Although he retired from politics nearly a decade ago, former Cabinet Minister S Jayakumar cautioned ruling party leaders to be wary of the Workers’ Party (WP) after the results of the 2020 general election that took place in July.
The WP, which is the only elected opposition party in Parliament, won an unprecedented 10 seats across three wards in the most recent polls. Aside from winning a stronger mandate at its Aljunied-Hougang stronghold, the party also won the new Sengkang GRC and unseated three prominent political office-holders.
In his new book, ‘Governing: A Singapore Perspective’, Prof Jayakumar revealed that he emailed a warning about the WP to a cabinet minister a few days after the 2020 election. Claiming that the WP will aim to replace the Government down the road, the former Deputy Prime Minister and Senior Minister wrote:
“A few days after GE 2020, on 15 July 2020, I emailed this view to a Cabinet minister: ‘We should not be beguiled by WP’s stance that they only want to check the Government. This time their line was to prevent a clean sweep of all seats.
“‘At the next GE – their aim will be to prevent PAP having a two-thirds majority. Further down the road, we should not rule out them (in concert with other opposition parties) trying to prevent PAP winning a majority of seats. They will do so if they have enough winnable candidates.”
He added: “‘As I see it, the camel has gotten its nose into the PAP tent. It will want to occupy the whole tent in 2, 3 or 4 elections down the road.'”
Some observers have opined that Prof Jayakumar’s thoughts bear somewhat of a resemblance to remarks Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made during the 2006 general election period.
In the speech, delivered more than a decade ago when Low Thia Khiang and Chiam See Tong were the only elected opposition politicians in Parliament, PM Lee urged the people to refrain from voting in more opposition lest he is forced to focus on how to “fix them” instead of focusing on the nation’s challenges. He asserted:
“What is the opposition’s job? It’s not to help the PAP do a better job! Their job is to make life miserable for me so that I screw up and they can come in and sit where I am here and take charge.
“Right now we have Low Thia Khiang, we have Chiam, we have Steve Chia. So can deal with them, it’s ok. But supposing you had a Parliament with 10, 15, 20 opposition members out of 80.
“Then, instead of spending my time thinking of what is the right policy for Singapore, I’m going to spend all my time – I have to spend all my time – thinking what is the right way to fix them, what is the right way to buy own my supporters over, how can I solve this week’s problem and forget about next year’s challenges?”
A day after the WP clinched 10 seats in its maiden election campaign under secretary-general Pritam Singh’s leadership, PM Lee surprised observers by making Mr Pritam Singapore’s very first Leader of the Opposition.
PAP leaders went on to urge the WP to also bring policies for debate at Parliament instead of simply serving as a check to the Government.
The WP tabled its very first motion in Parliament earlier this month, calling for a review of the criminal justice system in light of the court case involving ex-maid Parti Liyani. The WP’s motion was amended by a PAP member to the point that the opposition party did not feel comfortable supporting the amended motion.
Despite this, the amended motion was passed in Parliament by the PAP’s super majority.