Singapore GE2020: WP chief Pritam Singh says its goal is not to needle the PAP, acknowledges hard task of creating jobs

Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh speaks to residents during a walkabout at Marine Terrace Market on July 4, 2020. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh said the party will play a constructive role in Parliament and not needle the People's Action Party (PAP), as he acknowledged the difficult task ahead for the Government in creating jobs.

He said on Saturday (July 4) that the issue of jobs is even more sensitive now for many Singaporeans who are affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Rather than challenge the PAP on that, because they have got a very difficult job in that regard - and they are going to form the Government -I think our role as the opposition is to make sure that when we represent the people in Parliament, we are bringing their voices into Parliament on that front," he said.

"Our goal is not to go there and needle the PAP. We want good outcomes for Singapore."

Mr Singh was speaking on the sidelines of a walkabout at the Marine Terrace Market, where he was joined by the five-member WP team for Marine Parade GRC. Also present was WP chairman Sylvia Lim.

Mr Singh also dismissed the PAP's assertion that the three biggest opposition parties could come together and form a replacement government.

He said such a prospect - put forward by Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing at a Mandarin dialogue on Thursday (July 2) - is not realistic.

"It took 16 years after our independence for the opposition to win even one elected seat, and 23 years after 1988, when the GRC system introduced, for the opposition to win one GRC," pointed out Mr Singh, referring to WP's J.B. Jeyaretnam winning the Anson seat in the 1981 by-election as well as his team's victory in Aljunied GRC in 2011.

"Let's put this fear-mongering in perspective, and I hope that the historical look-back is helpful in terms of how realistic this prospect that (Mr Chan) says is possible. I don't think it is possible at all."

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On the 10-million population debate, Mr Singh said he had made earlier comments when asked by the media and did not opportunistically jump into the fray, as suggested in the PAP's statement on Friday (July 03).

He noted: "When we deal with public discourse, I think it is very helpful, in fact critical, that we all deal with objective information."

He said earlier this year, he had asked in Parliament when a review for the Government's 2013 Population White Paper would take place. This was in response to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comments in 2013 that there would be a review of plans in it closer to this year.

But Mr Singh was told this was already done in 2018, during the Committee of Supply debate where current Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said the population would be significantly below 6.9 million in 2030.

He said it would be helpful if the Government could share with the public its thinking and "what is its way forward".

The WP team contesting Marine Parade GRC is helmed by second-time candidate Ron Tan, 35, who contested in Nee Soon GRC in the 2015 election.

His running mates are WP veteran and former Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong, 55, as well as new faces Fadli Fawzi, 39, Nathaniel Koh, 36, and Azhar Abdul Latip, 34. Mr Yee is the only member to have contested in the GRC before.

On the new faces in the Marine Parade GRC team, Mr Singh said Singapore has become a much more complex society, hence the need for a diverse slate to cater to the different groups of people.

"As far as possible, strategically, we plan as much as we can because we always need good people to come forward. And we try to deploy them in a way where they can add value to the public conversation, add value in Parliament, and ultimately serve their residents if they are elected," he added.

The WP team in Marine Parade is up against a PAP slate comprising Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong, incumbent Seah Kian Peng, as well as new faces Tan See Leng and Mohd Fahmi Aliman.

During the walkabout on Saturday morning, the WP team and their supporters distributed fliers to residents. They also chatted and exchanged fist bumps with Dr Tan and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who were also at the market.

On whether the team stood a greater chance of winning now that ESM Goh is not running, Mr Singh said: "I would never speculate about chances. But I always tell our candidates, 'Look, anything worthwhile is going to take your best efforts and if you are not prepared to work hard, you shouldn't be here'. They have committed to do their best, and I will leave it to them to drive the campaign in Marine Parade."

Mr Yee, who led the WP team at the last GE, told The Straits Times that passing on the team leader role is part of the party's renewal process.

Noting that his teammates have years of experience helping in community projects and Meet-the-People sessions, he said: "The other team members may be young, but several of them have as much, if not more experience with the party than I."

In his maiden electoral battle in Joo Chiat SMC in 2011, Mr Yee lost to veteran PAP backbencher Charles Chong by just 388 votes.

The single seat was absorbed into Marine Parade GRC in 2015, and the WP team lost with 35.9 per cent of the vote against the PAP team.

Still, Mr Yee said his party has remained active in Marine Parade and regularly initiated projects such as distributing food to needy families during the pandemic.

The entrepreneur was coy when asked if this would be his last contest. "I only want to do my best for this election," he said. "If there are better people and I need to step back, then I would be happy to do that."

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