By Choo Zheng Xi
Question: What do ex NMPs Breama Mathi, Kanwaljit Soin, Chia Shi Teck, opposition politicians Chiam See Tong (MP for Potong Pasir), Sebastian Teo (National Solidarity Party) and the son of Singapore’s first Chief Minister Jonathan Marshall have in common?
Answer: All of them were at the Worker’s Party (WP) 50th anniversary dinner on the 3rd of November.
The WP celebrated its 50th anniversary with a bang, packing Fortunate Restaurant in Toa Payoh with almost 700 members, supporters and well wishers.
Besides the who’s who of the local political scene (minus the PAP), party supporters from all walks of life were out in full force.
One Mr Ng, in his 70s, told TOC proudly that he has been a party supporter from the days of J B Jeyaratnam’s Anson breakthrough in 1981.
Ever since that victory, he has been active in helping the WP in grassroots work and acting as the party’s polling agent at almost every election. Asked about his fervent support for the WP, Mr Ng said:
“The WP is a party that is sincere about the concerns of Singaporeans and is interested in making Singapore a better place. I cannot imagine Singapore without it”.
Many TOC spoke to also highlighted the fact that they were proud to be supporting a party that is widely touted to be the opposition’s best chance of winning the holy grail of Singaporean politics, a Group Representation Constituency (GRC).
Low: GRC a ‘must’. Dream team speculation rife
Indeed, winning a GRC was the most prominent feature of Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang’s speech at the dinner. Placing an unprecedented emphasis on the need to win a GRC, Mr Low called it a ‘must’, and even laid out the consequences of the opposition failing to achieve a GRC breakthrough:
‘As long as the opposition is unable to secure a breakthrough in a GRC, the opposition remains a marginal player and at risk of extinction one day”, he said.
With Mr Low placing such strong emphasis on winning a GRC, the question on many minds is how far Mr Low will go to secure a GRC win. Yesterday’s Straits Times noted tantalizingly that Mr Low himself has not ruled out running in a GRC ‘dream team’. Last night, Mr Chiam See Tong told reporters that he would not rule out joining forces with Mr Low.
Many opposition sympathizers salivate at the prospect of a Low-Chiam and possibly even Sylvia Lim GRC dream ticket. One Mr Lim TOC spoke to noted that this would ‘shake up’ Singaporean politics like never before.
However, despite the romanticized image of a showdown of political giants, some have cautioned that opposition politics is far more complex and nuanced. A political watcher familiar with the opposition scene told TOC on condition of anonymity:
“It serves Mr Low’s purpose to keep his options open and interest in a possible breakthrough high. However, there are two main factors to consider when talking about Mr Low on a GRC ticket. The first is whether, and the second is with whom.
Mr Low has a track record of caution, and might not choose to ‘show hand’ yet. Even if he does run, its several steps removed to say he’ll run with Chiam. This will depend largely on whether Mr Chiam wants to end his career with a bang, giving a GRC a go before he retires.
And even then, the WP’s prospects comes first for Mr Low, so Mr Chiam’s willingness to run with Low might not mean anything unless Low can be sure it’s in the best interest of the party”.
Teenagers paid to up insulting posters of WP
The upbeat celebrations were prefaced by a sinister hatchet job.
Prior to the dinner, WP members spotted three teenagers distributing and sticking up posters degrading the party. When confronted, these teenagers said they were paid by someone to distribute the fliers and posters. TOC was told they were promised $20 for the task.
The three boys were unable to give details of who the person who employed them was and left after WP Organising Secretary Yaw Shin Leong spoke to them.
TOC understands that strident anti-WP views have been aired at one particular online forum, Sammyboy forum. Several threads have been set up calling for boycotts of the WP and one thread even called for people to wear anti-WP posters on their t-shirts at the venue of the WP anniversary dinner. Sources familiar with the forum have told TOC that these comments are initiated by around two to three regular forummers.
The dinner was unaffected by the attempted disruption, and commenced without a hitch.
You can watch TOC's video of the 3 boys distributing the leaflets here.
Moving forward: optimism tempered with harsh political pragmatism
The WP has clearly been able to brand itself as the most successful opposition party in Singapore. Apart from more visible public forums, Parliamentary performance, and grassroots events, the WP has been working on the ‘softer’ marketing aspect of public outreach. For it’s anniversary, it managed to put together a commemorative WP 50 book, as well as a WP fridge magnet as a door gift.
However, for every successful WP event that was held to commemorate its anniversary, one more was torpedoed. Most prominent among them was the WP cycling event at East Coast Park which was cancelled by the police because of ‘public safety concerns’.
As Mr Eric Tan, organizing chairman of the dinner noted in his thank you address, these were realities that the opposition had to live with, but had to continue to fight against.
The WP can rightly claim to be a party of illustrious political heritage: it is, after all, the party of several breakthroughs. Formed by Singapore’s first Chief Minister David Marshall and shepherded by Singapore’s J B Jeyaratnam of Anson fame, it remains to be seen whether the dual leadership of Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim will be the chapter in Singaporean history that will be remembered for an opposition GRC breakthrough.
The transcript of Low Thia Khiang's speech here.
Below is a short video of the dinner. Special thanks to Watchtowertv.
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Some pictures from the night's event....
The wife of WP's founder Mr David Marshall, Jean Mary Grey with her son Johnathan, Low Thia Khiang and Yaw Shin Leong
Mr Chiam See Tong with Mrs Marshall and Johnathan Marshall.
Sin Kek Tong, Chairman of the Singapore People's Party (SPP), Sebastian Teo, President of the National Solidarity Party (NSP) and Chiam See Tong, Secretary General of the SPP.
WP's Chairman Sylvia Lim with WP's Sec Gen Low Thia Khiang