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Will voters give WP vote of confidence?

Andrew Loh

WP sec-gen Low Thia Khiang

From the outcome of the opposition pow-wow on Saturday, contests in all constituencies in Singapore’s next General Election look certain. The Workers’ Party (WP) emerged as the opposition party which will likely contest the most number of constituencies – up to nine. These include 4 Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) and 5 Single-member Constituencies (SMC).

In the 2006 elections, the party contested seven constituencies – 3 GRCs and 4 SMCs.

The WP, led by secretary-general and Member of Parliament for Hougang, Mr Low Thia Khiang, returns to Aljunied GRC where it scored 44 per cent of the votes against the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) team in the last elections.  It is expected that Ms Sylvia Lim, WP chairman, will once again head the WP team in Aljunied against the PAP team defended by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr George Yeo.

The WP also looks set to do battle again in East Coast GRC, with party treasurer Eric Tan tipped to lead the charge against the men in white for a second time. Mr Tan’s team garnered 36.14 percent of the votes against the PAP’s team, led by Senior Minister S Jayakumar, in 2006.

Mr Low himself is expected to remain in Hougang SMC, which he first won in 1991, although some have speculated that he might lead a GRC team. Mr Low increased his votes in GE 2006 to a more comfortable 62.74 per cent, despite the PAP dangling HDB upgrading carrots to woo voters there.

Besides Aljunied and East Coast GRCs, the WP also looks certain to contest two other GRCs – Moulmein-Kallang and Nee Soon, both newly-created by the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee. WP contested both Nee Soon Central SMC and Nee Soon East SMC in 2006. Both constituencies have been subsumed under the new Nee Soon GRC.

What about the Prime Minister’s constituency of Ang Mo Kio GRC, where the WP fielded a young team in GE 2006 and received a respectable 34 per cent, in the process bringing Mr Lee Hsien Loong's vote below the national average of 66.6 per cent? Ms Lim told the media that her party will not be contesting it this time as the party “has to balance its resources according to its strategy.” (Channel Newsasia)

WP chairman Sylvia Lim

As for the 5 SMCs the WP is interested in, further negotiations are expected for three of them, as other opposition parties have also expressed interest in them as well. These are Punggol East, which the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) is also eyeing; Sengkang West, which is wanted by the Singapore People’s Party and the People's Liberal Democratic Party (PLDP); and Joo Chiat, which independent candidate Andrew Kuan wants to contest.

The other two of the five SMCs are Hougang and the newly-created Whampoa.

The Workers’ Party was the best-supported opposition party in the last elections, resulting in an outright win for Mr Low. Ms Lim was appointed Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) for being the highest-scoring losing opposition team in Aljunied GRC.

Shortly after GE 2006, however, several prominent members left the party, citing differences with party policies. They included two who are now secretary-generals of other parties – Mr Chia Ti Lik who helms the Socialist Front, a new party registered only last year; Mr Goh Meng Seng, who was Ms Lim’s teammate in Aljunied GRC, now heads the National Solidarity Party; and Dr James Gomez, who has since joined the Singapore Democratic Party. Dr Gomez was also a candidate in the WP Aljunied GRC team.

In the last 5 years, the WP has been criticized for being too quiet and cautious by its critics. With two MPs in Parliament, perhaps more were expected of the party. The WP, however, stuck to its guns and preferred to bide its time, diligently working the ground at the grassroots level. Ms Lim, for example, has been conducting house-to-house visits at Aljunied GRC every week, according to sources, since the last elections. She also helps out at Mr Low’s weekly Meet-The-People sessions in Hougang, and her performance in Parliament as NCMP has impressed not a few people.

Gerald Giam

The party has also seen some younger Singaporeans become members. One new face to look out for will be Mr Gerald Giam, who is expected to be fielded in East Coast GRC. Mr Giam was previously from the civil service, working with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in 2005. He is presently a business analyst and is involved in Information Technology Project Management. A member of the WP Central Executive Committee, he is understood to be involved in policy formulation in the party. Mr Giam’s book, Singapore version 2.0: Alternative proposals for a better Singapore, was released in January this year, in which he writes about his ideas for the country.

As for Mr Low, he is well-liked in his constituency of  Hougang and it is unlikely that the PAP will be able to unseat him. The PAP’s candidate in Hougang in the last two elections, Mr Eric Low, was soundly beaten both times and seems unlikely to do any better this time round, should he be fielded again.

The main event, as far as the WP is concerned, will be Aljunied GRC.

Will Ms Lim lead the WP team there once more? Or will the party spring a surprise for Mr Yeo? Indeed, will WP do better than their last outing to Mr Yeo's territory?

As some have speculated, will Mr Low step out of his SMC and join Ms Lim in leading a GRC team?

But perhaps the answer to the most important question the WP would be interested in is this: The WP attracted massive crowds at each of its rallies in the last elections. The iconic picture of the crowd which swarmed the site in Hougang during one of the party’s rallies still haunts many. Yet, the party only won one seat – Hougang SMC.

Will voters this time round do more than just attend the party’s rallies and listen to their speeches?

Will Singaporeans give the party the extra boost it hopes for and send more of its candidates to Parliament?

We’ll only know on results night.