Deborah Choo & Kirsten Han / Pictures by Terry Xu
One day after Parliament dissolved for the upcoming elections, the Workers’ Party (WP) introduced their first slate of candidates at a press conference: Eric Tan, 55, Gerald Giam, 33, Mohamed Faisal Abdul Manap, 35, and Lee Li Lian, 32.
Before introducing each individual, Secretary-General Mr Low Thia Khiang started off the press conference at his party headquarters this afternoon by saying that the General Elections 2011 will be a “watershed election” for Singapore.
“Firstly, the PAP has declared the next prime minister will probably be among the candidates, but no one knows who he or she is,” said Mr Low. He went on to add that the strength of the opposition is at an “all-time high”, and that Singapore’s transition from the Third World to theFirst under the People Action’s Party (PAP) had only been restricted to the economy and infrastructure, which is not enough.
For the previous elections in 2006, WP’s slogan was “You Have A Choice”, as they had wanted to respond to the desire of Singaporeans to be able to vote. In 2011, Mr Low said that the party has moved on from “providing a choice to providing a vision” for Singapore, hence the 2011 slogan of “Towards a First World Parliament”.
He also spoke about the “3 Cs and 2 Ps” of the WP: Credibility, Capability, Character, Passion and Public Service.
“There is a lot of fear and apathy in our society and the mother of all fear is to stand as an opposition candidate,” said Mr Tan. “I hope that by standing, I will dispel some of that fear.”
However, he noted that there has been a change in the landscape of Singapore from a decade or two ago, when people were more fearful of supporting the opposition, saying that now “people are willing to come up openly and support us.” He said that in the 1990s, people would shy away from WP members who were trying to sell party newsletter The Hammer, whereas nowadays parents will allow their children to buy and read the newsletter.
Mr Tan is not a newcomer to politics: he decided to join politics in 1987, after he read about the detaining of 22 young Roman Catholics, social activists and professionals under the Internal Security Act (ISA) after being accused of being Marxist conspirators. Mr Tan said he was not convinced that these people were guilty, and that the episode made him see the importance of having checks and balances in the system.
The second candidate, Mr Gerald Giam, is the assistant webmaster of WP who was recently elected into its Central Executive Committee (CEC). He has had experience working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and is currently working as a senior consultant in an IT consultancy firm.
“I did not join the Worker’s Party because I hate the PAP or because I love criticizing the government,” said Mr Giam. “I joined because I want to help to build up a strong and credible alternative party that would be able to take Singapore forward even if the PAP were to fail.”
Mr Giam said that he is particularly concerned by low-income families in Singapore and that he wants to be “a strong voice for them in and out of Parliament”.
The next candidate, Mohamed Faisal Abdul Manap, started his career at the Housing Development Board (HDB) as a technical officer. He then went to Australia where he completed a degree in Psychology at Monash University. He is currently the proprietor of Ihsan Family Consultancy,which focuses on family, marriage and pre-marriage counselling.
“I have seen a lot of broken families, a lot of marriages ending in divorce because of the situation we are living in right now,” said Mr Faisal. He went on to explain that even though he empowers and motivates people as a counselor, he believes that the “environment we are living in plays a part”, and that he would therefore like to “create an environment that is more pro-family”.
The last candidate introduced at the press conference was Ms Lee Li Lian, the deputy treasurer of WP. Ms Lee has been involved in different grassroots activities in Hougang, such as organising tours in Malaysia for senior citizens. She has a particular interest in issues concerning the needy as well as single or stay-at-home parents.
She believes that this group of “forgotten” people should not be excluded from government schemes such as Workfare, and should also be made eligible for the application of HDB flats.
After introducing these four candidates, Mr Low launched WP’s elections website, which will be a main platform for their new media campaign.
During the question and answer session, Mr Low was asked about WP’s candidate selection process. Mr Low said that WP had done it’s “due diligence” in choosing their candidates, although he admitted that they do not “have so many to select from” as compared to the ruling party.
He added that he feels that WP’s slate of candidates for the upcoming elections is “more mature and more experienced” than in the 2006 elections, and that the party can further consolidate their leadership.
In response to a question about where the candidates will be fielded, Mr Low said that information would only be known after Nomination Day. However, he said that voters would probably already have a sense of where candidates will be contesting.
When asked about possible WP candidate Mr Chen Show Mao who has been the subject of much attention in the mainstream media recently, Mr Low said that Mr Chen had already responded to most of the questions posed by Education Minister Mr Ng Eng Hen in his letter to the Straits Times. He added that he did not want to say more on Mr Chen’s behalf, and said that Mr Chen would respond in due time.
The rest of the WP’s candidates will be revealed in the course of four further press conferences over the weekend.