Speech to WP Youth Wing on the WP’s Approach to Politics

MP Pritam Singh

President Workers’ Party Youth Wing Nicole Seah, colleagues and friends,

Thank you for coming to the Workers’ Party HQ this afternoon for this engagement session organized by the Youth Wing.

I recall my own association with the Youth Wing some 12-odd years ago and fondly remember some events we tried to organise. One idea we were keen to put together was an invitation to the Inter-Religious Organisation of Singapore or the IRO, a Non-Governmental Organisation to give a talk at the Workers’ Party about multi-racialism, respect for different faith groups and inter-racial harmony in Singapore. The thinking was, in which democracy is it a problem to educate a citizenry about an important national value – religious harmony?

Our efforts were not successful as the invitation was turned down, even as I later found out that some members of the IRO were supportive of the request and keen to participate. I suppose the best thing about being associated with a youth-related entity like the Workers’ Party Youth Wing is that you don’t really care about how you are perceived by others and try to do adventurous and unconventional things anyway. But we still had to clear our ideas with the Party Central Executive Committee before embarking on them!  

I gather from the attendees name list that some of you here today are associated with specific causes that you believe in, ranging from advocacy for foreign workers to many others. All this is part of the important journey many of us take when we are young or young at heart, and continue to take throughout our lives, not just in our youth – Fighting for a cause beyond ourselves and our immediate preoccupations. 

But unlike single-cause or cause-based advocacy, many of our members and long-time volunteers and supporters in the Workers’ Party are united by a desire to institutionalize a political opposition in Singapore. To make the idea of a political opposition, checks and balances and a genuinely participatory democracy mainstream concepts in Singapore. There have been many that have come before us and tried to do the same. Groups of individuals, regardless of race, gender etc. have picked up the cudgel, fighting elections against great odds. The vast majority have been unsuccessful in growing the roots of a loyal opposition in Singapore.

But their efforts have not been in vain. They have given future generations invaluable lessons in determining what form of political engagement can work in making political progress in Singapore and what is not likely to pass or fail miserably, given our unique political environment.

But let me be clear, none of us in the Workers’ Party should be under the illusion that the Workers’ Party has arrived. Everything we have achieved can be easily frittered away and lost, particularly if the Party is not rowing in the same direction in the public eye. 

As a pan-national Party, we have members, volunteers and supporters of various age-groups and persuasions who take a vast array of positions on many social and economic issues. Most tend to coalesce around a centrist to centre-left persuasion on the political spectrum. Critically however, the Party’s political positions have to take into account, at its core, what the Singapore public, our voters can accept at this point in time. It therefore should come as no surprise that we place a high degree of emphasis on house visits and public outreach thorough activities such as Hammer sales. Through these activities, you get a personal sense of our median society, meet people you may not readily meet in the day-to-day course of your life. These things open your eyes and minds to the nuances that are a reality in Singapore – and by extension, what is politically possible and what isn’t. This does not happen in the course of one or two or even months of such engagement, but requires much effort and time.

Some people would say, legitimately so in some cases, that the Workers’ Party is not at the forefront of causes they hold dear to their hearts. Indeed, if these causes are far removed from mainstream consciousness, alienate the ground and find Singaporeans unreceptive, it would be political suicide to support them and we would fail in our larger mission to institutionalise a political opposition in Singapore – something so many before us have sacrificed much to engender. It would be hypocritical of me to pretend that this calculation does not figure in determining when and why the Party takes up certain causes and not others. Get the timing wrong and pick a wrong cause, and before you know it, we can be back to the one-party state that preceded the days of JBJ before Anson 1981. That would be a tragedy for not just the Workers’ Party but the many Singaporeans who want the Workers’ Party to succeed. My colleagues and I are determined not to let Singaporeans down. And as I alluded to publicly at GE2020, something will fray in our society if there is no political opposition in the country. The unity we seek as a nation with our fellow countrymen will weaken and this would be a disaster for not just the political system, but our sense of nationhood too. In the ring of adversarial politics, let us never forget that a key outcome the Workers’ Party seeks is a better Singapore for all Singaporeans and a home we can all be proud of.

With these brief remarks which I hope you will keep to heart, I look forward to chatting with you personally and hope to see all of you working with us in the Workers’ Party as we continue building a political party our political system and democracy deserves.

Thank you. 

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