The Workers’ Party (WP) on Sunday (28 June) introduced its final batch of candidates for the coming general election, slated to take place on 10 July.
Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim, 54, left his job as a researcher due to his previous workplace’s “non-partisanship” policy, which he describes as a “small sacrifice” to make for the betterment of Singapore and Singaporeans.
However, he said that his former employers and colleagues, as well as his friends, have congratulated him and wished him well on his political endeavour.
Mr Abdul Shariff’s journey prior to politics was not one without obstacles, as he recalled working what he described as “menial jobs” such as security personnel, despatch rider, bus driver, and general worker well into his 30s to put himself through his Economics degree at Singapore Management University.
What sparked his desire to enter politics was observing — as a volunteer in the Aljunied GRC — how a Meet-the-People session with WP secretary-general Pritam Singh was conducted at housing estates’ void deck “out in the open” on humid evenings.
Despite Mr Singh’s makeshift desk and the lack of facilities, said Mr Abdul Shariff, the former “attended to every resident without fail”, and WP volunteers “diligently” carried out their responsibilities despite an uneven playing field in terms of resources compared to the People’s Action Party.
“To me, it reflected the difficulties and obstacles confronting those who dare to disagree with the ruling party,” he said.
Mr Abdul Shariff also challenged elitist mindsets that blame the economically and socially disadvantaged in Singapore.
“When you believe that you have succeeded purely on individual merits, you may hold the view that those who are not successful have only themselves to blame,” he said.
Such a view, said Mr Abdul Shariff, feeds the “mistaken perception that the vulnerable are only waiting for handouts” and that they will not feel incentivised to work hard.
A truly compassionate leadership, he said, should instead be asking if such groups are receiving sufficient help.
Citing a nationwide study conducted by the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy which found that around 100,000 persons in Singapore have been sleeping rough on the streets, Mr Abdul Shariff said — if elected to Parliament — that he would like to dedicate his candidacy to helping such vulnerable persons.
Answering a question on his stance towards issues affecting the Malay-Muslim community in Singapore, Mr Abdul Shariff said he agrees with fellow candidate and party member Fadli Fawzi — a lawyer and previously a town councillor at the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council — that such issues should be framed as a national issue and not just a race-specific issue.
One of his proposals to combat such problems includes introducing anti-discrimination laws not only for ethnic minorities such as Malays, but also for all women and senior citizens.
WP’s proposed redundancy insurance scheme — previously put forth by chair Sylvia Lim in Parliament previously — will also ensure that Singaporeans will still be able to sustain their expenses and have the financial means to upskill while seeking new employment, he added.
Gerald Giam, 42, is contesting for the third time. Previously a candidate in East Coast GRC, he is one of the candidates to be fielded by WP in Aljunied GRC this year.
Mr Giam is WP’s treasurer, and a chief tech officer in his own startup.
Entering Parliament as a non-constituency Member of Parliament in 2011 was akin to undergoing a “baptism of fire”, he said.
While he has had “many productive debates” with ministers on matters such as healthcare, transport, and manpower policies, Mr Giam also recalled the experience of having some of the most “powerful politicians in the country roaring with laughter” at statements he made in his speeches.
“I suppose that is a badge of honour reserved only for opposition MPs,” he quipped.
Mr Giam aims to work more closely with experts on such subject matters and to “put an ear closer to the ground”.
“I’m prepared to reach across the aisle to come up with the best solutions, to solve the challenges we face as a nation,” he added. “That is what constructive politics should be about.”
Responding to a question from CNA Digital on whether he feels ready to fill the shoes of his predecessors — former secretary-general Low Thia Khiang and Chen Show Mao — in Aljunied GRC, Mr Giam said that he simply sees himself as playing his own part in doing WP’s best for residents in the constituency.
With vast experience in grassroots work and outreach activities in Fengshan SMC and the East Coast GRC such as the party’s food distribution programme for low-income residents, Mr Giam said that the party has able to distribute food to around 240 recipients per month.
Lawyer He Ting Ru, 37, spent the first decade of her adult life in Europe. A graduate of the University of Cambridge, she underwent legal training before going on to work in London and Frankfurt as a solicitor.
She moved back to Singapore in 2011, and began her journey with WP as a volunteer at the Meet-the-People sessions in Aljunied GRC in the year past WP chief Low Thia Khiang’s team wrested power over the ward from the People’s Action Party (PAP).
It was during the sessions that she learnt about the hopes and anxieties of residents regarding the fate of their families and their future, said Ms He.
Reiterating her belief that Singaporeans “are not simply numbers on a spreadsheet”, Ms He said that all Singaporeans “have something to offer” and that the nation should not be expected to rely on the few ideas from “self-proclaimed natural aristocrats“.
“Do we want a country dominated by the views of a few, or one where healthy and vibrant views can be exchanged respectfully without accusations of disloyalty? Do we want a country where we sweep the vulnerable under the carpet, or one where they can actually live dignified lives? Do we want a country which pursues economic goals at the expense of all other considerations, or or one where we aim for sustainable growth for all?” She questioned.
Responding to a question on how she intends to apply her past GE experience as a candidate in Marine Parade GRC in 2015, Ms He said that the biggest take home from her experience was walking with fellow candidates and WP volunteers “as a team”.
Despite not winning the constituency that year, “one of the strongest memories” she had was that of a group hug, as well as the overall communication and respect among everyone involved.
Regardless of challenges and disagreements they faced and may face in the future, Ms He said that the common goal remains for all in WP.
“We want the Workers’ Party to succeed, we want Singapore to succeed,” she said.
Leon Perera, 48, is contesting for the second time. Previously a candidate in the East Coast GRC and entered Parliament as an NCMP, Mr Perera is going to stand in Aljunied GRC this year.
Mr Perera is the president of WP’s Youth Wing and the founding CEO of an international market consultancy firm.
Quoting a line from Batman Begins, one of his favourite films — “When we fall, we pick ourselves up” — Mr Perera nonetheless continued his work with WP after the party’s defeat in East Coast GRC.
Since 2015, he has been working in the Serangoon division of Aljunied GRC under party chair Sylvia Lim and have been partaking in house visits, tea sessions, welfare interventions and seeking feedback from residents.
WP’s role in Parliament, said Mr Perera, is to “contribute to balance in politics”.
Balance, he stressed, is “not the enemy of unity”, and Singaporeans’ unity as a people and a nation cannot be based on following just one political party, affiliation or allegiance.
“Debate does not mean division,” said Mr Perera.
Referencing the late Li Wenliang — the Chinese ophthalmologist who was one of the earliest doctors to have raised alarm on a novel coronavirus now known as COVID-19 — Mr Perera echoed the view that “a healthy society does not speak with only one voice”.
Noting how WP — the only alternative party to represent the opposition in the last term — was “nearly wiped out” from Parliament in the last election, Mr Perera said that one thing he would like to contribute most to changing is the “supermajority” of the PAP, which has led to the ability of one party to change the nation’s Constitution.
Such unilateral decisions, he said, will not serve the interests of Singaporeans in the long-term.
Mr Perera also echoed party secretary-general Pritam Singh’s view that it is important to dilute the supermajority of the PAP by ensuring that alternative parties have a one-third representation in Parliament — which Mr Singh has cited as “a medium-term goal” for WP.