Workers’ Party (WP) should target and secure at least one-thirds of Parliamentary seats to prevent a “wipe-out” of the elected opposition and subsequently risking giving the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) “a blank cheque to govern”, said the Party’s Secretary-General Pritam Singh.
In his speech at this year’s WP Members’ Forum on Sunday (13 Jan), Mr Singh revealed that he decided to join WP almost ten years ago out of “a desire to make sure the PAP did not have a blank cheque to govern, because that is very opposite of what being a Singaporean in a parliamentary democracy is about”.
“It had nothing to do with a change of government,” said Mr Singh, adding that he only wanted to contribute to an opposition party “that had only two elected MPs in Parliament”.
“I did not believe that one needed to wear white to enter public service and to be of service to Singaporeans,” he added.
Over the years, having gained experience as a Member of Parliament and as a politician overall, Mr Singh said that he has developed a “firm belief and conviction”, as “a medium-term objective”, that “Singapore must aspire towards a genuinely diverse Parliament with at least 1/3 of the elected seats in in opposition hands”.
“I say 1/3 in the medium-term because of the past experience of the Workers’ Party in attracting suitable and qualified candidates who are willing to stand in general elections.
“For a small party like ours, it is a high bar,” said Mr Singh.
This belief, he said, is maintained “regardless which party is running the country, and which party or parties are in the opposition”.
A diverse Parliament, Mr Singh suggested, “will engender a different type of politics that precipitates a Singapore which is caring and confident about the future, not one that is framed by libel suit after libel suit against one’s opponents, be they in politics or civil society”.
He also reminded WP members to “never forget that the playing field between the PAP and opposition will continue to be uneven, given the PAP’s determination to maintain its dominance through its control of grassroots organisations” through the ruling party’s “ability to make changes to the Constitution, the highest law of the land, through its near absolute control of Parliament”.
However, “The Workers’ Party or any political party,” said Mr Singh, “is only a tool to effect political change”.
“It is the voting public who must decide whether they want a representative and balanced Parliament to prevent ‘ownself check ownself’,” he said.
WP members ought to emulate former Sec-Gen Low Thia Khiang’s “rational” and “responsible” way of engaging in politics
As the “aspirations and expectations” of Singaporeans become increasingly diverse, Mr Singh revealed that many WP members have expressed the need for “all political parties in Singapore”, including the WP, to exercise empathy and open-mindedness in order to successfully “operate in a more complex political environment going forward”.
The key demographics of Singaporeans in question encompass “the youth, parents or parents-to-be, the sandwiched middle-class worried about cost of living, the middle-aged who are concerned about falling HDB prices, and the elderly who are worried about the adequacy of their CPF retirement funds,” said Mr Singh.
“Then you have community aspirations across the various ethnic groups, new citizens who come from many different countries in Asia and beyond, married couples where one spouse is not from Singapore,” he said, further illustrating the complex sociopolitical environment in modern Singapore, in addition to “other individuals whose political views are defined by their attitudes towards beliefs and personal causes like their religious inclinations, views on LGBT issues, environmental concerns and animal welfare”.
Mr Singh also told WP members that if they are “not comfortable amongst Singaporeans from all walks of life, at hawkers centers and in the coffeeshops and are not able to have conversations like friends and neighbours,” it will be difficult for them to “read the public mood, let alone serve Singapore with conviction and dedication”.
“We are better off not putting candidates forward if we do not have people who want to better the lives of Singaporeans or if we have people who enter politics out of a misplaced sense of personal ambition,” he warned.
“Service and wisdom” must be at the heart of every WP member’s aim “whether we have been in the party for 60 years or 6 days”: Pritam Singh
We have to put the best team to offer a secure alternative to Singaporeans – let me stress, the best team, not the best individuals.
Touching on the Party’s manifesto for Singaporeans, Mr Singh said that the Party champions the minimum wage, an education system that has greater breadth and depth than the present one, state-assisted medical care for the elderly and the disabled, and transparency in terms of public finances “from the cost price of HDB flats to the investment of our reserves”.
“We believe in the minimum wage as an expression of how Singapore should protect its most vulnerable and as a national commitment to our workforce.
“We believe in more educational choices for our children. To allow any child a direct-route to the ‘O’ levels and bypassing the PSLE should they wish to do so. The focus should be on a childhood of wide experiences and the acquisition of real skills and aptitudes with a view to prepare for lifelong learning.
“We believe in absolute dignity for the elderly and a national commitment to look after the medical needs of our seniors after they retire, particularly the low-income and the destitute.
“We insist that more taxpayer dollar are spent on disabled Singaporeans, who have more mountains to overcome than the rest of us through no choice of their own.
“We seek more transparency on a whole range of public finance issues, from the cost price of HDB flats to the investment of our reserves.
“This would allow the public to consider alternative policies and options from a realistic starting point – a starting point that recognizes that everything has to be paid for and that public spending must be sustainable,” said Mr Singh.
He added that “the freedom to choose, care for our workers and families, responsible leadership and accountability” are tenets that lie at the crux of the Party’s manifesto.
Mr Singh reminded all WP members that “whether we have been in the party for 60 years or 6 days, [our aim] must be that of service and wisdom, with a desire to build one united Workers’ Party”.
“For those members who feel that the path is challenging and hard and even god-forsaken, that is the reality of our operating environment, and none of the MPs and CEC members will sugar-coat it.
“However, the only promise I can make is that you will find the journey of public and community service incredibly humbling and personally fulfilling. It will make you a better person but only if you come with clean hands, a clear mind, dedication and a sincere desire to serve,” he concluded.