Workers’ Party (WP) secretary-general Pritam Singh has confirmed speculation that fellow Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao will not be fielded as one of the opposition party’s candidates for the impending election, which is set to take place on 10 July.
Mr Pritam said that Mr Chen, former party chief Low Thia Khiang and Hougang SMC MP Png Eng Huat will not be standing as WP candidates in the next election, although this does not mean that they are retiring.
Mr Chen’s absence from the WP’s slate of candidates comes on the heels of rumours that he is considering defecting to another political party after a failed bid to become party chief some years ago, especially after he was spotted at events held by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and Progress Singapore Party (PSP).
An experienced and respected lawyer with degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Stanford universities, Mr Chen was fielded as a star candidate in the WP team contesting Aljunied GRC in the 2011 GE. Mr Chen and his team, which included heavyweight politicians like Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim, won Aljunied GRC from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).
The electoral victory was historical since it marked the first time an opposition party had ever won a GRC, since Singapore attained independence. The WP managed to beat all the odds and emerged as the victor, ousting then-Foreign Minister and Aljunied incumbent George Yeo from Parliament and the cabinet.
The WP’s five-man team held on to Aljunied GRC in the 2015 General Election. In 2016, Mr Chen ran for the position of WP secretary-general in the party’s internal elections against then-party chief Low Thia Khiang and lost.
It was the first time that Mr Low was challenged for the top post since he took it up in 2001 and Mr Low retained his seat with 61 votes, to Mr Chen’s 45 votes. Last year, the party named Pritam Singh as its new secretary-general when Mr Low stepped down.
Mr Chen has always maintained that he was nominated to take part in the internal elections and that he was grateful for the opportunity that allowed party members to exercise their democratic rights to choose how to govern themselves. He said in 2016 that he and his fellow party members have a shared vision for a strong, growing and diverse WP.
Despite Mr Chen’s clarification, some publications characterised Mr Chen’s participation in the internal election as a calculated move that was meant to oust veteran opposition politician Low Thia Khiang from his position as party chief.
Insiders who spoke to the press in recent years hinted that Mr Chen may not be fielded as a WP candidate since he was allegedly not as active in the party since the leadership challenge he mounted in 2016. Anonymous party sources noted that Mr Chen’s performance in Parliament had been “muted” and said that he had allegedly been absent from recent internal meetings.
The Chinese daily also reported that Mr Chen – who serves in the WP Central Executive Committee as its Treasurer – had been seen at activities organised by the SDP and PSP while being absent at his own party’s internal meetings.
The Chinese daily reported that Mr Chen’s failed leadership challenge in 2016 led him to lose prominence within his party and that this – along with his recent appearances at event organised by other political parties – could mean that he may not contest the next GE under the WP ticket.
While Mr Pritam has since confirmed that Mr Chen will not contest the impending GE under the WP banner, it is unclear whether Mr Chen will continue playing a part in the WP or whether he really will defect to another political party.