Workers' Party of Singapore

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Workers' Party of Singapore
Chairman Sylvia Lim
Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang
Founded 3 November 1957 (3 November 1957)
Headquarters 216-G Syed Alwi Road
#02-03
Singapore 207799
Youth wing Workers' Party Youth Wing
Membership Unknown
Ideology Social democracy
Political position Centre-left
Colours Light blue
Parliament
9 / 99
Website
http://www.wp.sg/
Politics of Singapore
Political parties
Elections

The Workers' Party of Singapore (simplified Chinese: 新加坡工人党; traditional Chinese: 新加坡工人黨, often referred to simply as The Workers' Party or WP) is a major centre-left opposition political party in Singapore. The party currently has seven elected seats in Parliament, with the party's Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang, Chairman Sylvia Lim, Chen Show Mao, Muhamad Faisal Manap and Pritam Singh serving as members of parliament (MPs) for the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC), as well as Png Eng Huat as the MP for the single-member constituency of Hougang and Lee Li Lian as the MP for the single-member constituency of Punggol East. Since 2011, the Workers' Party has been the only opposition party in Singapore to have elected MPs in Parliament.

The Workers' Party was founded on 3 November 1957 by Singapore's former Chief Minister, David Marshall.

In 1981, the party's then-leader J.B. Jeyaretnam became the first opposition MP to be elected to Parliament since Singapore's independence in 1965, when he defeated the candidate of the governing People's Action Party (PAP) at a by-election in the constituency of Anson. He was re-elected at the 1984 general election, but subsequently lost his seat in Parliament in 1986 following a conviction for falsely accounting the party's funds (a conviction Jeyaretnam has always maintained was politically motivated). Since the 1991 general election, the party has held parliamentary seat of Hougang. Low Thia Khiang was elected as MP for Hougang in 1991 and re-elected at the 1997, 2001 and 2006 general elections. Low moved to Aljunied GRC for the 2011 general election where he led the first team from an opposition party to win a GRC, while Yaw Shin Leong also held the Hougang seat for the party. Yaw was expelled from the party in February 2012. This triggered a by-election in Hougang, which was won by the Workers' Party's candidate, Png Eng Huat. During 12 December 2012, Speaker of Parliament and incumbent PAP MP for Punggol East, Michael Palmer, resigned from his seat.[1] After the Prime Minister issued the writ of election for the Punggol East by-election, the Workers' Party announced on 14 January 2013 that Lee Li Lian had been chosen to represent the party. On 26 January 2013, Lee Li Lian was elected with 54.52% of valid votes. Lee Li Lian made history as the first woman to win a SMC since 1965.[2]

A number of Workers' Party members have also served as Non-Constituency members of parliament (NCMPs). Lee Siew Choh served as an NCMP from 1988 to 1991. Jeyaretnam returned to Parliament as an NCMP from 1997 to 2001, and Sylvia Lim has served as an NCMP from 2006 to 2011. Two members of the party currently serve as NCMPs – Gerald Giam and Yee Jenn Jong.

In recent years, the Workers' Party's candidates have worn a uniform of light blue shirts while campaigning to represent the party's links with the blue collar workers.

Ideology[edit]

The Workers' Party's official ideological beliefs are essentially centred around the notion that the current PAP-led government should undergo certain somewhat controversial changes or reforms to improve the country's administration.

Quite notably, the Workers' Party in its Manifesto[3] claims that the Singapore Penal Code gives what it labels as "wide discretionary powers" to law enforcement agencies, which it believes "erode constitutional rights".[3] Also, they believe that the office of President should essentially be stripped of all the powers it is currently allotted as a counterbalance to the Prime Minister's powers, and "be reverted to its former ceremonial position".[3]

The Workers' Party's manifesto focuses on ways to reform the government rather than outlining a clear path for the country which the party would like to pursue if elected, however they do stress in their manifesto's "Society" section that they believe "society, as a whole must direct resources to support the underprivelleged",[3] indicating support for wellfare policies.

