Low Thia Khiang Steps Down As Workers’ Party’s Secretary-General To Make Way For Pritam Singh
Low Thia Khiang’s legacy as the chief of Singapore’s leading opposition party, will fondly be remembered by all his supporters.
But how did Mr Low remain an opposition mainstay and a force to be reckoned with in Singapore’s political scene?
Here are the things we’ll miss most about the former Workers’ Party’s (WP) Secretary-General.
1. He’s a force to be reckoned with
Mr Low’s well-known for dropping savage lines, with unmatched bluntness towards his political opponents in debates.
He’s famously taken on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the Lee siblings and even Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong during the height of the Oxley Road Saga.
Check out his unforgettable quotes that made us laugh “until pants drop”.
2. His historic win in Aljunied GRC
Back in 2011, Mr Low ushered in an all-or-nothing victory in a risky political gamble that paid off.
Having served as Hougang’s Member of Parliament from 1991 to 2010, running as a candidate in the same Single-Member Constituency (SMC) was a no-brainer to ensure his seat in Parliament.
However, Mr Low chose to run in Aljunied GRC with Sylvia Lim, Pritam Singh, Chen Show Mao and Muhamad Faisal Manap instead.
They were up against a formidable PAP team – including current Education Minister Ong Ye Kung – helmed by former Minister for Foreign Affairs George Yeo.
Thankfully, their strategy worked, and the rest they say, is history.
3. Long-serving leader of WP
Being the face of an opposition party in Singapore can’t be easy.
But Mr Low did it with much tenacity and even managed to carve out a style of leadership all on his own, all the while honouring the firebrand philosophy of his predecessors.
David Marshall (1957 to 1963) – 6 years as Chairman
J.B. Jeyaratnam (1971 to 2001) – 30 years as Secretary-General
Low Thia Khiang (2001 to 2018) – 17 years as Secretary-General
At a service length of 17 years, Mr Low is the second longest-serving leader of Workers’ Party, compared to his predecessors.
4. Believes in WP’s potential to form alternative government
Mr Low has worked tirelessly for the past 17 years to recruit fresh blood and rejuvenate WP’s leadership.
As to whether he feels that his efforts have paid off, he mentioned in WP’s anniversary interview, that he thinks WP is one step closer to forming an alternative government.
This is a far cry from the message he gave 4 years earlier, where he publicly declared that WP was not ready.
Mr Low described WP’s current political standing as a strong foundation to be built upon, but their potential to form alternative governance largely depends on the support of Singaporeans.
5. Active approach to leadership renewal with talented candidates
Mr Low took over the reigns of WP during the largest PAP walkover in Singapore’s history back in 2001, due to the inability of opposition parties to field worthy candidates.
This incident would shape his philosophy for WP admissions in the years to come.
Mr Low implemented an extremely stringent admissions criteria to ensure that party “is in good hands” and made it a point to recruit people who did not join for “personal benefit or personal glory”.
Of which, Sylvia Lim has been re-elected as party Chairman, while incoming Secretary-General Pritam Singh has been groomed by Mr Low to lead WP in the future.
6. He’s surviving an ongoing lawsuit
One cannot talk about Mr Low without mentioning the ongoing lawsuit regarding Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC).
The AHTC lawsuit was filed by an independent panel over alleged improper payments amounting to $33 million, against Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Low Thia Khiang.
However, Mr Low has maintained that they have acted “in good faith” and in accordance with their duties as town councillors.
7. Not afraid to shed tears for Singapore
Mr Low was unafraid to show his softer side, in WP’s commemorative video Walking with Singapore.
The ex-Secretary General reminisced about the problems faced by Chinese-educated Singaporeans like him, when English was made the lingua franca of Singapore.
Here he is shedding a few tears during his emotional recount of what drove him to leave his teaching position to enter politics.
Mr Low was disallowed from majoring in Political Science in university as his professors deemed his command of English too poor, so he became a teacher instead.
However, another policy he deemed unfair came into play — Primary 4 streaming of 10-year-old students.
Mr Low felt that the system meant that students would not get a second chance, and that the policies “would kill [students] no matter how hard [they] work”.
He felt it was “unbecoming of the government to do this to [their] own citizens and future generations of Singaporeans”.
Realising that “this was the last straw”, Mr Low eventually decided to leave his post as a teacher to become a politician.
8. Created his own bursary for disadvantaged students
Armed with purpose, Mr Low joined WP and shortly claimed victory in Hougang’s Single Member Constituency in 1991.
He ensured that WP helped students from poor families by creating his very own bursary in Hougang.
Calling it the Hougang Constituency Education Trust, Mr Low even approached “organisers of Seventh Month” and temple dinners to raise funds for it.
WP would send out Education Trust Plaques for yearly auctions to raise funds for the bursary programme.
Mr Low’s efforts are indicative that he never forgot his personal struggles with the government’s educational policies, despite his change in career path.
9. He’s always keeping it real for WP
When asked by his supporters who wished for WP to make progress and form an alternative government, Mr Low kept it real by saying,
I don’t think that in reality the Workers’ Party could meet this expectation. It was a bubble. When the bubble bursts, you have a problem.
In all honesty, Mr Low said it would take 20 years for his party to even consider doing so.
This came on the back of WP contesting an unprecedented 28 seats in 2015’s General Election (GE), which is still one third of the total seats available.
Although WP is far from winning a majority in parliament to topple the leading party, they are arguably one step closer to progress, thanks to Mr Low’s efforts.
10. Sets #WPgoals even as he steps down
Ever the goal-oriented leader, Mr Low has famously set two goals for WP, even as he’s stepping down as chief.
Winning another GRC in the next GE for example, will be taken as a sign from Singaporeans that they seek change via WP.
He also said that they have to hone their organisational skills and create a team-based operational structure to form a convincing alternative to the PAP.
If WP’s next generation of leaders can prove that they are able to run town councils smoothly and raise their games in Parliamentary debates, they may possibly have a better chance of achieving their goals.
11. 27 years in Parliament
As WP turned 60 this year, Mr Low stepping down as WP’s chief ends a poignant chapter in Singapore’s politics.
A quick look back at his achievements as he lead the charge with Workers’ Party include these:
- The only opposition party to have won an entire GRC
- Lee Li Lian as the first female opposition party member to win a by-election
Given that its his 27th year of service, he’s already eclipsed Mr Chiam See Tong for the honour of the longest-serving opposition member in Parliament.
12. Plans well ahead for WP’s future
As of late, WP’s performance at the polls has not been as stellar. In 2015, WP lost Punggol-East SMC to the PAP, and won Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC with notably smaller margins.
They’ve also got an ongoing civil lawsuit in the form of the AHTC case.
Although WP has admittedly a lot of legwork to cover, the matter of their succession is settled for now.
We think it’s great that Mr Low ensured his successor will get the experience he requires to get comfortable in his new role, before stepping down.
Thank you for your service
WP’s renewal in leadership heralds a significant turning point in their party’s direction, and all eyes are set on WP’s next step.
Hopefully, fresh-faced Pritam Singh will take on the mantle and build upon the foundations handed to him to take WP to greater heights, like his predecessors.
As for now, let’s thank Mr Low for his long years of service as WP’s chief.
Featured image from National Archives of Singapore.