Andrew Loh with contribution by Choo Zheng Xi
Four party cadres, including two candidates from GE 2006, resigned in the past one week but renewal process is on track, says Organizing Secretary
“Salim has the idealism and passion to pursue what he feels strongly about,” said Mr Yaw Shin Leong, the Workers’ Party Organising Secretary and Mr Salim’s team leader in Ang Mo Kio GRC in the last elections. “I wish him well.”
27 year old Mr Abdul Salim Harun’s resignation from the Workers’ Party is not totally unexpected. Rumours had been going around about his wish to leave the party since last year. His presence at the Singapore Democratic Party’s Hong Lim Park protest, during the IMF/World Bank meeting in September 2006, was believed to have raised some eyebrows within the party.
While his resignation may not affect the party significantly, observers have noted that it might put a spanner in the works for the party’s rejuvenation process, especially since his is not the only resignation since GE 2006. Mr Chia Ti Lik and Mr Goh Meng Seng, both in their 30s and who had been members of the party’s previous Central Executive Committee (CEC), have also since resigned.
When the party elected its new CEC after the elections in 2006, it was touted as a rejuvenation. Party secretary general, Mr Low Thia Khiang, was reported to be “very pleased” with the new and younger CEC. 9 out of the 15 members were below the age of 40 then. "The process of renewal is on track," Mr Low said to the Straits Times.
Will Mr Salim’s leaving signal further resignations from the party, especially of younger members who might be unhappy with the party’s non-vocal stand? Mr Chia had cited his “frustration” with the party as a reason for his resignation. Mr Goh explained that he left the WP because of “misinformation” put out by the Today newspaper which reported that he had allegedly made a threat against an Internet forummer. He resigned because the report had done damage to “WP's public image”, he said. (Link) However, it is believed that he too was unhappy with the party. Three more party cadres have also resigned in the past one week, including Mr Salim’s running mate in Ang Mo Kio GRC, Ms Lee Wai Leng.
Part of the process?
The leadership may, however, see such resignations as “norming processes”, as party chairman Ms Sylvia Lim had said when Mr Chia resigned in November 2006. (Link)
Mr Yaw also does not see Mr Salim’s resignation as any kind of setback for the rejuvenation process. “The renewal process was set in motion since 2001,” he said. “[These] resignations won’t set back the process,” he added.
Agreeing with Mr Yaw is Mr Tan Kian Hwee, also a member of the Ang Mo Kio team in 2006. “Resignations have occurred in every party including the PAP - even in the period from 2006 until the present,” he said. “An organisation would be seriously problematic if the ‘loss’ outstrips the ‘gain’, which I do not see [in] the WP's case.”
Mr Salim himself seems to agree. He told The Online Citizen (TOC) that his resignation “will not affect the party in one way or another.”
Half of the party’s current CEC is below the age of 40, with three new faces in Mr Koh Choong Yong, Ms Lilian Lee and 47-year old Mr Png Eng Huat. Mr Salim was not a member of the current CEC.
The bad news for the party, however, may be the negative publicity these resignations may give – especially when the next general elections is rumoured to be around the corner. After all, resignations of younger members, who are naturally the next generation of leaders for the party, perhaps indicate a restlessness within the organization. The leadership will have to pay more attention to the aspirations of these members if more resignations are to be prevented.
Mr Tan is of the view that the WP, like any other organization, has to consistently reflect on where it can improve. He said, however, that “this would be more in its approach and policy.” He also feels that it is both its leaders and members together that have to remain relevant to the public.
“Personally, I don't agree that a party's leadership needs to meet its members’ expectations in areas where it does not meet the people's expectations,” he added.
Outreach expanding online
Mr Yaw is confident that the party’s plans are in place. “There are people joining the party, and our groundwork continues as we are going about house-to-house visits” he explained. He added that he was heartened that new members have chosen to enter the party even during the “lull periods” between elections.
Mr Yaw also cited the WP’s outreach efforts online, which include Twitter and Facebook. He also noted that “the WP has the largest amount of leadership figures who blog amongst the alternative parties”. He pointed to a new WP online initiative called Hammersspeed which aggregates all articles relating to the WP. [Correction, 31 March 09: The WP has clarified that these online sites are not official party websites.]
The Workers Party was the best-performing opposition party in the last elections. It scored 43.9 per cent in Aljunied GRC and is generally seen as the opposition party with the best hope of breaking the People’s Action Party's (PAP) monopoly on GRCs.