Reading the papers, you would be forgiven if you perceived the Workers Party (WP) to be in decline.
The People’s Action Party (PAP) paints a picture of a disorganised opposition, with Lim Boon Heng calling the WP “fumbling” and Goh Chok Tong saying that the WP is “arrogant.”
This is hardly any surprise.
With the implosion of the National Solidary Party, the WP is the only party that has substantial clout and has in fact come out stronger from GE2011, winning two by-elections since then. It has managed to retain many of their old members, and also attract new ones.
It’s interesting to note that the Workers Party have chosen to feature civil rights prominently within their slogan in Chinese (掌握民权，把握未来), one that was keenly missed by many during the press conference. This was reiterated several times, where WP’s secretary general, Low Thia Khiang, detailed (in Chinese) what he meant by empowerment, which ‘involves people recognising, understanding and exercising their rights.’
Ironically, there was a journalist who managed to prove Low’s point about the need to educate citizens about their rights within a participatory democracy.
The journalist had asked what Low meant by empowerment, for given that since every citizen had the right to vote, ‘what more do you want?’
Low flashed a cryptic smile, and gently reminded him that just a decade ago, many electoral districts were walkovers.
“Empowerment is a process … If you look at the history of elections here, in 2001, people didn’t even have a chance to exercise their right to vote.”
This rights-based language is a step ahead for the WP, which has tended to focus on more economic issues.
The slogan also signals a next phase of the WP, which seeks to increase the number of opposition in Parliament.
Mr Low said:
“From the first world Parliament, we should entrench the system that we have. The parliament today is more diverse, towards a more balanced parliament. It’s the same principle of having checks and balance… You have seen a more responsive government today, and we hope to see an even more responsive government.”
Feeling the heat
If anything, it is the PAP that is feeling the heat. The Town Council debacle has not seemed to gain much traction, crucially with the residents who are under AHPETC.
At the same time, PM Lee decided to use the National Day Rally as a platform to promote his party for the upcoming elections, a stunning break of convention as politicking has never happened to that extent on stage, even with preceding prime ministers.
Changing demographics have also meant an electorate less attached to the PAP; demanding for a more consultative government.
To its credit, the PAP government has introduced a slate of policies that shifted to the left economically, with the most famous one being the Pioneer Generation Package. At the same time, we see a tightening and creation of new laws and regulation that suppress dissent. The dissonance pre and post-Singapore Conversation could not be felt more keenly, where the conversations that happened seemed to have never existed in the first place.
Whilst it remains to be seen what the WP will elaborate as constituting civil rights, it signals a very clear difference between the more participatory, rights-based citizenry that the WP hopes to cultivate, and the elite, paternalistic politics of the PAP.
 Empowerment, 基本上是赋予人民的这个权利。 那么人民要有这个权利，首先要懂得他拥有什么权利。 他怎么利用这个权利， 他这么行使权利， 来达到监督政府， 从而使到政策上他们有得到一定好处或者不需要被牺牲的过程。