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WP has ‘foundation’ to move towards goal of becoming alternative government, says Low Thia Khiang

SINGAPORE — Four years after he declared publicly that the Workers’ Party (WP) was not ready to form an alternative government, party chief Mr Low Thia Khiang now believes the party — which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year — is a step closer to the objective.

Four years after he declared publicly that the Workers’ Party (WP) was not ready to form an alternative government, party chief Mr Low Thia Khiang now believes the party — which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year — is a step closer to the objective. TODAY file photo

Four years after he declared publicly that the Workers’ Party (WP) was not ready to form an alternative government, party chief Mr Low Thia Khiang now believes the party — which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year — is a step closer to the objective. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — Four years after he declared publicly that the Workers’ Party (WP) was not ready to form an alternative government, party chief Mr Low Thia Khiang now believes the party — which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year — is a step closer to the objective.

“I think we have managed to build a foundation of people for the party to take another step, or to evolve into the next stage of forming a potential alternative government”, said Mr Low, 61, in an interview published in the party’s commemorative book Walking With Singapore. The book will be launched on Friday (Nov 03).

Mr Low added: “We can potentially upscale, but that depends on the support of the people as well. I don’t think the electorate will want an alternative government unless the PAP (People’s Action Party) becomes rotten. So, whether or not we will become an alternative government, I’m not sure.”

Following the WP’s victory in the Punggol East by-election in 2013, which came on the heels of its historic 2011 victory in Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC), Mr Low told the media that it would take two decades for the WP to be even considered to be in the position to form an alternative government.

In the latest interview, he recounted that he was chastised by some for saying that. “Of course, in those days people scolded me. They said you’ve got to become alternative government! Why? You got to make progress. But I know it was not that simple, I know what was the reality. But, everybody was so excited,” he said.

Adding that expectations of the WP were in “overdrive” at that time, he pointed out: “I don’t think that in reality the Workers’ Party could meet this expectation. It was a bubble. When the bubble bursts, you have a problem.”

Even now, the goal of becoming an alternative government remains “quite far” for the WP, said the veteran opposition figure, who first became a Member of Parliament in 1991.

The WP currently has six out of 89 seats in Parliament and it would be considered progress if they can win 20 seats in future, he reiterated. “We do have that foundation now and for the next milestone, if there is one, is to see if we can win another GRC. That would be a sign. It’s not easy. People think it is (easy) and it’s like domino theory, but that is not the case! If the government of the day has done well, people will usually not want to change,” he said.

He stressed that winning another GRC does not necessarily mean the WP was on its way to becoming the next government. ”I think every political party aspires to be the next government,” he said. “But I am very realistic.”

Mr Low said that a lot of people do not realise that for the WP to be able to form an alternative government, it needs organisational capability. “You got to have team-based operations in the first place. A structure that people can operate at,” he said.

Speaking to TODAY, political analysts said Mr Low’s latest comments marked a significant shift by the WP. Nevertheless, they agreed that the WP has some way to go before it is ready to form an alternative government.

National University of Singapore political scientist Bilveer Singh noted that Mr Low’s remarks came after the WP registered a “poorer showing” in the 2015 General Election. The WP won in Aljunied GRC and Hougang in 2015 with smaller margins compared to the 2011 GE, and it also ceded Punggol East back to the PAP.

Dr Singh also pointed to the financial management lapses in the WP’s town council, which have made the headlines in recent years, and led to ongoing civil lawsuits against some of the WP leaders. Nevertheless, he noted that it was understandable for an opposition party which has been around for a long time to talk about the possibility of forming the government one day.

“Otherwise, you will never be able to grow as a party and you will never be able to attract talent to join the party,” he said. “Who wants to join a party (that) only wants to be a check and balance (to the government)? (They) will want to be in a party that will be the government, a competitor.”

Dr Singh said that to be considered as a potential alternative government, the WP first has to show that it is able to contest all the constituencies. In the 2015 GE, WP fielded a record number of 28 candidates which, nevertheless, made up less than a third of the total Parliamentary seats available.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan reiterated that being able to form an alternative government is a natural progression for the leading opposition party in Singapore, as it seeks to keep up with the expectations of the party base and the electorate. “I see it as a statement of intent, an objective to strive towards that can rally the party rank-and-file, its supporters and the electorate,” he said.

He added: “For now, they have to raise their game in Parliament and show that they are equal to the task of running town councils.”

The book Walking With Singapore will be priced at $30 and will be available in bookstores after Friday.

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