History[edit]

Founding[edit]

In 1956, Singapore's first Chief Minister, David Marshall, resigned following to the failed Merdeka Talks that had sought self-governance for Singapore.[4] Initially he remained a backbencher in the Legislative Assembly for the Labour Front (the largest party in the assembly at the time), but he left the party in 1957 and founded the Workers' Party of Singapore. Marshall lost his seat in the assembly at the 1959 general election (in which the PAP became the majority party and the Workers' Party did not win any seats), but he returned in 1961 when he won a by-election in the constituency of Anson. The Workers' Party also won four seats in the 1957 City Council elections. However elected member Chang Yuen Tong resigned later that year, and in 1963 Marshall left the party. After that, the party did not enjoy any electoral success until the 1980s.

1965–1986[edit]

Singapore became independent in 1965, and at the first post-independence general election in 1968, the PAP won all 58 of the seats in Parliament after the main opposition party at the time, the Barisan Sosialis, boycotted the elections. The PAP maintained this 100% electoral record at the 1972, 1976 and 1980 general elections and all intervening by-elections up to 1981.

Having become a small and fairly insignificant party by the late-1960s, the Workers' Party was revived by a group of lawyers in 1971, led by J.B. Jeyaretnam, who became the party's Secretary-General.

In 1981, the Workers' Party became the first opposition party to win a seat in Parliament in post-independence Singapore when Jeyaretnam won a by-election in Anson. He defeated the PAP's Pang Kim Hin by 7,012 votes (51.9%) to 6,359 (47.1%), with a third candidate taking 131 votes (1.0%). He was re-elected as the constituency's MP at the 1984 general election, in which he defeated the PAP's Ng Pock Too by 9,909 votes (56.8%) to 7,533 (43.2%).

However two months after his re-election, Jeyaretnam was charged with falsely accounting the party's funds. In 1986, Senior District Judge Michael Khoo found him innocent of all charges but one. However the prosecution appealed, and the Chief Justice ordered a retrial in a different district court. At the retrial, Jeyaretnam was found guilty on all charges. The judge sentenced him to three months' imprisonment (later commuted to one month) and fined him S$5,000, as a result of which he was disqualified from serving in Parliament and standing for elections for a period of five years, and was also disbarred as a lawyer. Jeyaretnam was not able to appeal his conviction to the Privy Council, but he exercised his right to appeal the disbarment, and the Privy Council reversed the decision on his disbarment and, when they issued their judgement, severely criticised his conviction by the Singapore court. However the convictions and Jeyaretnam's disqualification from Parliament remained (and the following year, the Singapore government placed further restrictions on Singaporeans' right to appeal to the Privy Council). Though he was no longer in Parliament, Jeyaretnam continued to be the Workers' Party's Secretary-General.[citation needed]

1987–1990[edit]

In 1987, some Workers' Party members were among a group of 22 people arrested by Singapore's Internal Security Department, accused of being Marxists. They were released on condition that they kept out of politics.

Prior to the 1988 general elections, the Barisan Sosialis and the Singapore United Front were absorbed into Workers' Party.

At the 1988 general election, the Workers' Party did not win any constituency but came very close to winning the Eunos Group Representation Constituency (which was then a three-member constituency). The party's team of Francis Seow, Lee Siew Choh and Mohd Khalit bin Mohd Baboo won 49.1% of the votes to the PAP team's 50.9%. Only one opposition MP was returned to Parliament (Chiam See Tong of the Singapore Democratic Party). This meant that the Workers' Party was eligible to nominate two members of its team from Eunos to become Non-constituency MPs, as they had the highest percentage of the vote secured by losing opposition candidates at the election. The party had refused to nominate NCMPs in the past, but this time they nominated Seow and Lee to become NCMPs. However Seow (a former head of the Bar Society who had become a thorn in the government's side and had briefly been detained under the Internal Security Act prior to the general election) was subsequently accused of espionage and fled to the United States before he could take up an NCMP seat. Lee Siew Choh (a former leader of the Barisan Sosialis) became Singapore's first NCMP, serving until the 1991 general election. In Parliament, he took up several issues, including the Internal Security Act, living costs and welfare.

