After a stunning electoral upset victory by the People’s Action Party, which returned the ruling party back into power with an almost 70% vote share, the Workers’ Party (WP) admittedly has its work cut out for it in the next general election.
The freak result also has implications for the Workers’ Party’s leadership renewal. The WP had intended to put 5 more potential WP MPs in East Coast GRC and Fengshan SMC into parliament – placing all of the party’s best candidates into those two constituencies in the hopes that voters would put them through.
It was a vain hope however, for the electorate swung mercilessly against them.
However, time continues to tick for aging political veterans Mr Low Thia Khiang, who has held the post of WP chief for 14, and Ms Sylvia Lim, who holds her chairman post for 12 years. The urge for leadership renewal will only intensify by the next election.
With Mr Low’s return to parliament this election, Mr Low has overtaken Mr Chiam See Tong as one of the longest running opposition MPs in Singapore history.
In an interview with reporters, Ms Lim confirmed that there was a group of potential candidates to choose from, but the WP had “not fixed our mind on any particular person taking over as yet” for its top posts.
Ms Lim added that both she and Mr Low can indicate their preference, but the decision ultimately lies with party cadres who will make a decision at their bi-annual party conference to elect the WP central executive council.
Since taking over the reins of the WP, Mr Low and Ms Lim have not faced any contest during these party elections. However, party sources say the disappointing performance at the Sept 11 polls could spark a challenge.
Already, there are rumblings of discontent among some segments of the party over the leadership’s apparent preference for newer faces. This election, the party fielded 16 new faces, most of whom joined the party after its electoral victory in Aljunied GRC in 2011.
However, insiders say that Mr Low still has a powerful edge over his closest competitors. Since taking up the chief post in 2001, Mr Low has presided over more than a decade of steady progress for the WP and shaped it into Singapore’s most popular opposition party today.
Analysts say that the WP would most likely band together in this “time of crisis”, with Mr Low and Ms Lim being left to man the top two posts again. The other seats in the Central Executive Council however will be much more keenly contested. At the last party conference in July last year, more than 20 vied for the other 12 spots on the central executive council.
By all accounts, the WP has been looking to its candidates in East Coast and Fengshan to fill some positions, and eventually key party posts.
Although the WP did not win East Coast and Fengshan constituencies, the results allowed WP to secure the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) seats which are given to opposition candidates with the best vote shares among those who were not elected.
Shipping law firm partner Dennis Tan, who stood in Fengshan, and consultancy firm chief executive Leon Perera, who was nominated by his East Coast teammates, will be filling up 2 of the NCMP seats. The party has also indicated its preference to have sociology professor Daniel Goh take up the NCMP seat after the position was turned down by Punggol East candidate Lee Li Lian. But it is now up to Parliament whether to fill the position.
Mr Tan has risen quickly through the ranks to a central executive council position since volunteering for the party in 2011. Dr Goh, too, is in the council. The duo, together with Mr Perera, were the key architects of the WP’s election manifesto. The fact that they have been picked to fill the NCMP seats is further indication of their party leadership potential.
Leader of the East Coast team Gerald Giam will not be returning to Parliament after serving one term as NCMP as there are only 3 NCMP positions. But all signs point to him still being in the running for key party posts. He played a significant role in policy formulation over the years and chaired the presentation of the party manifesto. That he was trusted to front a press conference without either Mr Low or Ms Lim present speaks volumes about his stature in the party.
In his first Meet-the-People session since the elections, Mr Low confirmed that the WP had placed in its East Coast and Fengshan candidates.
“They are the future leadership core of the WP. We very much hoped they could be elected,” he said. “Now that they are not elected, the second-best option would be to become NCMPs so more Singaporeans will know them better.”