SINGAPORE – Revealing that he was confident the Workers’ Party (WP) would retain Aljunied GRC in the 2015 General Election, WP chief Low Thia Khiang conceded that he was surprised by the narrow winning margin in an interview contained in the party’s commemorative book.
The WP team headed by Mr Low and consisting Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Pritam Singh, Mr Faisal Manap and Mr Chen Show Mao garnered 50.95 per cent of the vote, edging out the People’s Action Party (PAP) slate comprising mainly first-time candidates by 2,612 votes, or 1.9 per cent of the votes cast.
“I was surprised by the results of Aljunied,” said Mr Low in the lengthy interview carried in Walking With Singapore, which will be launched this Friday (Nov 3) at the WP’s 60th anniversary dinner.
An advance copy was provided to TODAY.
Mr Low added: “I was confident that we would win... I knew we might have a lower margin, but I didn’t expect it to be so close. That was something...” Asked if that spooked him, he said he had been ready to accept any outcome.
“I just felt tired. I mean I have survived (in politics) for so long for so many years, and that kind of stress has not broken me down. I take things as (they are). So be it. That’s part and parcel of politics — that’s life,” he said.
Mr Low, 61, also reflected on the 2011 GE, which saw the WP make history by becoming the first opposition party to win a Group Representation Constituency.
The WP achieved the feat by putting together an “A team”, which saw Mr Low leaving his stronghold of Hougang where he had been a Member of Parliament since 1991.
Looking back, he described the move as “beyond risk calculation”.
“The fundamental reason and the impetus for me to move out of Hougang was because I realised something. PAP will never change unless the voters show them that they have to change,” he said.
He added: “I asked myself, what am I here for? Well, I’m sure I’ll be re-elected again in Hougang if I continue, but that was not what I joined politics for... If people still did not want change, there’s no point in me being an MP. For what? I might as well lose it, forget it! What’s the point? Of course, Aljunied was just next door lah.”
Thus, the WP “went for broke” in the 2011 GE, Mr Low said.
In a separate interview contained in the book, Ms Lim acknowledged that Mr Low’s decision to venture out of Hougang was a “calculated gamble”.
“He could have remained in Hougang and then we would be secure, but I think in his own mind also he would not have been content with that,” she said.
Mr Low described the loss of Aljunied GRC as having a “very big impact for the PAP”.
He added: “Aljunied was a major factor to show the PAP that they needed to change, and it was confirmed at the Punggol East by-election (in 2013) with a big swing. It was another big slap. Of course, they had to change. Any sensible government would make a U-turn.”
He noted that after the 2011 GE, Singaporeans had held high hopes for his party. Even so, he had been unsure about fielding a record number of WP candidates in the subsequent elections in 2015.
“I was not sure, though I can’t tell everybody that, because I’ll be demoralising everyone,” he said.
The PAP won big in the 2015 GE, receiving 69.9 per cent of the vote share — its highest since 2001 — compared to 60.1 per cent achieved in the 2011 GE.
The ruling party won back Punggol East, and ran the WP close in Aljunied GRC and Hougang.
The swing was attributed by analysts to several factors, including the ruling party’s efforts in addressing the hot button issues - such as foreign manpower, housing and transport - which affected the PAP’s showing in the 2011 GE.
In the interview, Mr Low also spoke about leadership renewal within the WP. He said that this has been a priority since he took over from the late Mr J B Jeyaretnam as secretary-general in 2001.
While the WP has succeeded in attracting the younger generation to join the party, it faces certain challenges, including managing its older members.
“People who were candidates before want to continue to be candidates! Everyone thinks they can be a candidate. ‘Why do you think I’m no good to be candidate? I’m more experienced.’ That’s the whole problem. I have to make a decision, and I have to decide for the interest of the party, and for the interest of the nation, in my recommendations to the party,” he said.
Mr Low also addressed last year’s challenge by Mr Chen for the WP leadership.
“Of course, the press would want to make it a big issue... there are different opinions, but it doesn’t mean that it will lead to a split. It is healthy... I am not alarmed at all by all these things,” he said.
He again acknowledged that there would be members unhappy with him, as he makes “big decisions on certain things” and there would also be dissatisfaction among those who were not fielded as candidates. Stressing that he would act in the best interests of the party and the public, he said:
“I am happy to let someone else take over, and if Show Mao wants to take over — so be it lor. I’m OK. Anyway, you’ll need a leader, and the person will have to decide. Life goes on.”
Walking With Singapore is priced at S$30 and will be available in bookstores and the WP headquarters after Friday.