Jeyaretnam was sued slander by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew for comments he made at a Workers' Party election rally in 1988. Jeyaretnam lost the case and was ordered to pay Lee damages of S$260,000 plus costs.

1991–1996[edit]

At the 1991 general election, Low Thia Khiang, who was then the Workers' Party's Assistant Secretary-General, was elected as the MP for Hougang. He defeated the PAP's Tang Guan Seng by 10,621 votes (52.8%) to 9,487 (47.2%).

The party also polled strongly in Eunos GRC again, losing to the PAP's team by 47.6% of the votes to 52.4%. During the election campaign, one of the Workers' Party's candidates in Eunos, Jufrie Mahmood, drew particular fire from the PAP and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who accused him of being a Malay chauvinist, an accusation Jufrie strongly denied.

No NCMP seats were offered to any of the opposition parties following the election as the opposition won a combined total of four seats (Low of the Workers' Party plus three MPs from Singapore Democratic Party).

Low captured national attention for his performances in Parliament, receiving praise for his assertiveness, good analytical ability and his willingness to be constructive rather than oppose for the sake of opposing.

A by-election in the Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency in 1992 was expected to mark the return of Jeyaretnam to electoral politics after his Parliamentary ban had expired. But one of Workers' Party's candidates backed out at the last minute and failed to turn up on nomination day, preventing the party from registering its team for the election.

In 1996, Jeyaretnam was sued for an article he wrote in an issue of the Workers' Party's newspaper, The Hammer, in which he called the PAP's Indian leaders a bunch of stooges. He was ordered to pay damages of S$465,000 and S$250,000 in court costs.

Lee Siew Choh left the Workers' Party in 1996, citing differences with Jeyaretnam.

1997–2000[edit]

Low was re-elected as Hougang MP at the 1997 general election.

The party also performed strongly in the Cheng San Group Representation Constituency, where Jeyaretnam was one of the party's candidates. The party lost to the PAP's team in the constituency by 45.2% of the votes to 54.8%.

Besides Low, only one other opposition MP was elected (Chiam See Tong, who had left the Singapore Democratic Party to join the Singapore People's Party). As the Workers' Party's team in Cheng San had polled better than any other opposition losing candidates, they were invited to select an NCMP. Jeyaretnam therefore returned to Parliament as an NCMP.

During the election campaign, another of the Workers' Party's candidates in Cheng San, lawyer Tang Liang Hong, drew particular attention from the PAP, who accused him of being an anti-Christian and anti-Muslim Chinese chauvinist. Tang, who insisted all he was trying to do was to "better represent the Chinese community and ask questions on their behalf", vigorously denied this charge and accused the PAP of trying to win votes by sowing fear into the electorate. He also attacked the PAP on the issue of the Hotel Properties Ltd case (which started when the Stock Exchange of Singapore criticised Hotel Properties Ltd for its "tardiness" in disclosing details of sales of its condominium units to directors and their family members).[5][6] Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who had purchased one of the units, claimed that Tang was trying to milk this issue for political capital and sued him for defamation. Tang was also sued for branding the PAP leadership as a bunch of liars. He was eventually sued by the whole PAP leadership for a total of S$13.6 million, and fled to Australia soon after the election.

2001–2005[edit]

In 2001, Jeyaretnam lost his NCMP seat when he was declared bankrupt after failing to keep up with payments for damages owed from a libel suit brought by Goh Chok Tong and other PAP leaders following comments he had made at an election rally in 1997 (for which he had been ordered to pay S$100,000 plus S$20,000 in court costs).

Low Thia Khiang became the Workers' Party's Secretary-General in 2001 following the resignation of Jeyaretnam. The transfer of party leadership took place in bitter acrimony as Jeyaretnam later accused Low of not doing enough to help him pay the damages from the libel suit. In response, Low claimed that he had always looked upon Jeyaretnam as an elder and had done everything possible to help him.

