Who Will Be The Workers’ Party’s Next Leader?
“I shall therefore, not [contest] the post of Secretary-General at the next party election to enable the younger generation of the party leaders to take over the party completely”. Those were the words echoed by Workers’ Party (WP) Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang at his political party’s 60th anniversary dinner on 3 Nov.
At the dinner, Mr Low announced that he would be stepping down as party-chief after almost 16 years at the helm. The ex-teacher first took on the mantle of Secretary-General in 2001, following former party chief J.B. Jeyaretnam’s departure under controversial circumstances.
Mr Low has been a mainstay in Parliament since 1991, having won the Hougang Constituency.
At the celebratory dinner, the man who has become the face of the opposition shared that he had “achieved what [he has] set out to do for the Workers’ Party”. Under his guidance, the Workers’ Party have managed to weaken the PAP’s dominance by being the first political party to win a GRC. Mr Low also added that he has managed to renew the party with younger members from diverse walks of life.
Having achieved his objectives, Mr Low felt that it was time to step down and allow a younger leader to chart the political party’s next course.
With Mr Low remaining coy on who his successor, who will gain the mandate to lead the Workers’ Party after its elections next year? Well, we at MustShareNews have taken the liberty to list down some potential candidates and their suitability in becoming the leader of Singapore’s largest opposition party.
1. Sylvia Lim
Current portfolio: Chairman
Ms Sylvia Lim’s entry into the WP was first piqued during the 2001 General Elections. The former lawyer felt “distressed” that opposition parties could only contest a third of the parliamentary seats during the 2001 General Elections, leading to one of the largest PAP walkovers in history.
This prompted Ms Lim to take action, and she joined the WP ten days after the elections.
Described by her former boss as “meticulous and thorough”, Ms Lim soared through the ranks to become the first female chairman of a political party, despite having been in the WP for only 18 months.
In her first foray in the 2006 General Elections, the team led by Ms Lim lost by a slim margin of 12.2% to PAP in the Aljunied GRC. This was the highest percentage of votes gained by losing opposition candidates, meaning that the WP could nominate a member from the losing team to become a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP). The party nominated Ms Lim.
However, she became a full fledged Minister of Parliament (MP) in 2011, after winning Aljunied GRC with Muhamad Faisal Manap, Pritam Singh, Chen Show Mao, and Low Thia Khiang — a position she defended in the 2015 elections.
Ms Lim has been a fearless voice in parliament, having spoken out against ministers’ salaries when she was an NCMP, to opposing the Population White Paper during her second term in Parliament. Currently in her third term, the WP Chairman has been a political vanguard in the argument against the reserved presidency.
Although Ms Lim has the political weight and brains, her age and the AHPETC scandal potentially hinders her chances of landing the top job.
2. Chen Show Mao
Current portfolio: Treasurer
Mr Chen first entered politics as part of the WP dream team that won in Aljunied GRC in 2011. The ex-lawyer boasts an impressive resume having graduated from Havard, Oxford, and Stamford. Dubbed the WP’s “secret weapon”, Mr Chen showed signs of promise with his witty replies.
However, Singaporeans had their reservations about the Taiwan-born politician. Given that Mr Chen has been largely based overseas, many were uncertain if he would be capable of fighting for the interests of Singaporeans.
Although Mr Chen delivers well-planned speeches in Parliament, he is less captivating when faced with rebuttals and quick responses. In his book titled “One Man’s View of The World”, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew said that Mr Chen “has not turned out to be so brilliant” after all.
But it seems that while Singaporeans are uncertain about Mr Chen’s abilities, the former Rhodes scholar was confident enough to challenge for the post of Secretary-General in the previous WP Elections — the first time the party’s top position has ever been contested.
Mr Chen lost out to Mr Low 45 – 61.
We honestly don’t know if Mr Chen’s poor showing in Parliament would affect his chances of being the next WP chief.
But, it might be probable that his strong backing within the political party might just be enough to see him being crowned Mr Low’s successor.
Also, Mr Chen is 2 years older than Ms Lim, which has to dent his chances.
3. Png Eng Huat
Current portfolio: Organising Secretary
Mr Png first joined WP in 2006 but he had to wait till 2011 to compete in the General Elections. He competed for the East Coast GRC with Gerald Giam, Mohd Fazli Talip, Eric Tan and Glenda Han. Mr Png’s team lost out but received the third highest number of votes allowing Mr Giam to become an NCMP.
In 2012, the former businessman triumphed in the Hougang by-elections, winning 62.1% of the votes. Mr Png managed to retain his seat in the 2015 General Elections and remains an MP.
While Mr Png gives off distinct grandfatherly vibes, he is not afraid to shoot PAP leaders down in Parliament. Just take a look at his epic reply to PAP member Dr Tan Wu Meng.
The oldest of all the candidates, it is highly unlikely that Mr Png will be able to sustain his political career given that he will be 58 years old by the next General Elections in 2021.
4. Pritam Singh
Current portfolio: Assistant Secretary-General
The youngest of the WP dream team, Mr Singh was attracted to the WP by the able leadership of Ms Lim and Mr Low. The former SAF captain has had mixed performances in parliament.
Although Mr Singh generally speaks eloquently on various topics in parliament, he was schooled by Deputy-Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in this debate about the alcohol ban in Singapore. DPM Teo said that Mr Singh contradicted himself after the opposition member initially argued for the “restoration for alcohol consumption and sale in Little India” before changing his tune and calling for an island-wide ban.
Such moments prove that Mr Singh still has much to learn from his Workers’ Party mentors if he is to succeed as the party’s future Secretary-General. Don’t get us wrong, Mr Singh has large amounts of potential, but he is no Low Thia Khiang. At least not yet.
