The Workers' Party believes Singapore must go beyond elitism and materialism and for Singapore to seek for a "First World Parliament", where the government is held accountable for issues concerning Singaporeans and where Singaporeans are able to exercise their rights in political participation.
The Workers' Party pledged in its manifesto to support the working and other lower classes. It has also advocated for a more calibrated approach to immigration to Singapore. It has, for instance, proposed that the overall number of foreign workers should be capped if Singapore can achieve a 1 per cent annual growth rate in the local workforce.
In 1956, Singapore's first Chief Minister, David Marshall, resigned following the failure of the Merdeka Talks that had sought self-governance for Singapore. Initially he remained a backbencher in the Legislative Assembly for the Labour Front (the largest party in the assembly at the time), but he left the party in 1957 and founded the Workers' Party of Singapore. Marshall lost his seat in the assembly at the 1959 general election (in which the People's Action Party (PAP) became the majority party and the Workers' Party did not win any seats).
Following the adoption of the Rendel and McNeice Commission recommendations, the six wards in the city area consisting of 18 elected seats was carved into 32. In 1957, the Workers' Party contested 5 seats and won 4. The pro-communists backed the two new entrants, PAP and Workers' Party. Due to this, PAP came out on top in the race, winning the most seats and all except one of its contested seats. Workers' Party also fared well in its electoral debut. However, elected member Chang Yuen Tong resigned in 1958, leaving Workers' Party with 3 seats after it lost a by-election.
In 1961, a by-election was held in the constituency of Anson. David Marshall declared his candidature so that the people of Singapore could have an:
"... effective, vigorous and constructive opposition and to protect them against the arrogant dictatorship of unchallenged power. Marshall was also eager to assist the workers to prevent the political enslavement of trade unions and to revive the struggle against colonialism in seeking complete independence preferably within and, if necessary, without the Federation."
He returned to the Legislative Assembly when he won a by-election.
David Marshall, as Chairman of the party, made his views known on merger at public rallies and radio talks. Marshall's stand on merger was that: "... Singapore should seek equal privileges and rights for its citizens in the new federation but surrender autonomy in education and labour, since different policies in these crucial areas would undermine the stability of Malaysia in the long run. He further maintained that if Singapore could not negotiate for a complete merger, she should seek independence on her own, a proposition which drew gales of laughter from the Legislative Chamber at that time. Marshall's strongest objection to the White Paper merger terms was on the point of citizenship and the implications of citizenship in the new federation. He saw the provisions as denying the Singapore citizen who was a federal national, the right of political participation in terms of being allowed to organise or contest in an election in the other states of the Federation. Singaporeans would in his view, be no more than favoured foreigners in the Federation, permitted to live and work there without visas, but also without the important constitutional guarantees that immigration barriers would not be raised against them."
The Workers' Party was most concerned with the issue of common citizenship and the rights of Singapore citizens when they joined the Federation. Marshall on 20 August 1962:
"... issued a statement to advise his Executive Council and party members to accept the White Paper proposals for merger, but continued to oppose the Government on the referendum urging the people to cast blank votes on the grounds that it was undemocratically conducted."
Singapore became independent in 1965, and at the first post-independence general election in 1968, the PAP won all 58 of the seats in Parliament after the main opposition party at the time, the Barisan Sosialis, boycotted the elections. The PAP maintained this 100% electoral record at the 1972, 1976 and 1980 general elections and all intervening by-elections up to 1981.
Having become a small and fairly insignificant party by the late-1960s, the Workers' Party was revived by a group of lawyers in 1971, led by J. B. Jeyaretnam, who became the party's Secretary-General.
In 1981, the Workers' Party became the first opposition party to win a seat in Parliament in post-independence Singapore when Jeyaretnam won a by-election in Anson. He defeated the PAP's Pang Kim Hin by 7,012 votes (51.9%) to 6,359 (47.1%), with a third candidate taking 131 votes (1.0%). He was re-elected as the constituency's MP at the 1984 general election, in which he defeated the PAP's Ng Pock Too by 9,909 votes (56.8%) to 7,533 (43.2%).
However two months after his re-election, Jeyaretnam was charged with falsely accounting the party's funds. In 1986, Senior District Judge Michael Khoo found him innocent of all charges but one. However the prosecution appealed, and the Chief Justice ordered a retrial in a different district court. At the retrial, Jeyaretnam was found guilty on all charges. The judge sentenced him to three months' imprisonment (later commuted to one month) and fined him S$5,000, as a result of which he was disqualified from serving in Parliament and standing for elections for a period of five years, and was also disbarred as a lawyer. Jeyaretnam was not able to appeal his conviction to the Privy Council, but he exercised his right to appeal the disbarment, and the Privy Council reversed the decision on his disbarment and, when they issued their judgement, severely criticised his conviction by the Singapore court. However the convictions and Jeyaretnam's disqualification from Parliament remained (and the following year, the Singapore government placed further restrictions on Singaporeans' right to appeal to the Privy Council). Though he was no longer in Parliament, Jeyaretnam continued to be the Workers' Party's Secretary-General.
