Singapore — In an opinion piece titled “I’ve Never Liked The Workers’ Party”, a young person recounted how his views about the WP, the only opposition party in Singapore with Members of Parliament, underwent a transformation when he met and observed key members of the WP up close and personal.
The piece was written by a young man named Ethan Tay for Class Notes, a website of communications and new media students of the National University of Singapore, under the tutelage of longtime journalist and now Associate Professor, Bertha Henson.
Mr Tay began with how his opinion of the WP had been formed by how angry its members looked while making campaign speeches that were aired on TV. He specifically mentioned MPs for Aljunied GRC Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim, writing, “it was their perpetual frowns that made them look threatening, unfriendly and arrogant”.
He acknowledges that he was quite young when this opinion was formed, and adds that he was influenced by his parents’ negative opinion of the party. They felt the WP “was an ungrateful bunch who only knew how to find fault with the government”, and should they get elected, they would do a poor job with governance.
“The consistent narrative I absorbed was that the WP would demonise the good intentions of the government and influence people to think otherwise. To me, it was absurd that the politicians were conveniently ignoring the virtue of prudence for the sake of present pleasures. Equally preposterous was the number of people who supported their policy stances.”
Mr Tay also acknowledged that his sympathies lay with the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), until he enrolled in Ms Henson’s class, wherein part of the classwork was to write about politics. And while he did say he tried to be objective, he recognises now that he already had a bias against the WP.
One class assignment was to “track the developments” of a specific party, and Mr Tay joined the group that tracked WP.
On one occasion he met former WP chief Low Thia Khiang. The group went to one of the Aljunied GRC wards “to observe how he interacted with the residents there”.
Mr Low was friendly towards Mr Tay and his group, and when he came over to greet them, Mr Tay noticed that he was wearing hearing aids, prompting the realisation that “he was a perfectly normal human being, subjected to the same human afflictions as everyone else”.
Mr Tay also met a WP member named Adrian Sim, who had been part of the WP slate in Jalan Besar in the last General Election. Mr Sim told the young man he would not run for office again, due to the amount of emotional stress it involved.
Mr Tay wrote: “That was new. I used to think that these opposition politicians loved to play hero under the spotlight. It didn’t occur to me that they were putting their personal reputations on the line.”
For another class assignment, Mr Tay observed the Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS) held by WP Secretary-General Pritam Singh and Mr Png Eng Huat, the MP for Hougang SMC. Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan was also present, along with other WP members.
Mr Tay said that, while PAP advisers in Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC have access to more resources and hold their MPS (simultaneously with the WP) in air-conditioned PCF kindergartens, the WP holds its sessions at the void deck with a table and some chairs.
He wrote: “To me, it was a humble arrangement and a humbling process for the WP, which once again contradicted my impression of them as unfriendly and arrogant.
“It also exemplified how entrenched the PAP was at the ground level.”
He added: “It goes to show the uphill task the opposition has in sinking roots.”
Later, he had the opportunity to observe how Mr Singh and NCMP Leon Perera conducted themselves at the the Budget debate in Parliament, noting they were knowledgeable in the points they raised. And while Mr Singh did raise some points that Mr Tay did not completely agree with, he came away with a newfound respect for the WP leader as well as the party itself.
At the end of his piece he wrote: “This WP I know now is nothing like the party I watched on television screens. They seem to have a quiet humility, taking knocks as they come, like the saga over the town council finances which looks like it will be dragged out through the coming general election….
“They say you should never judge a book by its cover, or that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Likewise, I’ve learnt not to form my judgement based on just what the media brought to light.
“My youthful perceptions of the opposition have changed. I actually have some admiration for them now.”