Pritam Singh elected unopposed as WP chief

New WP chief Pritam Singh addressing the media yesterday with his predecessor Low Thia Khiang and chairman Sylvia Lim. Mr Singh said his immediate task is to reach out to party members for their views and vision for the party, adding that it was impo
New WP chief Pritam Singh addressing the media yesterday with his predecessor Low Thia Khiang and chairman Sylvia Lim. Mr Singh said his immediate task is to reach out to party members for their views and vision for the party, adding that it was important for the CEC to move forward as a team.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Low Thia Khiang hands over reins as part of leadership renewal, after 17 years at the helm

The Workers' Party (WP) has a new chief, with Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh elected unopposed to the top job yesterday.

Mr Low Thia Khiang steps down after 17 years at the helm.

The passing of the baton completes the party's current phase of leadership renewal, said Mr Low, adding that the next step is to attract younger Singaporeans in their 30s to join it.

"Without new blood, the party will die a natural death in time to come," said the 61-year-old, who was presented with a "thank you" card from cadres at the party's biennial conference.

Asked if he plans to contest the next general election, due by 2021, Mr Low said: "I have my plans for the next GE, but I think it's premature to discuss now."

In his first public remarks as party chief, Mr Singh, 41, said that his immediate task is to reach out to party members for their views and vision for the party.

The past and present Workers' Party chiefs were both all smiles yesterday, as they left the party's Geylang Road headquarters. With the passing of the baton, the current phase of WP's leadership renewal has been completed, declared Mr Low Thia Khiang
Change of guard at Workers' Party: The past and present Workers' Party chiefs were both all smiles yesterday, as they left the party's Geylang Road headquarters. With the passing of the baton, the current phase of WP's leadership renewal has been completed, declared Mr Low Thia Khiang, here showing off a card from party cadres thanking him for his 17 years at the party's helm. His successor Pritam Singh and party chairman Sylvia Lim were elected unopposed at the biennial party conference. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

It is also important for the newly elected central executive committee (CEC) to move forward as a team, he added. "The process will be quite consultative."

The handover ushers in a new era for the party, said WP chairman Sylvia Lim, 53, who was re-elected unopposed. The last time the WP saw a leadership transition was in 2001, when Mr Low succeeded Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam.

Yesterday, over 100 cadres cast their votes at the closed-door conference, held for the first time at the WP's new headquarters at Teambuild Centre in Geylang Road.

Shortly before 2pm, Mr Low arrived, wreathed in smiles, saying that he was in a "good mood".

"Wah, so many people here. Looks like a general election," he quipped, when he saw the media scrum waiting for him.

There had been uncertainty over whether Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao, 57 , would challenge Mr Singh for the post, given that he unsuccessfully stood against Mr Low in 2016. But a contest did not materialise, and Mr Singh was elected to rousing and unanimous applause, according to those present.

Mr Chen, who was absent from the media interview, later posted on Facebook: "I hope for more youthful leadership. And I don't mean youthful in age alone. I mean more vigorous, energetic leadership, more forward-looking, progressive leadership. I mean leadership more open to new ideas, people and ways of doing things.

"I know we could use it."

It appeared to be an implicit criticism of Mr Low's style, which some have complained was top-down.

Mr Low looks set to continue playing a key role in the party as a member of the CEC. He and fellow Aljunied GRC MP Faisal Manap both garnered 70 votes - the highest among the 23 candidates who vied for the 12 spots in the committee.

In third place was Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan, 47, according to a list of the results obtained by The Straits Times.

The two new CEC members are Mr Terence Tan, 46, a member of the 2015 WP slate in Marine Parade GRC, and Dr John Yam, 56, a long-time party cadre. They replace Mr Kenneth Foo and Mr Tan Kong Soon, both 41.

All the nine WP MPs remain in the decision-making body.

Under Mr Low's charge, WP became Singapore's most successful opposition party since independence. The spotlight will now be on the extent to which Mr Singh, relatively inexperienced compared with Mr Low when he took the helm, can maintain the WP's electoral performance.

There are also some imminent challenges ahead for Mr Singh.

Mr Chen's 2016 challenge to Mr Low revealed fissures in the highly disciplined party. It turned out that Mr Chen's supporters, mainly older cadres, had been unhappy with Mr Low for purportedly favouring newer members when fielding election candidates. It will now be up to Mr Singh to heal those rifts.

Mr Singh will also have to contend with an ongoing lawsuit over the WP's Aljunied-Hougang Town Council's accounts.

Yesterday, the new party chief focused much of his remarks on his predecessor. Mr Singh said he has "big shoes to fill", paying tribute to Mr Low's perseverance and dedication. "It's important for the party to build on the foundation that he has laid, and to continue forward as a rational, responsible and respectable party," he added.

• Additional reporting by Elgin Toh

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2018, with the headline 'Pritam Singh elected unopposed as WP chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe