Low Thia Khiang dismisses talk of split, says WP stronger after party election

Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Kiang watches the live telecast of Polling Day on the small screen at the Hougang Stadium on 11 September 2015.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang yesterday dismissed talk of a split in his party following a surprise - but unsuccessful - challenge he faced during the party's conference on Sunday to elect members to its top decision-making body.

On the contrary, the central executive council (CEC) election results had strengthened the party for the future, he told reporters before his Meet-the-People Session in Hougang.

He stressed repeatedly that it was unproductive to take the results as indicative of dissension in WP.

He also expressed surprise that some WP members had gone public with criticism about his leadership style, saying that his door has always been open to feedback.

On Sunday, Mr Low was challenged for the first time since 2001 at his party's biennial internal election, when fellow Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao stood against him for the post of secretary-general.

Mr Low won with 61 votes against Mr Chen's 45.

He said: "Unfortunately, there are people who wish to turn this episode into a negative event... and create a public perception that will affect the confidence of Singaporeans in WP."

"But if a political party can accept open competition, accept diversity of views and in diversity we move on together as a party, I think Singaporeans should have much more confidence," he added.

Related: Low Thia Khiang retains sec-gen post after party contest

Mr Chen's challenge has led to much talk of unhappiness that some say has been simmering among certain members.

A few reportedly blamed Mr Low's leadership style, pointing to a lack of consultation over decisions such as who to field in last year's general election. There was also unhappiness with the party's direction as well as its poorer performance at the polls last year - in terms of vote share - compared with 2011.

Responding last night, Mr Low said there are "proper avenues in the party" for members to raise their concerns. He said some had done so at the party conference and he had responded to them.

"So it is quite a surprise to me that some of them are now saying perhaps there is a lack of avenue for such consultation process or an issue of transparency," he said.

"I don't really understand where they are coming from."

On the issue of electoral candidates, he said: "They have to tell me which specific candidate they're talking about, so that will allow me to explain my rationale for not fielding a specific person."

Mr Low said his focus is on party renewal and ensuring WP is ready for the next election. To do so, the party has to ensure it does not have a "generation gap" with voters and that it maintains "a pulse on the society, especially on the younger voters".

He added that younger members known to voters have been elected into the party's CEC, and said this "gives (WP) a certain comfort level to move forward".

As for Mr Chen's challenge, he said it was part of the party's democratic decision-making process. If the party decides someone else will make a better secretary-general, he would accept that, he said.

Mr Chen had said separately on Monday that he had merely participated in the party's election, saying it was not a challenge.

Said Mr Low: "I'm fully aware that I'm not able to satisfy everyone and I cannot meet everyone's request. My principle is to act on behalf of the party in good faith, with a clear conscience, for the interest of the party and the nation."

This article was first published on June 2, 2016.
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