By Afifah Ariffin
SINGAPORE: Former Workers' Party (WP) secretary-general Low Thia Khiang on Friday (Jun 26) said it was unlikely he would make a political comeback in the future.
This follows the announcement made by the party on Thursday that Mr Low would not contest the upcoming General Election.
In an interview with CNA, Mr Low said he was stepping down because he wanted to see a “more resilient” and younger WP team to build on the base formed by the party to “provide Singapore a more balanced political system and safeguard to Singaporeans”.
“If I were to one day offer myself as a candidate, it’s a back step,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to see that, and I believe that it should not happen.”
Mr Low’s comments come after WP secretary-general Pritam Singh’s announcement that Mr Low and his fellow former Members of Parliament Chen Show Mao and Png Eng Huat would not be running in the upcoming polls. Mr Singh had said then that the trio’s decision to step down was not a retirement.
During the interview, Mr Low said that from his experience, opposition political parties that depend on just one person run the risk of collapsing if something happened to that person.
“Because of that experience, I continued to build the party and ensured that the party could continue to progress even without me,” he said. “That will not change, and I hope Singaporeans realise that.”
He added: “You can’t be a political party over days or months. To form a party isn’t difficult, but to build (it) over time, to sustain it and to build that resilience under stress and pressure, and remain rational and responsible, that is not easy.
“That requires a long-time cultivation of political culture in the party, and careful formulation of the core team of leadership.”
STEPPING DOWN A “LOGICAL CONCLUSION”
Mr Low added that stepping down – first in 2018 as the party’s secretary-general, and now in choosing not to take part in the upcoming elections – was a “logical conclusion” to complete the party’s renewal process, and to allow younger candidates to step up.
[Before that Low had taken over the WP from then sec-gen JBJ. I gather the Party believed in Low's vision and plans more than the charisma of JBJ to bring the party forward.]
Prior to stepping down, he said, he considered whether he had achieved the “right mix” – which included having a younger team that was stable and shared the “same principles of politics and direction of (the) party”, and finding the right successor, a person with leadership qualities who was able to “carry the party culture forward”.
He added that he also wanted to observe how the party’s younger members performed in Parliament and how they responded to attacks from the People’s Action Party.
“You have to have the political judgement, and in response to certain issues, you have to be measured and take into consideration different perspectives, interests and stakeholders, and also not forget the national interests,” he said.
Mr Low added that while he had planned to sit out the upcoming election “quite early”, he was “not very sure” until a later stage.
“That probably happened after the Budget debate,” he said. “Because the Budget debate is one important parliamentary debate that tests how you perform, how you deploy your resources and to respond to the Government’s policies.
“So in 2018, Pritam took over ... In 2019, there was one Budget debate. In 2020, (I saw) how he responded to various challenges.
“So I find that he’s OK, and I’m quite confident. So I said OK.”
When asked if the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council lawsuit was another consideration in his decision to step down, Mr Low stressed that he had moved “according to the plan”, and had never allowed “whatever lawsuit to stop us”.
In October last year, three WP MPs – Mr Low, party chair Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Singh – were found liable in the landmark case investigating misuse of town council funds.
The following month in November, lawyers acting for the above three and two AHTC town councillors filed a notice to appeal in the case, which was accepted by the court.
“Politically, I think you have to look at the bigger picture, look at the path, continue on the path and stride on,” he said. “That has been the spirit of the WP.”
He added that the lawsuit was “not about the party, but probably about (him)self and Ms Lim”.
“We have gone through quite a lot,” he added, referencing how the party had almost been sued for bankruptcy in the past when the late Mr J B Jeyaretnam was secretary-general.
“That is the spirit of the Workers’ Party, and despite all that, people continued to support (us). That is why we have progressed today, and we have built the foundation to what it is today.”
A MENTOR ROLE
When asked about the kind of role he would be playing in the upcoming elections, Mr Low noted that he has been involved in the election planning process, when called upon by fellow party members.
“The decision is theirs, they have to make the decision, but in cases when there is some doubt and where they are not sure, I will give my opinion,” he said. “That’s the role I’m playing.
“If I sense that something needs to be focused on or to pay more attention to it … I would alert them.”
He added that playing the role of a mentor was something he was "looking for”.
But as to whether he would be involved in online rallies or campaigning, Mr Low admitted that he was “not so comfortable online”, believing more in face-to-face interactions.
“I would like to be involved, but it depends on whether it’s available for me to do so, because of the current situation,” he said. “I will do what I can."
Mr Low ended the interview by urging supporters to continue supporting the party. Without the support of voters in Hougang, he said, he would not have been able to build himself up and have a breakthrough in Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC).
Mr Low served as MP for Hougang for 20 years from 1991, before forming a team to contest in Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election. His team’s win in Aljunied marked the first time a GRC had fallen to an opposition party.
Without the support of voters in Aljunied, he added, there would not be Mr Singh, his successor.
He noted that the quality of the party’s candidates has improved over the years, pointing out that many of them were better qualified than him.
“That improvement is the contribution by voters’ support, so there are more people who are prepared to come forward, and we have a chance to get better people,” he said.
“I hope Singaporean voters realise that it is a continuity for political support, and also to cultivate a political party to enable them to continue to renewal … and you have more choice, and probably better candidates as well.”