By Aqil Haziq Mahmud
SINGAPORE: The Workers' Party (WP) should aim to contest and win one-third of the seats in Parliament as a "medium-term objective", its secretary-general Pritam Singh has said.
"I say one-third in the medium-term because of the past experience of the Workers’ Party in attracting suitable and qualified candidates who are willing to stand in general elections," Mr Singh said on Sunday (Jan 13), according to a copy of a speech he gave at the WP Members' Forum 2019.
"For a small party like ours, it is a high bar."
Mr Singh, a Member of Parliament (MP) for Aljunied GRC, said that it is his "firm belief and conviction that Singapore must aspire towards a genuinely diverse Parliament" with at least a third of the elected seats in opposition hands.
This is "regardless (of) which party is running the country and which party or parties are in the opposition", he added.
"The political outcome that is desired is one which makes any government sensitive to the pulse of the people and their welfare, allowing any ruling party to govern without gridlock while promoting the political openness that so many of us yearn for in Singapore," he said.
"It will engender a different type of politics that precipitates a Singapore which is caring and confident about the future, not one that is framed by libel suit after libel suit against one's opponents, be they in politics or civil society."
The WP currently has six out of 89 seats in Parliament, with the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) occupying the remaining 83. WP also has three non-constituency MPs in the House.
Pointing out that WP only has a "toe-hold" in Parliament, Mr Singh said: "The risk of a wipe-out with no elected opposition represented by the Workers’ Party is a real one."
The next general election is due by early 2021, but there has been speculation that it could come as soon as this year.
Mr Singh said the playing field between the PAP and the opposition continues to be uneven, given the PAP's "determination to maintain its dominance through its control of grassroots organisations".
"This includes its ability to make changes to the Constitution, the highest law of the land, through its near absolute control of Parliament," he added.
Amendments to Singapore's Constitution require a two-thirds majority in Parliament.
"BEST TEAM, NOT BEST INDIVIDUALS"
Mr Singh, who took over the secretary-general position from veteran politician Low Thia Khiang in April 2018, also exhorted party members to unite in the face of a "more complex political environment".
"Our future members will come from many walks of life, driven by different ideas on how to improve the welfare of Singaporeans," he said.
"We have to put the best team to offer a secure alternative to Singaporeans – let me stress, the best team, not the best individuals ... The party must comprise members who work with others and not march to their own drumbeat."
The party is cautious about people who are personal towards those who disagree with them and towards political opponents, he added.
Outlining WP's philosophy, he said that a "live and let live" attitude of tolerance underscores the party's vision to create a truly inclusive country "regardless where one stands on the political spectrum".
"Wisdom would dictate that a sense of proportion, empathy and balance should drive how the Workers' Party approaches Singapore politics," he added.
WP aiming for a third of parliamentary seats in medium term: Pritam Singh
SINGAPORE — Setting a more ambitious target than his predecessor, Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh urged his party to win a third of the parliamentary seats as a “medium term objective”.
The WP, which is Singapore’s main opposition party, currently has six elected seats in Parliament, out of a total of 89 seats. It also has three Non-Constituency Members of Parliament.
Speaking at the party’s annual members’ forum on Sunday (Jan 13), Mr Singh noted that in most countries, the goal of any political party “must be to form government so it can implement the wishes of the electorate and shape the Government’s policies differently from the incumbent”.
Nevertheless, the bar has been set high for a “small party” like the WP, he said. Alluding to challenges faced by the opposition party, he said: “I say one third in the medium term because of the past experience of the Workers’ Party in attracting suitable and qualified candidates who are willing to stand in general elections.”
Based on the current total number, a third of parliamentary seats works out to about 30 elected seats.
Mr Singh’s comments came amid speculation that the next General Election (GE), which is due by early 2021, could be held later this year.
Mr Singh took over from long-serving chief Low Thia Khiang as WP secretary-general in April last year. Before stepping down, Mr Low said in an interview— published in a WP book to commemorate its 60th anniversary — that the party was a step closer to its objective of forming an alternative government, which nevertheless remains “quite far” for the WP.
In the same interview, he said that it would be considered progress if the WP can win 20 seats in the future.
Still, Mr Singh pointed out in his speech that while the WP has a long history of more than 60 years, it won Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) — its first ever — only eight years ago in the 2011 General Election (GE). And in the subsequent polls held in 2015, it barely managed to hold on to the GRC with a “razor-thin majority”.
“Let us never forget that we only have a toe-hold in Parliament when we consider the margin of the result in Aljunied,” said Mr Singh. “The risk of a wipe-out with no elected opposition represented by the Workers’ Party is a real one.”
Mr Singh told members to “never forget” that the playing field between the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and opposition “will continue to be uneven given the PAP’s determination to maintain its dominance through its control of grassroots organisations”.
“This includes its ability to make changes to the Constitution, the highest law of the land, through its near absolute control of Parliament,” he said.
“But let us be clear. The Workers’ Party or any political party is only a tool to effect political change. It is the voting public who must decide whether they want a representative and balanced Parliament to prevent ‘ownself check ownself’.”
WP’s leadership change came after Mr Low saw off a challenge for the top post by fellow Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao in the previous internal elections held in 2016.
At Sunday’s event, Mr Singh called for unity within the party, stressing the need “to be mindful that disagreement does not turn into division”.
He said: “We have to agree to disagree and not make the mistake of looking down or speaking ill of those who have a different view or think a member has more speaking rights because he or she has been in the party for a longer period of time.”
On a broader level, he noted members’ feedback that like all political parties in Singapore, the WP has to “operate in a more complex political environment going forward, with Singaporeans today hosting many different aspirations and expectations”.
These include the sandwiched middle class worried about cost of living as well as individuals whose political views are defined by their attitudes towards causes such as religious inclinations and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.
“These varied groups will represent our membership base in the very near future, if they do not already,” Mr Singh said. “Our future members will come from many walks of life, driven by different ideas on how to improve the welfare of Singaporeans.”
Inevitably, both WP members and supporters will “differ in their approaches and solutions to policy issues and problems”, he added.
“This reality means that political solutions will seldom be one size fits all and wisdom would dictate that a sense of proportion, empathy and balance should drive how the Workers’ Party approaches Singapore politics,” he said.
He added: “Politically, we should aim to understand both sides of the picture to propose reasonable and practical solutions that do not just address one aspect of a problem, but offer choices to our people in the context of multi-racial and multi-religious nation where the common space requires a healthy spirit of ‘live and let live’ and an attitude of tolerance.”
As an opposition party, the WP has a role to play “in supporting what it means to be Singaporean”, Mr Singh said.
In order to achieve this, he called on members to “continue building on the sensible approach of rational and responsible politics” put in place by Mr Low.
“This approach best represents how opposition politics can develop and how the Workers’ Party can remain relevant for Singapore and for our members, volunteers and supporters to serve in the national interest,” Mr Singh said.
I suspect the WP's success, is as much their efforts (working the ground), as well as the PAP's failure. In other words, each ward or GRC is for the PAP to lose as much as it is for the opposition to win.
The PAP must fail significantly, as they did prior to GE2011, when voter's dissatisfaction translated into a win for WP in Aljunied. But in the following election (GE2015), the PAP recovered, and Aljunied was held by the WP by a toenail.
If so, it is not the case that WP can win 20 or even 30 seats in a GE, but that the PAP needs to lose the seats. The best the WP can do is to be a viable, credible alternative when the PAP screws up. ]