Residents shocked and saddened by former Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang's decision to not contest GE2020

Former Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang thanks Hougang residents after his victory in the general election in 1991. ST PHOTO: SIMON KER

SINGAPORE - The surprise announcement from the Workers' Party (WP) on Thursday (June 25) that former chief Low Thia Khiang would not contest the coming election was the talk of the town, especially in Hougang and Aljunied, where residents said they were saddened by the news.

Many in single-seat Hougang, where Mr Low, 63, was first elected as MP in 1991 and served the constituency for 20 years, still remember him with great fondness and said it was painful to see him call time on his political career as Singapore longest-serving opposition MP.

Said long-time Hougang resident Andy Teo, 81: "He's a very good man, I've met him before. He's a very compassionate and straightforward man."

Added the part-time cleaner: "I hope he stays on as an adviser to the party. I think the newer group will be missing something without him, so hopefully he will still be able to help them in other ways."

Mr Mark Ong, 53, who has been living in Hougang Avenue 2 since he was 21, was also disappointed by the news.

But the engineer said that with or without Mr Low, whom he called an "opposition idol", he would continue to support the WP.

Mr Ong recalled the time when Mr Low had visited his father's funeral wake and sent the family a wreath of flowers to express his condolences, something the four-term Hougang MP did for bereaved families in his ward.

"A lot of people say Mr Low is an angry man but he is really friendly. He stands up for Singaporeans," Mr Ong added.

But many interviewed by The Straits Times also felt that the next generation of WP politicians was ready to step up to the plate.

Administrative officer Ranjit Singh, 56, said he understands the reason for Mr Low retiring from politics, given his age and recent fall.

Said the Hougang resident of seven years: "He's been around for quite a while. He might be a bit tired. It's also a chance for new blood to come in and have a chance to lead."

Besides Mr Low, who is an MP for Aljunied GRC, two other of the WP's MPs are also not contesting the July 10 polls.

The duo are Mr Png Eng Huat, 58, who has been Hougang MP since 2012, and Mr Chen Show Mao, 59, an MP for Aljunied GRC.

A 29-year-old resident, who wanted to be known only as Andy, said he was shocked to hear that Mr Png was leaving after just two terms.

But, the technician added: "It is quite true that the party needs to be renewed. Everything is changing, so it is good to have some younger people come in because different generations have different views."

Political observers said the changes are not likely to affect WP's chances at the polls.

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior international affairs analyst at management consultancy Solaris Strategies Singapore, said Hougang is still very much synonymous with Mr Low and as long as his presence is felt there, it is a constituency the WP will win.

"It doesn't really matter if you change the candidates there, so long as they're from WP."

Dr Mustafa also said the WP has an advantage being the incumbent in Hougang SMC and Aljunied GRC and it will bank on that, and the fact that they still have good people to govern the constituencies.

"All of these things are going to matter more than just who is stepping down and who is going to replace them."

Former nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin said WP is very much personified by Mr Low and the residents in Hougang and Aljunied resonated with him and his background.

"For people who have voted for him because he speaks their language and is very much their kind of man, it is going to be a lasting influence."

While it is important for Mr Low to continue to give moral support to the WP and its candidates, all political parties have to go through renewal, Mr Zulkifli said.

"It is a big loss, for sure. But the nature of political parties is such that they must be able to transform.

"As much as the political parties have changed, the electorate also has changed," he added.

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