However, it seems that some WP cadres are willing to take a chance on the Assistant Secretary-General. They pointed out that Mr Singh is at a prime age to take over the party and that the fact that Mr Singh has been allowed to do more media interviews.
For a political party “that tightly controls who can do such interviews”, this is an obvious sign of faith and backing.
Verdict: Very Good, but needs more grooming and the AHPETC saga to be solved.
5. Daniel Goh
Current portfolio: Chair, Media Team
If you are a Sociology student at the National University of Singapore, chances are that you will be familiar with Assoc Prof Daniel Goh. The tenured professor first joined the WP as a volunteer in 2011 before donning the famous blue shirt in the 2015 General Elections. Assoc Prof Goh campaigned in the East Coast GRC with Gerald Giam, Mohamed Fairoz and Leon Perera — losing with 39.27% of the votes.
With Lee Li Lian turning down the NCMP seat offered to her after her loss in Punggol-East SMC, Assoc Prof Goh was chosen to take her place. The NCMP has been vocal in defending the WP amidst the AHPETC sage.
Here is a Facebook post where he calls out TODAY for making errors in their article, which since has been rectified.
This would have pleased the WP brass. Given that he was selected fill one of the three WP’s NCMP seats, it seems the sociologist will form the core of the next generation of WP leaders.
Likelihood: Very Good
6. Gerald Giam
Current portfolio: President, Youth Wing
Mr Giam made his political debut in the 2011 General Elections, securing an NCMP seat as leader of the WP team that lost in the East Coast GRC.
As a result of receiving the third highest percentage of votes amongst unelected Opposition candidates, Mr Giam’s team could retain their NCMP seat after the 2015 General Elections. However, he proposed to allow Mr Leon Perera to take NCMP seat, thereby allowing his comrade to gain exposure to a Parliamentary setting.
As the WP’s President of the Youth Wing, Mr Giam has been on the look out for potential future WP leaders.
However, the leader of a political party must have the special oomph about him and that, is what Mr Giam lacks. While he might not be the next secretary-general, we are pretty sure that he will be a key support player.
7. Muhamad Faisal Manap
Current portfolio: Vice-Chairman
The final member of the WP dream team that won in Aljuined GRC in 2011, Mr Faisal first joined the opposition party in 2006. The MP has constantly spoken out on employment issues as well as championing the interests of Malay Muslims in Parliament.
While Mr Faisal remains an invaluable member of the WP team, we feel that he lacks the outspoken demeanor of Assoc Prof Goh or the verbal tenacity of Leon Perera. As such, we think that he might be well suited as the chairperson rather than the Secretary-General of the party.
8. Lee Li Lian
Current portfolio: Deputy Treasurer
Ms Lee began her WP journey as a volunteer in 2006. In the same year, she was elected into the Youth Wing Executive committee and became its Organising Secretary. Having proven her mettle, Ms Lee was thrusted into the political arena, competing for Punggol East SMC in the 2011 General Elections.
She ultimately lost to Michael Palmer. However, the PAP member’s victory was short, after he vacated his seat due to extra-marital affairs. In the 2013 by-elections, Ms Lee tasted her first victory and was sworn into Parliament.
The outspoken WP member then lost her place in the 2015 elections. Despite winning an NCMP role, Ms Lee chose to give her seat to Assoc Prof Goh after citing that this was “in line with what the voters had expressed”.
Her refusal to take up the NCMP seat might have hindered her opportunity to make more of a mark among Singaporeans.
9. Leon Perera
Current portfolio: Deputy Chair, Media Team
If you have been following the news recently, then Mr Perera needs no introduction. The CEO of Spire group has proved his political mettle after clashing with a few PAP members in Parliament. Remember the conflict with MP Chee Hong Tat? We think that Mr Perera did well to fend off Mr Chee’s political blows.
The NCMP has been a political revelation since he first represented the WP in the 2015 General Elections, providing valuable insight in debates — like how he argued that the Oxley Saga should be settled in court instead of being dragged out on social media.
Being well-spoken and boasting a double first class honours in politics and economics from Harvard, Mr Perera is well equipped to takeover the mantle of the party.
However, a potential hurdle that stands in the way of the NCMP is that he has never been elected into Parliament. It would be safe to presume that the WP would favour an elected MP. As such, other potential candidates, such as Mr Singh, hold a slight edge over the Oxford graduate.
Likelihood: Dark Horse
10. Dennis Tan
Current portfolio: Deputy Treasurer
Mr Tan is a well-travelled lawyer who specialises in maritime law. In 2011, Mr Tan first joined the WP as a volunteer, and became a fully-fledged member a year later. Since then, his political career has taken off.
It is telling that the WP brass have immense faith in Mr Tan, assigning him to compete all by himself in Fengshan SMC on his General Elections debut in 2015.
Mr Tan showed that he was up to the task as he managed to garner 42.3% of the votes on his first attempt, which earned him an NCMP role.
It also seems that the shipping lawyer is highly thought of by the incumbent Secretary-General. Surely, being in your boss’ good books can only serve to increase your chances of a promotion.
Likelihood: Outside chance
Bonus: Somebody else
The WP is known to be full of last minute surprises, so it might be possible that they might appoint someone that did not make this list. Who do you think will be a suitable leader of Singapore’s largest opposition party?
Time to take the wheel
While the next leader of the WP remains a mystery, it remains clear is that the leadership renewal must happen sooner than later. The younger generation of WP must have a direction for the political party: a vehicle which promotes the interest of the people, as Mr Low put it when he announced his retirement.
In his 60th anniversary speech, Mr Low highlighted that it was time these young potential leaders “[stood] up to the steering wheel”.
The question is, who will it be?
Featured image from Workers’ Party.