NUS Top Guns Forum 2022: Towards our Shared Future – Effective & Constructive Politics – Speech by Pritam Singh

Good evening everyone.

Today, I will speak about a key issue in achieving effective and constructive politics. Namely, how to find Singaporeans who are prepared to undertake public service through opposition politics – to have them join as party members, and perhaps even stand as candidates. It is critical that people step up and join the cause because Singaporeans want elected opposition MPs to provide a diversity of voices and views in Parliament.

The law imposes only three criteria if you wish to stand in general elections. First, to be Singaporean, second, to be at least 21 years of age and finally, to not be an undischarged bankrupt. However, while these basic requirements are permissive and simple, they belie the very different additional considerations that come into play depending on whether one seeks to join the ruling party or to join opposition political parties. The considerations are drastically different for one simple reason – we live in a one-party-dominant state.

When ruling party members or commentators have previously talked about what they considered before joining the PAP and stood for election, they mentioned concerns such as public scrutiny, privacy or alluded to salary equivalence to the private sector. Opposition candidates’ concerns however, chiefly revolve around judgment by their employers.

A reality that occupies the minds of some employers is that the political economy in Singapore is dominated by Government-linked companies and organisations and that business prospects may be harmed if they exercise choices that are deemed to be friendly to the development or legitimacy of the opposition.

It is not uncommon to anecdotally hear of businessmen fearing the loss of contracts or goodwill should they openly support opposition parties. In my experience of recruiting potential candidates, I have also heard of employers telling employees that they would have to choose between their careers or their oppositional electoral aspirations. These anecdotes have been a reality for many years and partly explain why the opposition’s recruitment choices have been far more limited than the PAP’s.

In the face of such a dilemma, there are two clear options for us in the Workers’ Party. Either give up the mission of denying the PAP a blank cheque and just live our lives in the pursuit of private wealth and happiness. Or, we find ways to overcome the constraints we face and make a positive contribution to Singapore.

I do not foresee these dilemmas disappearing but I do note how more businesses and institutions, particularly MNCs, are more open-minded to greater political participation in general elections by their Singaporean employees. But this is far less of a reality among SMEs, particularly when it comes to the opposition candidates.

To take into account these facts, the Workers’ Party will continue to consider individuals who have walked diverse life paths and are at different life stages, so as to make political inroads. And we will need the best Singaporean talent to undertake the role of a loyal Parliamentary opposition.

I recall during the 2012 Hougang by-election, the mainstream media made an issue of the fact that the WP’s Png Eng Huat had opened and closed a number of companies. They alleged that his behaviour was secretive, and thereby insinuated impropriety. Of course, there was no impropriety and the WP was not put off by the scrutiny.

The point is that if we find a good, dependable person who will serve the people well, even if that person may possibly be subject to close scrutiny, we will consider such a person for candidacy. The WP would even consider for candidacy, for example, someone who has perhaps been bankrupted through business difficulties but has since settled matters and been discharged. If that former bankrupt has, say, started a new, successful business or entered a new career, why shouldn’t we be open to someone who has the heart and mind to serve? If the Workers’ Party is to succeed in finding people who can make a worthwhile political contribution, we have to cast our net wide. The Workers’ Party will always be fighting for a more democratic Singapore with the cards in our hands and not the cards in the PAP’s hands, something the public understands well.

Even out of the already hard-to-recruit individuals who join the Workers’ Party, not everyone wishes to be a candidate. Some may realize public service as an MP is not for them, and so many prefer to undertake grassroots work. While small, the Workers’ Party nonetheless tries its best to represent the interests of all segments of the population – from youths to seniors.

But even as it is difficult to find potential candidates, to say nothing of fielding them, we do pay extra attention to those who show empathy for others in their actions, and are prepared to speak up for fellow Singaporeans. Our efforts in this regard will make a contribution to the effective and constructive politics we in the Workers’ Party seek for Singapore. And we will do our best to attract the best of those who wish to serve Singapore and Singaporeans to join the cause of building and institutionalising a credible opposition force that serves as an important balancing role in our political system.

Before I end, let me say that I did not mean for this to be a WP recruitment talk, but if you are minded to speak to me about that later, please approach me. Although the option is also open to you to join as a volunteer and experience the nuts and bolts of political work. And now, I look forward to your questions. Thank you.