Discontent among WP's old guard

Discontent among WP's old guard
Sylvia Lim, Low Thia Khiang and Gerald Giam leaving the Workers' Party internal elections on Sunday.

SINGAPORE - Party elections within the Workers' Party (WP) are usually non-events.

And, by all accounts, it was business as usual on Sunday with Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang being returned unchallenged as chairman and secretary-general, respectively.

But something has been brewing since 2011, and it came to a boil with the older cadres openly expressing their unhappiness at how they said they had been treated by the party's bigwigs.

How bad was it?

Cadres, who have voting rights, spoke candidly to The New Paper (TNP). And this was done at a coffee shop under the party's headquarters in Syed Alwi Road.

They voiced their displeasure at how the party had sidelined its veterans, some of whom have been around for more than 15 years, since the time of former party leader J. B. Jeyaretnam.

"We are trying to do something (in the election). See for yourself later," said cadre John Gan, who was formerly chairman of the party, alongside Mr Jeyaretnam.

Six newer members of the Central Executive Council (CEC) did not get the votes they needed to be returned to their positions while two members of the "old guard" were elected.

At the 2012 election, there were 18 CEC members. Twelve of those 18 were re-elected on Sunday. Two older members - L. Somasundaram, 51, and John Yam, 52 - were also elected, taking the total number to 14.

Said Mr Gan: "The younger members are not ready for the party. They think highly of themselves."

The members listed the reasons for their unhappiness:

Newer and younger members who hold degrees are preferred over veterans.

Candidates are parachuted in, despite not having walked the ground, unlike the veterans who have done so for years, but are not rewarded with a position.

They said older members believe that if they are in the CEC, there is a stronger likelihood they will be fielded in constituencies where they stand a chance of winning in an election.

A party insider told The New Paper that because of the unhappiness, Poh Lee Guan, the former assistant secretary-general, tried to contest the 2012 Hougang by-election as a spare candidate, without the party's permission.

Older WP members had previously suggested that Dr Poh, who had been working the Hougang ground for more than a decade, was unhappy at being bypassed by Yaw Shin Leong and later by Png Eng Huat.

Following the incident, Dr Poh was sacked by the party.

The insider, who claimed to be a veteran cadre, said: "Poh worked so hard and for so many years in Hougang, and Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim supported Png Eng Huat to become an MP.

"He was not the only veteran aggrieved by the parachuting in of graduates."

Even before that, older members were unhappy that another veteran, Eric Tan, was bypassed for the Non-Constituency MP seat. That went instead to a younger Gerald Giam.

Soon after, a number of veterans left the party, including Mr Tan, Mohamed Fazli Talip and Sajeev Kamalasanan.

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