GE 2015

Leadership renewal important for Workers’ Party too: Sylvia Lim

SINGAPORE - Leadership renewal is on the mind of not just the People's Action Party but also the Workers' Party (WP), said its chairman Sylvia Lim, who revealed the coming elections will be the crucible from which the next generation of the opposition party's top leaders will emerge.

"The general election (GE) is a big testing ground for us. People will be under stress and how they manage themselves, whether they think of the party's interest before their own, such things are likely to come out during the GE," she said.

The WP is "in a good position to have a potential feeder group for the key party posts" after growing its parliamentary presence and attracting promising people since 2011, she added. A rearrangement of leadership roles may also take place after the coming polls.

Ms Lim, who has just completed 12 years as party chairman, said she has not identified any specific individual to take over her role.

Asked what she was looking for in a potential successor, she listed two traits that she deemed essential: being able to take criticism in one's stride and doing what is best for the party despite personal preferences.

One also had to take on difficult roles for the sake of the party, said Ms Lim, citing her acceptance of the town council chairmanship from party chief Low Thia Khiang after the 2011 Aljunied GRC victory.

She does not, however, see herself as the party's No. 1. "It is not my aspiration to be the secretary-general," said Ms Lim. The WP also had other choices, she said.

However, when pressed on the topic, she conceded that it was up to the cadre members to elect the party chief and she could not completely rule out the possibility of assuming the mantle one day.

Both Mr Low and Ms Lim have been returned unopposed to the WP's top two posts since 2001 and 2003 respectively, suggesting strong support from the cadres, who elect the party's Central Executive Council. But Ms Lim played down her influence over them and her ability to endorse someone else as the next chairman. "If we do have any indication of our preferred successor, they would note that. But I think they also make up their own minds about who they think should take over," she said.

She declined to say how long more she sees herself holding the chairmanship of the WP, instead saying that "it's really hard to put a timeline on things".

However, she let on that the issue is something she ponders regularly. "I constantly have discussions with my family and people close to me about how long I want to continue.

"I don't think Mr Low or I want to remain there forever. We talk about renewal, and we're very serious about it," she added. "The party has got fresh faces as well as people who we believe can make great contributions and take the party even further than where we are now. So at any time when there are better people to take over from us, we are very happy to step down actually."

Chong Zi Liang and Tham Yuen-C

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2015, with the headline 'Leadership renewal 'important for WP too''. Print Edition | Subscribe