It was not so long ago that the single most familiar refrain of opposition politicians was a constant complaint about a ‘climate of fear’ surrounding politics.
If the Workers’ Party Youth Wing (WPYW) elections were any gauge, this cloud of fear seems to have largely been dispelled.
Held last Sunday at the WP headquarters, the elections returned 3 fresh faces to the Youth Wing executive council, using a unique election system tailored to ensure maximum renewal.
Around 30 members of the Youth Wing (below age 40) turned up to vote for the new Exco, with five members contesting three positions (the Vice President’s position was uncontested). The atmosphere was jocular and collegiate, with none of the tension that characterizes political events.
New faces, new blood
Koh Choong Yong, who runs his own IT consulting business, was elected the new vice-president – replacing Abdul Salim. Glenda Han, who remains the Wing’s secretary, Bernard Chen, Muhammad Faisal bin Abdul Manap and Lilian Lee will continue with their first term. They were elected to the council last year.
Securities analyst Anthony Seah, 25, SATS technician Norhidayat bin Ali, 29, and Collier’s International real estate agent Julia Goh, 32 (elected in absentia), represent the fresh new faces of opposition politics.
The latter three were voted in to the Exco on a new election system mooted by Youth Wing president, Perry Tong. In a system similar to US Senatorial elections, a number of seats would be put up for contest every year, ensuring that regular elections are held to bring new blood into the Youth Wing. Council members are also barred from running consecutive terms, to ensure that the Exco is a good mix of new and old blood.
When TOC asked Mr Tong if he was afraid that there wouldn’t be enough new blood to fill positions in regular elections, he was content to let the Youth Wing’s membership speak for itself.
A new generation of opposition politics
Aaron Peng (right), 23, is part of a new generation of opposition politics. Fresh out of National Service, he joined the WP almost immediately after his ORD. He is part of a new breed of politically aware youths, unafraid to act for the causes they believe in, even if it means stepping forward and taking an active role in opposition politics.
Aaron has a mission to help youths like himself go through the same political awakening he did: “I want to bring the message across to people my age that it’s not too early to be involved in politics, and that we can make a difference regardless of our age”.
Just one month in the WP, he put himself up for elections to the Youth Wing executive council. Although he did not get elected, he remains undaunted and committed to proving himself worthy of a position in the Youth Wing’s leadership by more active participation in party activities.
Perhaps more surprising than Aaron’s age is the fact that someone even younger is already serving on the current council. Bernard Chen, a 21 year old student at Temasek Polytechnic, currently holds the record for being the youngest member to be elected to the Youth Wing Exco.
What about the supposed climate of fear?
Trainee teacher Winnie Law, when asked about whether she felt joining opposition politics would harm her job prospects, scoffed:
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ve taught in a junior college before, and I wasn’t stopped from carrying on with my teaching career.”
This was a constant theme in the conversations with the Youth Wing members. They come from a diverse range of backgrounds, but all of them had one thing in common: an eagerness to contribute to the political development of Singapore, and an attitude of hopeful optimism that they can make a difference.
None of the members I spoke to mentioned feeling frightened or apprehensive about joining the opposition, perhaps a reflection of the more accepting attitude Singaporeans now have of getting involved in politics.
But, as someone reminded me before I left, for every person I saw in that room, there were dozens more like them who couldn’t care less about politics.
It was a sobering message highlighting just exactly how important the WP Youth Wing’s mission is, of getting young people involved in politics.
YW president Perry Tong and secretary Glenda Han were candidates for the WP in last year’s General Elections – in East Coast GRC and Ang Mo Kio GRC, respectively. Both are also in the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of The Workers’ Party.
You can visit The Workers' Party Youth Wing website here.