SINGAPORE: Mr Pritam Singh's election as the Workers' Party's (WP) new secretary-general is a changing of the guard that presents both opportunities and risks, political analyst Eugene Tan said on Sunday (Apr 8).
And while the 41-year-old lawyer's ascension shows that the party is keen to engage with younger voters, the WP's new leader faces "significant challenges", the Singapore Management University associate professor of law added.
Mr Singh was elected unopposed on Sunday, succeeding veteran opposition Member of Parliament Low Thia Khiang.
“The WP has, in the last 17-18 years, been identified very much with Mr Low, but here is the opportunity for the party to demonstrate that it is more than just Mr Low ... a party that is able to appeal to a much broader spectrum of Singaporeans,” Assoc Prof Tan said.
“This is one challenge which presents both opportunities and risks.”
One challenge facing the party was in proving its ability to run town councils, Assoc Prof Tan said. “That’s something which many voters are concerned with,” he said, adding that there is a need for the party to show that it has put the troubles it faced with Aljunied-Hougang Town Council behind it, and that it is “now in a good position to run town councils”.
He is certain that Mr Singh will hit the ground running and he thinks it is unlikely that the new man at the helm would set himself to fill his predecessor's shoes. “I think, if anything, he would want to walk his own journey,” he said.
“It’s very much change with continuity. I think Mr Singh will be keen to be his own man, but he will certainly rely on the tremendous wealth of experience Mr Low has.
“And with Mr Low continuing to be on the executive council, I think you have that wonderful combination of youth as well as experience and strategic direction as well.”
‘GOOD SIGN’ THAT CHEN SHOW MAO DID NOT CONTEST POST OF SECRETARY-GENERAL
The fact that there was no contest for the WP’s top post is a “good sign”, Assoc Prof Tan said. In the party’s 2016 CEC elections, Mr Chen Show Mao had mounted a surprise challenge to Mr Low for the post of secretary-general. Mr Low reportedly won with a vote of 61-45.
“It’s a sign that the party cadres are rallying around Mr Pritam Singh,” said Assoc Prof Tan. “It suggests that the party has decided that given the significant change, it would work better for the party if there wasn’t a contest, a contest that may perhaps even divide the party.”
He added that Mr Singh's election is a significant “changing of the guard”. “It signals a party which is keen to engage with younger voters, it signals that the party is also keen to demonstrate that it has multi-racial representation, that now it even has a non-Chinese secretary-general,” Assoc Prof Tan said.
WP HAS COME A LONG WAY: SYLVIA LIM
WP chairman Sylvia Lim said the party has come a long way from the past, when council positions could not be filled.
“It’s a very healthy phenomenon that our council places are hotly contested, which shows that people actually want to assume the leadership positions,” she said, following the party’s Central Executive Council (CEC) elections. She had been asked by reporters about the significant moments of the meeting, which lasted for about three hours.
“That’s a happy state to be in, that’s why we’re in a good mood,” Ms Lim, who retained her position as chairman, said.
Apart from the election of the 12-member CEC, the meeting also saw the WP making amendments to its constitution, which has not seen any major changes since it was first drafted in the 1950s.
Elaborating further, Ms Lim said the changes were, in essence, to remind the cadre members that diversity is an important goal to consider when electing the party’s leaders.
“It’s broader than what we currently have, which is simply talking about interracial cohesion and representing workers,” she said.
She added that the WP is “always trying to encourage more women” to come on board, noting that currently, apart from Ms Lee Li Lian, she is the only woman in the CEC. “It has always been a challenge and it continues to be a challenge,” she said.