Sunday, November 4, 2007

WP chief sets target of winning GRC in next election

THE Workers' Party (WP) aims to achieve a breakthrough in Singapore politics by winning a GRC in the next General Election, said its leader Low Thia Khiang last night.

The task is 'a must', said the Hougang MP, if Singaporeans want its parliamentary democracy to function properly.

'In my view, as long as the opposition is unable to secure a breakthrough in a GRC, the opposition remains a marginal player and at risk of extinction one day,' he told about 700 people at a dinner to celebrate the WP's 50th anniversary.

'Any talk of checks and balances and alternative government would be just talk, let alone the dream of seeing an opposition party winning an election and taking over the government like in mature Western democracies.'

The dinner, held at the Fortunate Restaurant in Toa Payoh, was a lively occasion, with people seated at 67 tables.

Guests included the wife and son of the WP founder, the late Mr David Marshall - Jean, 81, and academic Jonathan, 38, - along with leaders of other opposition parties such as Mr Chiam See Tong of the Singapore Democratic Alliance and the National Solidarity Party's Sebastian Teo.

Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam, the WP leader before Mr Low took over the helm in 2001, was absent.

Since the GRC was introduced in 1988 to ensure minority representation in Parliament, no opposition party has won such a group representation constituency, which has at least three seats.

Its introduction has divided elections into two leagues, said Mr Low, who is the WP secretary-general.

The first league is the GRC and the second is the single member constituency (SMC) where no opposition candidate has unseated an incumbent since 1991.

He slammed the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) for redrawing electoral boundaries to dissolve SMCs and create new ones.

Now, even single wards are hard to win for the opposition as the PAP fields office-holders such as ministers of state, or incumbent MPs with strong grassroots support, he observed.

'If the situation continues, the opposition will be significantly weakened and its ability to contest elections to allow Singaporeans to exercise their political rights will be affected.'

He is, however, optimistic that there is a general aspiration among Singaporeans for the opposition to thrive.

This aspiration has not materialised because of the ruling party's moves to limit political space and change election ground rules, among others, he said. But he acknowledged that it is also due to voters not having enough confidence in the opposition.

'For those who feel that WP is not up to the mark, how about coming forward to do some public service? I challenge the critics of WP to join the Workers' Party to make it better,' he said.

Both Mr Low and party chairman Sylvia Lim paid tribute to veteran members - including former party chairman Tan Bin Seng and former organising secretary Ng Ah Chwee - who made 'great sacrifices' for the party.

Speaking to reporters at the dinner, Mr Chiam, the MP for Potong Pasir, welcomed Mr Low's bid for a GRC win.

'The fact that the opposition has not grown shows that the PAP has put obstacles in the way.

'I believe we must win a GRC. If he wants to, he should get the strongest team,' he said, adding that he would not rule out joining forces with Mr Low.

The article was written by Peh Shing Huei & Jeremy Au Yong. Reproduced from the Straits Times

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