WP chief dismisses talks of split, says internal election has strengthened party

Mr Low (second from left) speaking to the media alongside Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Pritam Singh on May 29, 2016.
Mr Low (second from left) speaking to the media alongside Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Pritam Singh on May 29, 2016.ST PHOTO: WOO FL

SINGAPORE - Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang on Wednesday (June 1) dismissed talk of a split within his party, following a surprise challenge mounted for his post last Sunday at his party's internal elections.

He said the party's internal elections had in fact strengthened it for the future, by showing that the WP is a political party that "can accept open competition, accept diversity of views, and in diversity we move on together as a party".

He also said he was surprised that some party members had taken to the press to criticise his leadership style and decisions, saying that his door had always been open to feedback.

Mr Low was speaking to reporters at the sidelines of his meet-the-people session at Hougang.

Questions about the party's unity had arisen after he was challenged for his secretary-general position by fellow Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao at the party's internal central executive council election on Sunday. Mr Low prevailed with 61 votes to Mr Chen's 45.

But since then, some party members have spoken up in public about the cause of the challenge, saying that there was a faction in the party that had backed Mr Chen as they were unhappy with Mr Low's leadership style.

They charged that he was not open to alternative views, and also favoured younger members with higher academic qualifications, such as lawyers and academics, for leadership posts.

Responding to these criticisms, Mr Low said his focus is to make sure the party's renewal efforts are on track.

"I want to focus on the renewal and also to help in the transition so that WP can continue serve Singaporeans in the future and at the same time be connected to the younger Singaporeans because in every election there's always younger voters," he said.

He added that as the party's leader, he had to make decisions for the benefit of the party and in the interest of Singapore.

"I'm prepared to always explain, to justify, and I'm prepared to (be) subject to the members' verdict and judgement," he said adding there were ample avenues for members to raise their concerns.

"So it is quite surprising to me that now some of them are saying perhaps there is a lack of avenue for such consultation processes or (there is an) issue with transparency. I don't really understand where they are coming from."

But instead of seeing his party's election as a "negative" episode, he emphasised repeatedly, Singaporeans should be more confident now of the WP as it had managed to move on together as a party despite the diversity of views.

He also pointed to how the election had allowed the party to bring in younger people in their 30s and 40s into the party's top decision-making body, which is important for renewal.

On whether he felt disappointed that 40 per cent of his party's cadres had not voted for him during the election, he said: "I look at this with an ordinary mind...I'm always prepared for anyone who feel that he can be a better person to be secretary-general. And I think the party should decide who is a better person to be secretary-general to lead the party, I will accept that."