WP BERNARD CHEN: CHEN SHOW MAO’S CHALLENGE FOR SEC-GEN POST SHOW WP HAS NO GROUPTHINK

OMC2016: My Observations

After reading this morning’s English and Chinese reports on WP Organising Members Conference (OMC) that was held yesterday, please allow me to register my observations.

At the very beginning, cadre members were reminded of their responsibilities to keep the proceedings confidential and not publish any reportage or footage of the conference. It is an internal meeting. Time and again, it is disappointing to read of many “party sources” who have spoken to the media on the condition of anonymity. Hope they are not existing members or cadres of the Party. WP values party discipline and mutual trust and this applies particularly to cadres in the Party. It is a trait that many Singaporeans appreciate.

At the very least, journalists should have check their facts with the media team in WP, to reconcile the facts obtained from anonymous sources [and the intention behind those said “facts”], and the realities on the ground which would be best represented by the official media apparatus. Being in WP for the past ten years, it is definitely not a one-man show. Decisions of the Party is made collectively by the Central Executive Committee [facilitated by the many working committees in the organisational structure] and they bear responsibility for the releases disseminated to the press, Mr Low and Mr Chen included. They also bear any legal injunctions that may arise during the term of office. So it is only fair to check with the official media team.

The atmosphere at the Conference was tense but hopeful. Shouldn’t this be the case for every leadership [and national] election? Party leaders were not caught off guard as reported. I remembered Mr Low telling me to value the trust invested by the cadre members in its leaders and to expect a leadership challenge for every position in the CEC at every election. This is in fact a healthy development in a growing organisation. “Growing pains” as he puts it. In fact, no one in the Party is irreplaceable and renewal is the utmost priority at every election. This applies equally to him and the rest of the MPs.

There was certainly no protest at Mr Chen’s nomination. In fact, he had the opportunity to address the cadres present. Mr Low prevailed in a democratic contest. The cadres applauded the contest and cheered the winner. It was an emotional and keen contest. Internal party democratic dynamics at play here. We can only expect more intense competition for party positions as more capable individuals join the Party in the years to come. But as the Party grows, there will be more roles for members to play and develop in. I think as cadres, we should welcome such a development.

To read of rumours [by a political observer] suggesting that the leadership contest for the Secretary-General post was a “wayang show” [“做戏之说”] to demonstrate the democratic process in the Party is incredulous to say the least. Nothing wrong with there being a contest for leadership positions. Are we so used to walkovers that we have grown extremely sensitive to [healthy] competition? For this is akin to saying that the entire cadre membership is unable to think independently for the interests of the Party and we are monotone in nature.

It is precisely because there is a wide array of voices and opinions on the direction of the Party that the contest for the leadership is so keenly contested as was rightly reported. We are the men in blue, made up of many different shades of blue. But we are all Singaporeans at heart, pink IC in tow.

The cadres who were not elected remain integral members of the Party. Glad to know that the incoming CEC will continue to work with them and the entire membership. Say this with confidence having worked with five different terms of CEC leaders. As a cadre, I welcome Mr Chen’s contest for the SG post. Even though he lost, we look forward to his contributions in the incoming CEC.

What is important is that the Party continues to move forward once a decision has been made and a consensus has been achieved. The Straits Times reported that “There is a divide between those who believe in Mr Low’s direction for a credible party based on a rational and responsible opposition, and those who are disgruntled and want the WP to challenge all the seats held by the PAP.” Such a binary view is not helpful. It is widely understood and accepted by the membership and volunteers alike that WP is in no position to challenge all the seats at a General Election. That’s a fact.

In fact, we do well to attempt to contest as many seats as is strategically and logistically possible. At GE2015, the Party fielded its largest slate of candidates. That’s steady progress. In this, we also see a synergy and consensus between those who want a gradual transition and those who like the Party to take on a larger national role. With more Singaporeans joining the Party, we should be hopeful that in the future we are able to mount serious electoral contests in more seats. But that can only come about with more participation and investment from Singaporeans in the WP. So if you have been sitting on this for a long time, it is time to seriously consider joining the WP to serve Singaporeans. And with more individuals coming in, there will be more voices, more differences, not less. One thing is certain: Groupthink is clearly not on the agenda.

WP is at the end of the day, a team. We look out for one another, work together, cry together and cheer together. For the sake of Singapore’s future, WP cannot and must not fail. Renewal is on track and together, we continue to grow into an organisation that can one day become a government-in-waiting. Since the day WP was founded on 3 November 1957, the effort [and mistakes] of every single member and cadre has brought us to where we are today. Each generation and every batch of leaders makes a contribution. The next generation builds on it. The only way for the WP is up.

At the end of the day, leadership [in a political party] is all about responsibility and integrity, no less.

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