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WP’s Yee Jenn Jong hopes new book will spark more political discussion in Singapore

SINGAPORE — In 2012, one year after Workers' Party (WP) member Yee Jenn Jong ran in his first General Election (GE) and narrowly lost, he was told by his alma mater Temasek Junior College that the school could not present to him the Distinguished Alumnus Award on its College Day as it had originally planned.

Mr Yee’s book reveals that there were internal party dissensions within the WP, as some members were unhappy with former party chief Low Thia Khiang’s strict disciplinary methods, among other things.

Mr Yee’s book reveals that there were internal party dissensions within the WP, as some members were unhappy with former party chief Low Thia Khiang’s strict disciplinary methods, among other things.

  • Mr Yee Jenn Jong says a more substantive form of political education is needed in Singapore for greater diversity of views
  • He hopes his new book will spur conversations on the political scene in Singapore, especially on how things are like in the opposition camp
  • He also reveals internal party discussions not known publicly before in the book, such as WP considering to contest in Tampines GRC in the July 2020 General Election
  • Internal party disagreements were also touched on, such as how some were unhappy with the way MPs dealt with matters relating to Aljunied-Hougang Town Council

 

SINGAPORE — In 2012, one year after Workers' Party (WP) member Yee Jenn Jong ran in his first General Election (GE) and narrowly lost, he was told by his alma mater Temasek Junior College that the school could not present to him the Distinguished Alumnus Award on its College Day as it had originally planned. 

He was told by a teacher that someone thought it would be awkward for guest-of-honour Heng Swee Keat, who also ran for the first time in GE2011 and was elected and then appointed as Education Minister, to present an award to a member of an opposition party. 

Mr Yee received his award only a year later during the College Day when there were no Cabinet ministers around for the ceremony. 

Mr Yee, 55, recounted this incident in his book, Journey in Blue: A Peek into the Workers' Party of Singapore and said such self-censorship was a result of a lack of political education and awareness in Singapore. 

“Is there anything wrong with Heng Swee Keat giving me an award? Why do people feel there’s something wrong about it?” questioned Mr Yee during an hour-long interview with TODAY on Tuesday (Dec 22). 

The former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) believed that Mr Heng, who is currently Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, was not even aware of the incident. 

“Would we have minded? I didn’t mind. I don’t think he would have minded. But why would people mind?

“So we need this kind of real political education where we can discuss the things we disagree with openly and we can present views,” he said. 

And bringing about greater political education is one of the reasons he decided to write the book. 

It details how he started his political career as a member of the WP in 2011, his three campaigns first in the Joo Chiat Single Member Constituency in GE2011 and then in Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency (GRC) in GE2015 and GE2020,  as well as his experience as an NCMP after garnering one of the highest vote shares among losing candidates in GE2011. 

Interspersed between his chronological retelling are some insights into WP’s inner workings, as well as some internal party discussions that were not previously known publicly. 

One is the fact that WP considered contesting in Tampines GRC in GE2020 as its members had conducted house visits in the area for the past two years. 

However, the party felt that going up against Mr Heng, who was the anchor minister in the constituency before the July 10 election and likely future prime minister of Singapore, would make it a challenge. 

Mr Yee said that the decision by the ruling People’s Action Party to move Mr Heng to East Coast GRC at the last minute for the recent GE came as “ a bit of a surprise” even though WP already knew it was going to face a prominent minister there following the retirement of the previous anchor minister Mr Lim Swee Say. 

Asked if WP would have contested in Tampines GRC if, hypothetically, it knew that Mr Heng was not going to remain there, Mr Yee said: “ If I knew, yeah, maybe I will take the team there. Why not?” 

That is however not likely to happen for Mr Yee in the next GE as he said during the interview that he has no plans to stand in any more elections — a decision he had made before GE2020 — unless he had won in the July poll. 

Besides the fact that WP has attracted a “good crop” of younger members, the three-time election candidate said he wants to move on as he will be 60 years old by the time the next election comes about in 2025. 

“I rather free myself up to explore other things in life, like writing books,” he said, adding that he will remain a member of WP and contribute whenever he is needed. 

Mr Yee’s book also reveals that there were internal party dissensions within the WP, as some members were unhappy with former party chief Low Thia Khiang’s strict disciplinary methods, a disappointing showing by WP in GE2015, and what some members felt was a mishandling of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council issue, which is an ongoing court case. 

Mr Yee said that he personally felt that the town council should have been self-managed instead of through an agent, though he understood why the elected MPs did what they did back then. 

The tensions came to a head in 2016, when Mr Low’s position as party chief was challenged by fellow Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao in an internal party election for party cadres to vote for WP’s central executive committee members. 

Recalling this episode, Mr Yee told TODAY that he didn’t think Mr Low was upset with Mr Chen for challenging him for the top secretary-general post, adding that Mr Low may be a strict disciplinarian but he believed in democratic processes. 

Mr Yee did not feel that the challenge amounted to anything, except that it affirmed that the majority of cadre members still preferred Mr Low as party chief and that it was an exercise of democracy. 

When asked if the challenge could potentially destabilise WP and split it into factions, Mr Yee said that every organisation would have factions.

“That is to be expected of any organisation, particularly political organisations,” he said. 

Mr Yee also said that some WP members have on some occasions expressed disagreements with the party’s elected MPs and NCMPs for supporting bills introduced by the Government. 

One example he recalled while he was an NCMP was the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill, which the WP supported though with objections to certain parts of the Bill. 

When asked how the WP works through such disagreements, Mr Yee said the party does not seek to please everyone. 

“It’s impossible to please all. And not all our party members are always pleased with us. But by and large, they know what we stand for,” he said, adding that the same applies for the electorate. 

He added that while WP cannot please all voters, it is important for it to check its own beliefs and whether its proposals would be good for Singapore. 

One personal disagreement Mr Yee had with Mr Low, as recounted in his book, was over Ms Nicole Seah, who ran as a WP candidate in East Coast GRC in GE2020. 

Back in GE2015, while Mr Yee was campaigning for Marine Parade GRC, he had an agreement with Ms Seah that she would join him and his team in public visits though she had not joined the WP at that point. 

Mr Yee believed that Ms Seah’s participation would help draw attention to his campaign but Mr Low told Mr Yee to call it off, believing that the public’s attention would be on her instead of the WP. 

Mr Yee remembers arguing with Mr Low on this for 45 minutes before he relented even though he was not totally convinced. 

In hindsight, he believed that Mr Low made the right move as the bigger picture of maintaining WP’s branding was more important. 

“The WP way is first, you must be a team member. You can be a superstar but you work as a team. It is not about you and your way,” he told TODAY.  

When asked about what he would like to achieve in writing the book, Mr Yee said he hopes people would start more conversations on the political scene in Singapore. 

“Sometimes people have a lot of misconceptions. Sometimes people oppose us without even knowing what we are doing… I want this book to be read by even PAP supporters. Sure, go ahead and criticise us but understand what we do first.

Noting that the political landscape is evolving, he added: “We might see more contestation in future, we might actually see PAP losing more seats. Don’t need to get agitated and I don’t think Singapore will go down the drain just because PAP is not in power one day.” 

Mr Yee’s book is published by World Scientific and is selling at major bookstores for S$29.95. 

Related topics

Workers' Party Yee Jenn Jong Singapore politics Low Thia Khiang

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