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GE2020: Workers’ Party’s performance a ‘pleasant surprise’, but not quantum leap, says Pritam Singh

SINGAPORE — The Workers’ Party’s (WP) showing at the polls was a “pleasant surprise”, but does not represent a quantum leap that would allow it to put forth a strong position on constitutional amendments, WP chief Pritam Singh said.

Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh speaking to the media at the party's headquarters in Geylang on July 11, 2020.

Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh speaking to the media at the party's headquarters in Geylang on July 11, 2020.

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  • WP chief Pritam Singh said he’s grateful to voters for trusting his party
  • Ten out of 93 elected seats still far short of party’s medium-term aim
  • Mr Singh set out immediate plans for three constituencies

 

SINGAPORE — The Workers’ Party’s (WP) showing at the polls was a “pleasant surprise”, but does not represent a quantum leap that would allow it to put forth a strong position on constitutional amendments, WP chief Pritam Singh said.

Not only did WP retain its prized seats of Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) and Hougang Single Member Constituency with larger margins than in the last election, it prevailed over the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in the newly formed Sengkang GRC.

Mr Singh said early on Saturday (July 11) that he was grateful to voters in the three constituencies for trusting his party with their vote, adding that he was very humbled by it.

“I’m not feeling euphoric at all… There’s a lot of work to do and I think we’ve got to work hard,” he told reporters outside Teambuild Centre along Geylang Road, where the party’s headquarters is.

While WP won 10 out of 93 elected seats in the House, Mr Singh said that this was still far short of its medium-term aim of clinching a third of parliamentary seats that would allow it to make a strong position on constitutional amendment bills, for example.

“It’s still not exactly a quantum leap,” he said.

“We should still focus on strengthening the party as an organisation and speaking up in Parliament intelligently and thoughtfully, such that we represent what people are feeling.”

Constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

On Friday, voters returned WP to its crown jewel of Aljunied, where it recorded its best showing by far with 59.9 per cent of the vote.

In Hougang, former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (MP) Dennis Tan clinched the Hougang seat, with 61.2 per cent of the vote — an improvement on his predecessor Png Eng Huat’s 57.7 per cent win in 2015. WP’s Sengkang GRC team eclipsed PAP with 52.1 per cent of the vote.

Mr Singh said that he was grateful for the support of Sengkang voters. “We need the support of the community in Sengkang to achieve good outcomes for them, not just in Sengkang but in Parliament for them as well.” 

WP’s win in the constituency seems to be tied to the popularity of Sengkang GRC candidate Jamus Lim and the episode of police reports made against the GRC's other candidate Raeesah Khan during the election.

Asked about that, Mr Singh said that more generally, the desire of WP’s election committee to put together a slate of individuals who represent the party well and who could resonate with the public was why the team succeeded.

On WP’s best showing in Aljunied, Mr Singh said that he was very grateful to voters there, but would focus on the 40 per cent or so who did not choose his party.

“My commitment and promise to them is that we will continue to serve everyone in Aljunied equally and fairly.” 

Noting that Singapore has not felt the full impact of the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, he said that difficult months lie ahead. “We’ll have to reach out to everybody if we want to come together as one,” he said.

Even though PAP’s vote share has fallen by eight percentage points compared with the last election, Mr Singh said that he would not go so far as to connect the party’s vote share to its performance over the past five years. He did not elaborate and said that WP would study the results in greater detail.

He said that he “was not kidding” when he suggested that there was a real risk of a wipeout of elected opposition MPs in this General Election. “So, indeed, the result is a pleasant surprise for the Workers’ Party,” he added.

“But I think over time the public also has become au fait with our brand of politics and that’s what I’m most satisfied about.”

WP chairman Sylvia Lim added briefly on her way out of Teambuild Centre: “It’s a happy night for us.”

Asked about his party’s immediate plans for the three constituencies, Mr Singh said that it would start reviewing its strategic master plan for Aljunied and Hougang.

For Sengkang, the priority is to set up a town council.

Ultimately, Mr Singh said that the party has to keep its feet grounded. “This is something I’ll be repeating to all the winning candidates through the course of tomorrow and the weeks that come, because there will be a number of things that need to be done.

“And if we can move forward in that manner, wanting to speak up for Singaporeans in a rational, responsible way like how a credible opposition should, then I think we can make some progress.”

WP supporters gathered in Hougang to celebrate the results. Photo: Ngau Kai Yan/TODAY

WHAT ANALYSTS SAY

Political analyst Felix Tan of SIM Global Education said that WP’s electoral wins showed that voters were sending a signal to PAP that “their vote really counts”. WP’s campaign slogan this GE is Make Your Vote Count.

Some voters might also have felt that an election should not have been called during the pandemic, he added.

That WP won Aljunied GRC with a larger margin without veteran opposition leader Low Thia Khiang also shows that the party was moving “beyond a cult personality” and suggests that individual candidates can “stand on their own two feet”, Dr Tan said.

Some voters, Dr Tan believes, probably also felt that PAP’s targeting of Ms Raeesah was unfair. Ms Raeesah’s social media posts are the subject of a police investigation for allegedly “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or race”.

A day after the police confirmed that the reports had been made, PAP called on WP to state its stand on the incident and asked that Ms Raeesah make her other posts public, so that voters can assess her suitability to be elected into Parliament.

Political scientist Walid Jumblatt Abdullah of the Nanyang Technological University agreed, saying that WP’s win in Sengkang could be interpreted as a backlash against PAP. Young voters may not be comfortable with such tactics, he said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JANICE LIM

Ms Raeesah Khan getting a hug from her husband after leaving the Workers’ Party Headquarters in Geylang, July 11. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

Related topics

Sengkang GRC Aljunied GRC Hougang SMC Singapore General Election SGVotes2020 Workers' Party polling election results Pritam Singh

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