The 1997 General Election was a disappointing one for Workers' Party (WP) candidate Ng Teck Siong. His team in West Coast GRC lost, taking just 29.9 per cent of votes.
"A lot of residents approached me during the campaign to say our chances are not good. It was an uphill task for the opposition," says the retired businessman, now 77.
WP won one seat in that election - Mr Low Thia Khiang's in Hougang.
But what gave Mr Ng heart was the fighting spirit shown by the WP and its then secretary-general J.B. Jeyaretnam, known as JBJ. After the results came out, Mr Jeyaretnam gave him words of encouragement.
"He told me to keep on trying. He was a man who never gave up," he says, noting how the WP leader persevered despite suffering much personal financial loss during his journey as an opposition politician.
Mr Jeyaretnam was made a bankrupt in 2001, after losing defamation lawsuits. As a result, he lost his Non-Constituency MP seat. That year, he decided to leave the WP - a party he had led for 30 years - after expressing disappointment that party leaders Low Thia Khiang and Tan Bin Seng did not help him with debt payments arising from his defamation suits.
Mr Ng, a loyal ally of Mr Jeyaretnam, left the WP with him. They later set up the Reform Party together.
Comparing the WP under Mr Jeyaretnam to that under Mr Low, who took over the party reins in 2001, Mr Ng says Mr Jeyaretnam opposed the Government much more vigorously. "When he believes something is right, he will fight for it in a strong and aggressive way."
By contrast, Mr Low's WP, he feels, has chosen a less confrontational approach and, as a result, has missed opportunities to speak up for the people on issues such as the cost of living and the elected presidency.
Still, he acknowledges the WP's contribution of maintaining an opposition presence in Parliament, and continues to root for them.
He says: "Morally and spiritually, I support them. I hope they will form a government one day. Sylvia Lim will make a good prime minister."
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 29, 2017, with the headline 'Veteran compares WP under JBJ and Low'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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