning:

So, we are left with four.

1. Sylvia Lim Swee Lian, Chairman, Aljunied GRC MP
2. Muhamad Faisal bin Abdul Manap, Vice Chairman, Aljunied GRC MP
3. Pritam Singh, Assistant Secretary General, Aljunied GRC MP
4. Chen Show Mao, Council Member, Aljunied GRC MP
5. Png Eng Huat, Organising Secretary, Hougang SMC MP
6. Dennis Tan Lip Fong, Treasurer, Non-Constituency MP
7. Daniel Goh Pei Siong, Chair, Media Team, NCMP
8. Leon Perera, Deputy Chair, Media Team and Webmaster, NCMP

Campaign by media?

There appears to be a shadow campaign occurring, with “sources” and “party insiders” framing Pritam Singh to be the WP front-runner.

Just read the following statements:

Exhibit 1 in ST: “Party insiders said Mr Singh, the party’s assistant secretary-general, is also the clear choice of current party secretary-general Low Thia Khiang.”

Exhibit 2 in the same ST article: “Party insiders said Mr Singh has a high chance of success, given his popularity in the party and among Aljunied GRC residents.”

Exhibit 3 in Today: “Party members had told Today earlier that they did not expect another challenge from Mr Chen or anyone else when the cadres elect their officebearers this year. This would pave the way for a smooth leadership transition, they had noted.”

A coronation for Pritam?

By the end of today, only four WP contenders remain, with two — Pritam and Chen — not saying no to the Sec-Gen position.

Chen declined comment when he was approached by ST on Monday night.

For Pritam, he didn’t say no, but replied that the Sec-Gen decision lies with the cadres.

Letting the cadres choose is an important point made by Pritam.

Two years ago, WP Chief Low Thia Khiang viewed the Sec-Gen challenge by Chen as “part of the democratic process”.

Chen concurred and characterised his actions as allowing cadres to exercise their democratic choice.

Chen Show Mao challenges Low Thia Khiang for Sec-Gen post at Workers’ Party CEC election

The overenthusiastic media replies by the Sec-Gen contenders have the effect of creating a walkover for the Sec-Gen position.

Worse still, it may create a perception among the WP cadres that the WP leaders are “pressuring” Chen to drop out, using the mainstream media as its proxy.

Despite a leadership challenge, Low Thia Khiang was the clear winner in the WP election

But this is not required at all.

In the last CEC contest in 2016, Pritam won the vote for council member fair and square, coming in first, and beating Chen by one vote.

And Pritam can surely do it again during the upcoming Sec-Gen election.

Top photo from Chen Show Mao Facebook

About Martino Tan

Martino’s parents named him after an Italian priest, Vatican's 1st ambassador to S’pore. He's inspired by the lives of Robert Kennedy & D. Bonhoeffer, the words of G.Orwell & T.Sorensen, & the music of the Beatles.

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