Leadership succession of Workers’ Party not a surprise, only a question of when

Below is a Facebook post by Mr Yee Jenn Jong, former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (2011-2015), commenting on the announcement by Mr Low Thia Khiang, Secretary General of Workers’ Party that he will not be contesting for the position of Secretary General in the next Central Executive Council (CEC) so as to allow new leaders to step up and take over the reins of the party.

Mr Yee’s Facebook post in full, reproduced with permission

It may seem to be a surprise to many but those who know Mr Low well will know that he has long been concerned about building an organisation that will continue to succeed after him. It is only a question of when.

As a then-outsider of WP in 2006, I observed how GE2006 unearthed many young, educated and professionally successful candidates. I was impressed with the leadership’s calm and disciplined handling of PAP’s baiting over the James Gomez incident. That to me, was an opposition party that was rewriting the PAP’s narrative of the opposition.

By 2011, I was sufficiently convinced that WP had transformed itself into a respectable and rationale opposition party, one that I was confident to step forward and volunteer myself to join. Their manifestos are clearly laid out in each GE for those who care to comb through the many pages.

During my term in parliament from 2011-2015, I could see how Mr Low was carefully guiding the new WP parliamentarians into the ways of parliament. Mis-steps and public disagreements would set back the growth of the opposition, like what happened from 1991-1997. Individual brilliance may be important, but for an organisation to develop, the team has to play together. I benefited from Mr Low’s frank comments on the drafts of my speeches. Many of those were not just about the content of that one speech but about the principles behind working together as a team, being consistent to the Party’s stated positions and understanding the long term implications to Singaporeans of what were being proposed.

Many clamour for merger of opposition parties; for an immediate alternative to the PAP. Singapore has an unique political climate. The over domineering ruling party has their hands into every lever that controls the government, economy, electoral processes, publicly-funded community outreach, media, the unions and more. They have the means to tear apart any opponent that grows too strong. Any disunity within an alternative party will be quickly picked upon and magnified until the party gets destroyed. Any mis-step will be hounded upon, audited until the death of it, and attacked from every possible angle.

It is a terribly unhealthy situation for the long term development of Singapore. What worked in our founding years with a responsible and capable team of pioneer leaders given a blank cheque is not a guarantee that it will work in the future. There should be a healthy challenge. I stepped forward in 2011 because I saw many misguided policies that had bad implications on the ground but were ignored by policymakers. Only a serious challenge in the ballot boxes would force a rethink by the ruling party.

I am glad to have worked with many capable team members and yes, I do think there’s a younger generation able to step up. It will not be in the same way as what Mr Low did, nor what Mr JBJ had done. Each leader has his own style and what’s important is how to develop the organisational structure to survive beyond the leader of the day.

And no, I disagree with analysts who think the stepping down has anything to do with the impending town council law suit. The plan for succession was laid out long ago and implemented in steps. There’s still some way to go before an alternative government can be formed but I think this is as far as Singapore has gotten to since independence. And it will be with the support of Singaporeans that it can go to an even greater height.