In 1987, some Workers' Party members were among a group of 22 people arrested by Singapore's Internal Security Department, accused of being Marxists. They were released on condition that they kept out of politics.
Prior to the 1988 general elections, the Barisan Sosialis and the Singapore United Front were absorbed into the Workers' Party.
At the 1988 general election, the Workers' Party did not win any constituency but came very close to winning the Eunos Group Representation Constituency (which was then a three-member constituency). The party's team of Francis Seow, Lee Siew Choh and Mohd Khalit bin Mohd Baboo won 49.1% of the votes to the PAP team's 50.9%. Only one opposition MP was returned to Parliament (Chiam See Tong of the Singapore Democratic Party). This meant that the Workers' Party was eligible to nominate two members of its team from Eunos to become Non-constituency MPs, as they had the highest percentage of the vote secured by losing opposition candidates at the election. The party had refused to nominate NCMPs in the past, but this time they nominated Seow and Lee to become NCMPs. However Seow (a former head of the Bar Society who had become a thorn in the government's side and had briefly been detained under the Internal Security Act prior to the general election) was subsequently accused of espionage and fled to the United States before he could take up an NCMP seat. Lee Siew Choh, former chairman of the Barisan Sosialis (also a PAP Assemblyman from 1959 to 1961), became Singapore's first NCMP, serving until the 1991 general election. In Parliament, he took up several issues, including the Internal Security Act, living costs and welfare.
Jeyaretnam was sued for slander by the Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew for comments he made at a Workers' Party election rally in 1988. Jeyaretnam lost the case and was ordered to pay Lee damages of S$260,000 plus costs.
At the 1991 general election, Low Thia Khiang, who was then the Workers' Party's Organising Secretary, was elected as the MP for Hougang. He defeated the PAP's Tang Guan Seng by 10,621 votes (52.8%) to 9,487 (47.2%).
The party also polled strongly in Eunos GRC again, losing to the PAP's team by 47.6% of the votes to 52.4%. During the election campaign, one of the Workers' Party's candidates in Eunos, Jufrie Mahmood, drew particular fire from the PAP and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who accused him of being a Malay chauvinist, an accusation Jufrie strongly denied.
No NCMP seats were offered to any of the opposition parties following the election as the opposition won a combined total of four seats (Low of the Workers' Party plus three MPs from the Singapore Democratic Party).
Low, who soon became Assistant Secretary-General of the party, captured national attention for his performances in Parliament, receiving praise for his assertiveness, good analytical ability and his willingness to be constructive rather than oppose for the sake of opposing.
A by-election in the Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency in 1992 was expected to mark the return of Jeyaretnam to electoral politics after his Parliamentary ban had expired. However, one of Workers' Party's candidates turned up late on nomination day, preventing the party from registering its team for the election.
In 1996, Jeyaretnam was sued for an article he wrote in an issue of the Workers' Party's newspaper, The Hammer, in which he called the PAP's Indian leaders a bunch of stooges. He was ordered to pay damages of S$465,000 and S$250,000 in court costs.
Lee Siew Choh left the Workers' Party in 1996, citing differences with Jeyaretnam.
Low was re-elected as Hougang MP at the 1997 general election.
The party also performed strongly in the Cheng San Group Representation Constituency, where Jeyaretnam was one of the party's candidates. The party lost to the PAP's team in the constituency by 45.2% of the votes to 54.8%.
Besides Low, only one other opposition MP was elected (Chiam See Tong, who had left the Singapore Democratic Party to join the Singapore People's Party). As the Workers' Party's team in Cheng San had polled better than any other opposition losing candidates, they were invited to select an NCMP. Jeyaretnam therefore returned to Parliament as an NCMP.
During the election campaign, another of the Workers' Party's candidates in Cheng San, lawyer Tang Liang Hong, drew particular attention from the PAP, who accused him of being an anti-Christian and anti-Muslim Chinese chauvinist. Tang, who insisted all he was trying to do was to "better represent the Chinese community and ask questions on their behalf", vigorously denied this charge and accused the PAP of trying to win votes by sowing fear into the electorate. He also attacked the PAP on the issue of the Hotel Properties Ltd case (which started when the Stock Exchange of Singapore criticised Hotel Properties Ltd for its "tardiness" in disclosing details of sales of its condominium units to directors and their family members). Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who had purchased one of the units, claimed that Tang was trying to milk this issue for political capital and sued him for defamation. Tang was also sued for branding the PAP leadership as a bunch of liars. He was eventually sued by the whole PAP leadership for a total of S$13.6 million, and fled to Australia soon after the election.