Many observers speculated that with Low at the helm, Workers' Party would tone down its more hard-line stance and take on a more centrist outlook at the 2001 general election. Indeed soon after Low took over, Jeyaretnam and a faction which was loyal to him left the party (and later formed the Reform Party), and a group of new, younger members were recruited by the Workers' Party. Among them were James Gomez, Yaw Shin Leong and Sylvia Lim.

Low was re-elected as Hougang MP at the 2001 general election. The Party's fortunes reached a low as it only contested in two seats, in Hougang and Nee Soon East SMCs and had its entire Aljunied GRC team disqualified on Nomination Day.

2006–2010[edit]

A Workers' Party election rally at the Serangoon Stadium.

The Workers' Party launched an updated manifesto in January 2006 entitled "You Have a Choice". The 52-page booklet outlined the party's stand on issues and policies, covering areas from economic and judicial policies to media and sports and recreation.[7] The manifesto, which had last been updated in 1994, took one year to work on according to Low. The manifesto was attacked by the PAP for containing "time-bombs".[8] In response, the Workers' Party quipped that its manifesto contained only time bombs which threatened the PAP's power.

At the 2006 general election, Low was elected as Hougang MP for the fourth time. The party also polled strongly in the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency, losing to the PAP's team with 43.9% of the vote to 56.1%. This gave the party the right to the NCMP seat reserved for the best-performing opposition losers, and the party's Chairman, Sylvia Lim, was selected to become the NCMP.

During the 2006 election campaign, controversy arose over one of the Workers' Party's candidates in Aljunied GRC, James Gomez, who claimed that the Elections Department had lost his minority race candidate's certificate, and was forced to apologise when closed-circuit television evidence showed that he had placed the form in his briefcase without submitting it. The PAP attacked Gomez for the incident, with Lee Kuan Yew publicly calling him a "liar". One day after the election, Gomez was prevented from leaving Singapore on a trip to Stockholm and questioned by police over whether he had committed criminal intimidation in his dealings with the Elections Department. He was subsequently released after being given a warning, and was allowed travel to Stockholm. Gomez has since joined another opposition party, the Singapore Democratic Party and he contested the Sembawang Group Representation Constituency in 2011.

2011–present[edit]

The manifesto for the General Election 2011 was entitled "Towards a First World Parliament". This was also used as a slogan during campaigning. One key proposal was for more affordable public housing such that Housing Development Board (HDB) lessees should be able to pay off their mortgage loans within 20 years rather than 30 years. On 27 April 2011, Low announced his candidacy for the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency along with Lim and three other "A-list" candidates, vacating his seat of Hougang and leaving it to Yaw Shin Leong.

On 7 May 2011, six Workers' Party candidates were returned as members of parliament. Yaw Shin Leong successfully retained the party stronghold of Hougang with a majority slightly under 65%, while Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim, Chen Show Mao, Muhamad Faisal Manap and Pritam Singh were victorious in Aljunied Group Representation Constituency, claiming 54.71% of the votes to unseat the incumbent PAP team which included two cabinet ministers, including the Foreign Minister George Yeo. Including overseas votes, the percentage of valid votes cast in favour of the Workers' Party team was 54.72%.

In addition, the party was eligible to take up two additional Non-Constituency seats in Parliament, by virtue of being the best-performing losers at the polls for Joo Chiat Single Member Constituency and East Coast Group Representation Constituency respectively. The party nominated Yee Jenn Jong (who contested in Joo Chiat Single Member Constituency) and Gerald Giam (who was part of the team which contested East Coast Group Representation Constituency) to take up the two additional Non-constituency Member of Parliament seats. Including the Non-constituency Member of Parliament seats, the party won a total of 8 seats, the most for any opposition party in Singapore since independence.

On 12 June 2011, the Workers' Party launched its grassroots arm for Aljunied GRC,[9] called the Aljunied Constituency Committee (AJCC).

It also combined the Hougang and Aljunied town councils to form the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.

