The Long and Winding Road of Providing Voters With a Credible Choice
The survival of Workers’ Party for the last 5 decades, since the Party was set up by David Marshall in 1957, had been no small feat. In the early days, the fortunes of the Party swayed from a 4-seat victory in 21st December 1957 City Council Elections followed by the resignation of elected member Chang Yuen Tong in 1957, and then that of the founder himself in 1963. A courageous effort was made by Chiang Seok Keong and other grassroots leaders to hold the fort and contest elections from 1963 to 1968 under the very trying and tumultuous political climate of the day. Two top party leaders, Sum Chong Meng and Chua Chin Kiat had been arrested, and the merger and separation of Singapore from Malaysia during that period was another ground-shaking event that threatened the survival of the Workers’ Party.
1971 saw the entry of lawyer J. B. Jeyaretnam, who as Secretary-General steered the Party on an unwavering constitutional course. Jeyaretnam contested every election, increasing his vote each time until the 50% mark was breached in the Anson by-election of 1981. He became the first opposition Member of Parliament since 1965, after a gap of 16 years.
It was the Secretary-General’s resolute commitment to Parliamentary democracy which inspired him to contest all seven elections from 1972 to 1984. He was duly elected Member of Parliament of Anson in 1981 and 1984, after which he was disqualified from contesting the 1988 and 1991 elections.
1988: Triple Whammy
By the election year of 1988, the Party had been hit by the triple whammy of disqualification of Secretary-General J. B. Jeyaretnam in 1986, the arrest of 22 “Marxists” in 1987 and introduction of Group Representation Constituencies or GRCs in 1988. But the Party did not flinch from its mission. The results of the 1988 general elections showed an improvement in the percentage of votes garnered by the Party, compared with the 1963 general elections when, after the resignation of David Marshall and the arrest of party leaders, votes had plummeted to 7.48%. The infusion of new candidates coupled with good public support for the Party resulted in a high vote count at the polls. In the 1988 general elections, the highest vote count was 49.11% recorded by the Workers’ Party team comprising Francis Seow, Dr Lee Siew Choh and Mohd Khalit Mohd Baboo in the largest GRC, Eunos GRC. They had been a whisker from victory.
1991 saw the election of Low Thia Khiang as Member of Parliament for Hougang. Low was returned to the same seat in the 1997 general elections with an increase in votes. J. B. Jeyaretnam contested the 1997 general elections in Cheng San GRC with team mates Huang Seow Kwang, Abdul Rahim Osman, Dr Tan Bin Seng and Tang Liang Hong and won 45.2% of the votes. The team and the Party decided that Jeyaretnam should take up the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) seat.
On 26th May 1997, when the new session of Parliament commenced, the Party returned two members, Low Thia Khiang, the elected Member of Parliament for Hougang and J. B. Jeyaretnam as a NCMP.
2001: Leadership Renewal
May 2001 saw the Party’s Secretary-Generalship transferred from J. B. Jeyaretnam to Low Thia Khiang. General Elections were held in November that same year, with the Party returning 1 member, Low Thia Khiang, to Parliament as the elected member for Hougang.
Since the leadership transfer, the Party underwent a leadership renewal seen via the injection of new blood into the Executive Council in the likes of training consultant Dr Poh Lee Guan, researcher James Gomez, post-graduate student Yaw Shin Leong, financial controller Tan Wui Hua and law lecturer Sylvia Lim. Just as we are “Remaking Singapore”, Workers’ Party has also been actively reorganising, restructuring and rebuilding its team, so as to offer fellow Singaporeans a credible opposition that will help to drive the country forward in progress by offering constructive and responsible alternative voices in Parliament.
2006 : Party’s Renewal
The General Elections in May 2006 saw Workers Party sending in a total of 20 candidates with 2 of them winning a seat respectively in the parliament. Low Thia Khiang was returned to his seat as the elected MP for Hougang with 62.74% of votes whilst Sylvia Lim went on to take on the seat of an NCMP.