In 2001, Jeyaretnam lost his NCMP seat when he was declared bankrupt after failing to keep up with payments for damages owed from a libel suit brought by Goh Chok Tong and other PAP leaders following comments he had made at an election rally in 1997 (for which he had been ordered to pay S$100,000 plus S$20,000 in court costs).
Low Thia Khiang became the Workers' Party's Secretary-General in 2001 following the resignation of Jeyaretnam. The transfer of party leadership took place in bitter acrimony as Jeyaretnam later accused Low of not doing enough to help him pay the damages from the libel suit. In response, Low claimed that he had always looked upon Jeyaretnam as an elder and had done everything possible to help him.
Many observers speculated that with Low at the helm, Workers' Party would tone down its more hard-line stance and take on a more centrist outlook at the 2001 general election. Indeed, soon after Low took over, Jeyaretnam and a faction which was loyal to him left the party (and later formed the Reform Party), and a group of new, younger members were recruited by the Workers' Party. Among them were James Gomez, Yaw Shin Leong and Sylvia Lim.
Low was re-elected as Hougang MP at the 2001 general election. The Party's fortunes reached a low as it only contested in two seats, in Hougang and Nee Soon East SMCs and had its entire Aljunied GRC team disqualified on Nomination Day.
The Workers' Party launched an updated manifesto in January 2006 entitled "You Have a Choice". The 52-page booklet outlined the party's stand on issues and policies, covering areas from economic and judicial policies to media and sports and recreation. The manifesto, which had last been updated in 1994, took one year to work on according to Low. The manifesto was attacked by the PAP for containing "time-bombs". In response, the Workers' Party quipped that its manifesto contained only time bombs which threatened the PAP's power.
At the 2006 general election, Low was elected as Hougang MP for the fourth time. The party also polled strongly in the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency, losing to the PAP's team with 43.9% of the vote to 56.1%. This gave the party the right to the NCMP seat reserved for the best-performing opposition losers, and the party's Chairman, Sylvia Lim, was selected to become the NCMP. In addition, the Workers' Party fielded a youth team led by Yaw Shin Leong in Ang Mo Kio GRC helmed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Expected to fair badly or even lose their election deposits, the team garnered a respectable 33.4% or one-third of the votes.
During the 2006 election campaign, controversy arose over one of the Workers' Party's candidates in Aljunied GRC, James Gomez, who claimed that the Elections Department had lost his minority race candidate's certificate, and was forced to apologise when closed-circuit television evidence showed that he had placed the form in his briefcase without submitting it. The PAP attacked Gomez for the incident, with Lee Kuan Yew publicly calling him a "liar". One day after the election, Gomez was prevented from leaving Singapore on a trip to Stockholm and questioned by police over whether he had committed criminal intimidation in his dealings with the Elections Department. He was subsequently released after being given a warning, and was allowed travel to Stockholm.
The manifesto for the General Election 2011 was entitled "Towards a First World Parliament". This was also used as a slogan during campaigning. One key proposal was for more affordable public housing such that Housing Development Board (HDB) lessees should be able to pay off their mortgage loans within 20 years rather than 30 years. On 27 April 2011, Low Thia Khiang announced his candidacy for the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency along with Lim and three other "A-list" candidates, vacating his seat of Hougang and leaving it to Yaw Shin Leong.
On 7 May 2011, six Workers' Party candidates were returned as Members of Parliament. Yaw successfully retained the party stronghold of Hougang with a majority slightly under 65%, while Low, Sylvia Lim, Chen Show Mao, Muhamad Faisal Manap and Pritam Singh were victorious in Aljunied Group Representation Constituency, claiming 54.71% of the votes to unseat the incumbent PAP team which included two cabinet ministers, including the Foreign Minister George Yeo. Including overseas votes, the percentage of valid votes cast in favour of the Workers' Party team was 54.72%.
In addition, the party was eligible to take up two additional Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) seats by virtue of being the best-performing losers at the polls for Joo Chiat Single Member Constituency and East Coast Group Representation Constituency respectively. The party nominated Yee Jenn Jong (who contested in Joo Chiat) and Gerald Giam (who was part of the team which contested East Coast GRC) to take up the two additional NCMP seats. Including these 2 seats, the party had a total of 8 seats, the most for any opposition party in Singapore since independence.
On 12 June 2011, the Workers' Party launched its grassroots arm for Aljunied GRC, called the Aljunied Constituency Committee. It also combined the Hougang and Aljunied town councils to form the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.
On 15 February 2012, the Workers' Party expelled Yaw Shin Leong, MP for Hougang SMC, for failing to account for allegations made against him. Yaw has been accused of several indiscretions in his private life. With the expulsion, a by-election for Hougang SMC was announced and the nomination date was set on 16 May 2012, followed by polling day on 26 May 2012. Yaw had up to 24 February 2012 to appeal against his expulsion.