In 2011, the Workers' Party was involved in a controversy when it did not hold an open tender when appointing its managing agent for the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.[10]

On 15 February 2012, Workers' Party expelled Yaw Shin Leong, MP for Hougang SMC, for failing to account for allegations made against him.[11] Yaw has been accused of several indiscretions in his private life. With the expulsion,a by-election for Hougang SMC was announced and the nomination day was set on 16 May 2012 followed by polling day on 26 May 2012. Yaw had up to 24 February 2012 to appeal against his expulsion.

A by-election was held on 27 May 2012 to fill the vacant seat, which the Workers' Party candidate Png Eng Huat won to retain the Hougang SMC seat for the party.[12] Veteran party member Poh Lee Guan registered to be a candidate for the same election without consulting the party council, personally explaining his role as a backup for Png. In July 2012, Poh was expelled by the party executive council as the party council found his reasoning unacceptable.[13]

On 6 January 2013, the Workers' Party held a thank-you concert for its supporters in Aljunied GRC, Hougang SMC and the rest of Singapore entitled "Bricks in Blue" at the Jubilee Hall. During the concert, it announced plans to purchase its own premises as its current rented premises at Syed Alwi Road was too small for its present operations. It planned to raise $1.5m as a downpayment for the new property and announced that it had raised $500,000 so far from well-wishes and through monthly contributions of $1,000 from each of its 6 elected MPs since GE 2011.[14]

On 16 January 2013, which is the Nomination Day for the 2013 by-election in Punggol East SMC, the Workers' Party fielded Lee Li Lian as the candidate for the by-election. Lee Li Lian was also the Workers' Party candidate for Punggol East SMC in the 2011 General Election.

On 26 January 2013, Lee Li Lian of the Workers' Party was elected as the Member of Parliament for Punggol East SMC with 54.5% of the valid votes.[15]

Well-known Chairmen[16][edit]

No Name Born-Died Took Office Left Office
1 David Marshall 1908–1995 1957 1963
2 Sylvia Lim 1965– 2003 Present

Well-known Secretary-Generals[16][edit]

No Name Born-Died Took Office Left Office
1 J. B. Jeyaretnam 1926–2008 1972 2001
2 Low Thia Khiang 1956– 2001 Present

Central Executive Council[edit]

As of 5 August 2014:

Former members of parliament[edit]

No Name Born-Died Constituency
1 David Marshall 1908–1995 Anson SMC (1961–1963)
2 Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam 1926–2008 Anson SMC (1981–1986)
NCMP (1997–2001)
3 Lee Siew Choh 1917–2002 NCMP (1988–1991)
4 Yaw Shin Leong 1976– Hougang SMC (2011–2012)

Current members of parliament[edit]

No Name Born Constituency
1 Low Thia Khiang 5 September 1956 (1956-09-05) (age 57) Hougang SMC (1991–2011)
Aljunied GRC (2011– )
2 Sylvia Lim Swee Lian 28 March 1965 (1965-03-28) (age 49) NCMP (2006–2011)
Aljunied GRC (2011– )
3 Chen Show Mao 6 February 1961 (1961-02-06) (age 53) Aljunied GRC (2011– )
4 Yee Jenn Jong 24 March 1965 (1965-03-24) (age 49) NCMP (2011– )
5 Muhammad Faisal bin Abdul Manap 6 June 1975 (1975-06-06) (age 39) Aljunied GRC (2011– )
6 Pritam Singh 2 Aug 1976 (1976-08-02) (age 38) Aljunied GRC (2011– )
7 Gerald Giam Yean Song 22 Nov 1977 (1977-11-22) (age 36) NCMP (2011– )
8 Png Eng Huat 9 Dec 1961 (1961-12-09) (age 52) Hougang SMC (2012– )
9 Lee Li Lian 19 July 1978 (1978-07-19) (age 36) Punggol East SMC (2013– )

WP's general election results[edit]

Legislative Assembly[edit]

Election Seats up for election Seats contested by party Seats won by walkover Contested seats won Contested seats lost Total seats won Change Total votes Share of votes Outcome of election
1959 51 3 0 0 3
0 / 51
Steady 4,127 0.8% no seats
1963 51 3 0 0 3
0 / 51
Steady 286 0.1% no seats