Although no other seats were won, the candidates garnered a respectable number of votes in their respective contested constituencies. 43.91% of votes were won in Aljunied GRC, where Sylvia Lim Swee Lian, James Gomez, Tan Wui Hua, Goh Meng Seng, Mohammed Rahizan Bin Yaacob contested; 33.86% in Ang Mo Kio GRC, where candidates Yaw Shin Leong, Glenda Han Su May, Lee Wai Leng, Gopal Krishnan, Melvin Tan Kian Hwee and Abdul Salim Bin Harun contested and 36.14% in East Coast GRC where Eric Tan Heng Chong, Abdul Rahim Adbul Rahman, Perry Tong Tzee Kwang, Brandon Siow Wei-Min and Chia Tik Lik contested.
Candidates contesting in the various SMCs include, Dr Poh Lee Guan who garnered 31.28% of the votes in Nee Soon East SMC, Dr Tan Bing Seng with 34.99% in Joo Chiat SMC and Lian Chin Way with a 34.63% in Nee Soon Central SMC.
Keeping up with changes in society, Workers’ Party has again, since after 2001, undergone another important phase. With more post-65ers joining the party and participating actively, the party is rejuvenated with new ideas and renewed energy.
After the GE 2006, the WP Executive Council saw the entry of 8 new executive council members whilst the Youth Wing also went through a revamp with most of its executive council members being elected for the first time. Reaching its 50th anniversary, Workers’ Party has progressed steadily over the years and would continue to serve the people of Singapore to its best.
2011-2013: The GRC Breakthrough and Victories in By-Elections
A major political breakthrough for Singapore’s opposition was achieved in 2011 when the Party won the first ever GRC in Aljunied GRC, where Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim, Chen Show Mao, Pritam Singh and Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap contested. Yaw Shin Leong retained the Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC) seat for the Party. The Party had fielded 23 candidates in 4 GRCs and 4 SMCs and achieved 46.6% of the valid votes. Gerald Giam and Yee Jenn Jong took up the NCMP seats, making it a total of 8 seats for the Party in parliament.
In May 2012, the Party contested the vacant seat in a by-election in Hougang SMC. Png Eng Huat won with 62.08% of the valid votes. In January 2013, the Party contested the vacant seat in a by-election in Punggol East SMC. Lee Li Lian won with 54.52% of the valid votes in a 4-cornered contest.
Serving the People of Singapore to the Best of its Ability
In the years of its history, the Party has done its utmost in every general election and 7 by-elections to provide the voters of Singapore with the choice of voting for candidates with a different political philosophy from that of candidates put up by the ruling PAP. To choose your rulers by a free vote in a Parliamentary election is the fundamental right of every citizen. But without men and women of courage and conviction who are able and willing to stand as election candidates against the ruling party, there may be no contest, or at most, only a feeble contest because of the poor alternative choice.
The right to vote would then be but an illusion. In effect, the people would have been deprived of their power to choose who should govern them, and their fundamental right to decide how national policies are made – policies which affect them and their livelihood. However, to provide such a choice and to institutionalize a functional and active political party to offer credible choices to voters during elections is no easy task.
Without the strong will of the Party grassroots and its leaders to continue the Party’s mission and to move on even under very difficult circumstances, the Party would not have survived until today and would not have been able to continue contributing to the well-being and progress of the nation as a modern multi-racial city-state and a vibrant “Asian democracy.” And Singaporeans would have lost a vital opportunity – the opportunity to be represented and to be heard in Parliament.
The March Forward
Today, after nearly 6 decades, Workers’ Party’s members, supporters, well-wishers, voters who have been supporting the Party, as well as many others who have played a part in contributing to the survival of the Party, are all proud that they have helped to preserve a vital part of Singapore’s political culture and to have kept the the Party alive today for the benefit of all Singaporeans.
But even with such a long history behind the back of the Party, it is not the end of the road. There is an even longer road ahead. There is work to be done – to build a home and future that belong to all of us.