The Workers’ Party (WP) chief Low Thia Kiang is the face of rational, respectable and responsible Opposition in Singapore, fighting alongside former Potong Pasir MP and Singapore People’s Party chief Chiam See Tong. For the longest time, Low and Chiam were the only voices in the august halls of Parliament that did not belong to the People’s Action Party (PAP) – nominated and non-Constituency Members of Parliament notwithstanding. In the General Elections of 2011, he pithily described being in Opposition politics as “knowing that there is a tiger in the mountain, but moving to the mountain to confront the tiger”.

Low’s surprise announcement to not run for the post of secretary-general in the next party elections for the post of secretary-general indeed came as a surprise. Low is a sprightly 61 years old and sharp of tongue and mind – this continues to be manifestly evident at parliamentary sessions and particularly was on full display when he grilled Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong over the Oxley Road and abuse of power allegations made by the PM’s siblings. He was never fazed by any tigers.

With Low going down in the history of Singapore as the man who led an Opposition party to victory in a Group Representative Constituency (GRC) in Aljunied GRC in 2011 – he beat well-respected Foreign Minister George Yeo and Second Minister for Finance and for Transport Lim Hwee Hua and their team, his tenacity and verve will be missed when he relinquishes his position of party chief. His leadership, honed through many years of battles, red in tooth and nail, in the political arena, cannot be easily replaced. Low has transformed the WP from a motley crew of aspiring but clueless politicians in the late 1990s and early 2000s into a credible Opposition to that serves as an effective check against the long-dominant PAP. But replace the colossus that is Low they must; the voluntary passing of the baton to the next generation of WP leaders is a mark of a mature and flourishing political party.

A new generation of leaders will carry on the good fight

However poignant this moment may be for WP and its supporters, I would like to underscore that this is actually a new zenith for the WP, proving that it has the internal stability and confidence to handle such a momentous transition. Indeed, there are rising political figures in the WP, most notably those who are not yet in Parliament in a full MP position, Associate Professor Daniel Goh and Mr Leon Perera, among others. Fellow MPs for Aljunied GRC will also be a bulwark against the vicissitudes of change and a steady hand as the WP progresses into a new paradigm without Low at the helm.

The mettle of the new WP leaders will certainly be tested in a new paradigm without the influence and experience of Low providing ample refuge and respite from the demanding cut-and-thrust of politics. It will weed out the weaker wannabes and put the spotlight on those who can survive and thrive on their own two feet, without the need to draw strength from party stalwarts.

The ascension of up-and-coming WP leaders in the next Central Executive Council (CEC) elections will be an injection of vigour into the ranks and could also be the spark for more youth in grassroots and policy work. With new blood will come new ideas and with new ideas, the WP will always be able to keep the PAP on its toes, ensuring that political competition remains intense and hence beneficial to all Singaporeans.

A new secretary-general for the WP will also ensure that there is no ossification in the upper echelons and will prevent the entrenchment of power networks centred around an iconic or lionised leader – not that there is currently but certainly prevents it from happening. After all, the longevity of an individual politician can get in the way of the longevity of the political party and its policy platforms. Politics that is centred on a single individual is makes for unhealthy politics and is prone to weaknesses and ultimately, failure.

Even in relinquishing his position of clout and power, Low has set a healthy precedent for future generations of WP leaders, that he has willingly stepped down to make way at the peak of his achievements instead of trying to hold on for far too long and out-staying his effectiveness.

Even as Low bids his farewell from the top ranks of the WP after the election for WP’s CEC in 2018, he will look back and beam upon the legacy he has left behind for the WP and for many Singaporeans. He has given many good years of his life fighting for what seemed to be a lost cause for the Opposition in the face of overwhelming electoral victories for the ruling PAP government. Low will remain an MP in Aljunied GRC and will hopefully be the anchor for future electoral victories in Aljunied and Hougang while the next-generation leaders contest and expand the WP’s footprint in Singapore.

 

Image credit: The Online Citizen

Going forward, the WP can possibly progress on these fronts

  • First, WP should consider shifting away from being seen as a PAP-lite party and establish its own policy platform. This will allow it to be distinct from the PAP and highlight that it has the brains to generate unique policy ideas. The structural concerns of the Singapore economy remain unresolved even though they have been masked by the robust cyclical upturn led by the storng upswing in global demand, especially in electronics.
  • Second, WP has to highlight its willingness and ability to form the next government if and when the PAP government falls. This will be a daunting undertaking and yet absolutely necessary as the WP charts its development trajectory. It cannot remain as a political party that functions only as a check on the ruling party in Parliament. The WP has to form a credible shadow Cabinet that can take over the functioning of the government if required.
  • Third, WP needs to disown the crazies which masquerade as part of the Opposition polity in Singapore. WP can and should always reiterate that it advocates for the 3 “R”s in politics – that it is above gutter politics and is focused on serving the masses, whether in government or in Opposition.

In closing, thank you, LTK, for the fighting the good fight on behalf of Singaporeans

The stepping down of Low Thia Kiang as the party chief of the Workers’ Party marks the end of an era, even though he will probably continue on as an MP for Aljunied GRC and serve as wise counsel for the new generation of WP leaders. It is truly a mark of a mature and flourishing political party that the face of the modern-day WP would voluntarily make way for leadership renewal when it is presumed that the current leader can still persist in the role for some time yet.

Mr Low will leave the top job of the WP with the party on the ascendancy. It will be up to the younger generation of leaders to assume the leadership mantle and usher in more electoral success for the WP.