Parliament[edit]

Election Seats up for election Seats contested by party Seats won by walkover Contested seats won Contested seats lost Total seats won Change Total votes Share of votes Outcome of election
1968 58 2 0 0 2
0 / 58
Steady 3,049 4.0% no seats
1972 65 27 0 0 27
0 / 65
Steady 90,885 12.2% no seats
1976 69 22 0 0 22
0 / 69
Steady 91,966 11.5% no seats
1980 75 8 0 0 8
0 / 75
Steady 39,590 6.2% no seats
1984 79 15 0 1 14
1 / 79
Increase1 110,939 12.7% 1 seat elected
1988 81 32 0 0 32
0 / 81
Decrease1 224,473 16.7% no seats + 2 NCMPs
1991 81 13 0 1 12
1 / 81
Increase1 112,010 14.3% 1 seat elected
1997 83 14 0 1 13
1 / 83
Steady 101,544 14.2% 1 seat elected + 1 NCMP
2001 84 2 0 1 1
1 / 84
Steady 19,060 3% 1 seat elected
2006 84 20 0 1 19
1 / 84
Steady 183,578 16.34% 1 seat elected + 1 NCMP
2011 87 23 0 6 17
6 / 87
Increase5 258,510 12.83% 6 seats elected + 2 NCMPs
By-election
Election Seats up for election Seats contested by party Contested seats won Contested seats lost Total votes Share of votes Outcome of election Constituency contested
1961 2 1 1 0 3,598 43.3% 1 seat gain from PAP Anson SMC
1977 2 1 0 1 5,021 29.4% no seat Radin Mas SMC
1979 7 1 0 1 8,036 38.8% no seat Telok Blangah SMC
1981 1 1 1 0 7,012 51.9% 1 seat gain from PAP Anson SMC
2012 1 1 1 0 13,460 60.08% 1 seat hold Hougang SMC
2013 1 1 1 0 16,038 54.52% 1 seat gain from PAP Punggol East SMC

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ "SMSes expose Michael Palmer's affair". 15 December 2012. 
  2. ^ "WP's Lee Li Lian takes Punggol East by decisive margin". 
  3. ^ a b c d [1]
  4. ^ "Our story: 167,000 wants independence". AsiaOne. Singapore Press Holdings. 1998. Retrieved 9 May 2011. 
  5. ^ Ven Sreenivasan and Michelle Low, "Analysts support SES censure of HPL," in: Business Times, 24 April 1996, p. 15
  6. ^ Because Singapore's Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his wife took discounts while purchasing an apartment in 1996, and Lee Suan Yew (Lee's younger brother) was on the board of directors of the company, this had raised suspicions of impropriety. Tang made these allegations in a Chinese magazine Yazhou Zhoukan, which later lost a libel suit filed by Lee Kuan Yew and was ordered to pay damages. Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan, former Cabinet Minister S. Dhanabalan and Heng Chiang Meng, President of the Real Estate Developer's Association of Singapore (REDAS), told the House that it was normal practice for developers to cite high list prices and offer customers varying discounts.
    Warren Fernandez, "Full details of condo deals revealed," The Straits Times, 22 May 1996, p.1
  7. ^ http://www.wp.org.sg/party/manifesto.htm[dead link]
  8. ^ http://sg.news.yahoo.com/060122/5/singapore189345.html[dead link]
  9. ^ Breaking News – Singapore | The Straits Times
  10. ^ Mokhtar, Faris (6 August 2011). "Aljunied-Hougang Town Council employs new managing agent". SingaporeScene. YahooNews. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  11. ^ Expulsion of Yaw Shin Leong from Party Membership : The Workers’ Party of Singapore
  12. ^ Png Eng Huat wins Hougang by-election – Channel NewsAsia
  13. ^ Breaking News – Singapore | The Straits Times
  14. ^ Workers' Party raising $1.5m for new HQ
  15. ^ "WP's Lee wins Punggol East by-election". Channel NewsAsia. 26 January 2013. 
  16. ^ a b Executive Council : The Workers' Party of Singapore

External links[edit]