A by-election was held on 27 May 2012 to fill the vacant seat, which the Workers' Party candidate Png Eng Huat won to retain the Hougang SMC seat for the party. Veteran party member Poh Lee Guan registered to be a candidate for the same election without consulting the party's executive council, personally explaining his role as a backup for Png. In July 2012, Poh was expelled from the party after the council deliberated and found his reasoning unacceptable.
On 6 January 2013, the Workers' Party held a thank-you concert for its supporters in Aljunied GRC, Hougang SMC and the rest of Singapore entitled "Bricks in Blue" at the Jubilee Hall. During the concert, it announced plans to purchase its own premises as its current rented premises at Syed Alwi Road was too small for its present operations. It planned to raise $1.5m as a downpayment for the new property and announced that it had raised $500,000 so far from well-wishes and through monthly contributions of $1,000 from each of its 6 elected MPs since GE 2011.
Another by-election was held in 2013 in Punggol East SMC when PAP Member of Parliament and Speaker Michael Palmer resigned his seat for indiscretions with a People's Association staff. On 16 January 2013, the nomination day for the by-election, the Workers' Party fielded Lee Li Lian as the candidate. Lee Li Lian was also the Workers' Party candidate for Punggol East SMC in the 2011 General Election.
On 26 January 2013, Lee Li Lian was elected as the MP for Punggol East SMC with 54.52% of the valid votes.
The Workers' Party announced that it would contest 28 seats, an increase of 5 from GE 2011, and slightly under a third of the 89 parliamentary seats.
The MP for Aljunied GRC, Low Thia Khiang announced that he will remain in the same GRC, quashing rumours that he might lead a team to contest in other GRCs.
During a walkabout, party Chairman, Sylvia Lim, confirmed that all its elected MPs from the last Election (and by-elections) will be defending their respective wards:Aljunied GRC: Low Thia Khiang, 58, Sylvia Lim, 50, Chen Show Mao, 54, Pritam Singh, 39, and Muhamad Faisal Manap, 40.
Hougang SMC: Png Eng Huat, 53
Punggol East SMC: Lee Li Lian, 37
In Punggol East SMC, PAP's candidate Charles Chong, who had received 16,957 or 51.76% of the valid votes, won the seat back for PAP from Lee who received 15,801 votes or 48.24%. In Hougang SMC, Workers' Party candidate Png Eng Huat, who was MP since 2012, garnered 13,012, or 57.69% of the valid votes and was re-elected.
In Aljunied GRC, all five Workers' Party candidates were elected for a second term in Parliament. They garnered 70,050 or 50.96% of the valid votes. The People's Action Party team led by former Member of Parliament Yeo Guat Kwang garnered 67,424 votes.
Consequently, Workers' Party became the only party representing the opposition in the Parliament for the first time since 1984. Together with 3 NCMPs, they will form an opposition of 9. Lee was the first of the three NCMPs but declined the offer. Workers' Party candidate for Fengshan SMC, Dennis Tan was next in line for the second NCMP seat, while the party's East Coast GRC team nominated Leon Perera for the third seat. Workers' Party announced that if Parliament appointed another NCMP to replace Lee, they would nominate Associate Professor Daniel Goh for the seat.
On 29 January 2016, Parliament by resolution declared Ms Lee's NCMP seat vacant and resolved that the seat be filled. The Elections Department announced on 4 February 2016 that the Returning Officer received a response from The Workers' Party on their decision to nominate A/P Goh and declared him elected as NCMP.
On 29 May 2016, Low Thia Khiang successfully fended off an unprecedented challenge for his Secretary-General post by fellow MP Chen Show Mao for the first time in the party's history. Nonetheless, it was seen as a demonstration of internal party democracy rather than a division as the party continued to remain united. Chen was re-appointed by Low in his previous position as Treasurer. On 7 June 2016, the party appointed Pritam Singh as Assistant Secretary-General, marking him as a frontrunner for taking over the reins of the party in future.
As of 6 September 2016, the Central Executive Committee comprises:Sylvia Lim Swee Lian 林瑞莲, Chairman
Muhamad Faisal bin Abdul Manap, Vice-Chairman
Low Thia Khiang 刘程强, Secretary-General (Party Leader)
Pritam Singh, Assistant Secretary-General
Dennis Tan Lip Fong 陈立峰, Treasurer
Lee Li Lian 李丽连, Deputy Treasurer
Png Eng Huat 方荣发, Organising Secretary
Kenneth Foo Seck Guan 符策涫, Deputy Organising Secretary
Tan Kong Soon 陈广顺, Deputy Organising Secretary
Daniel Goh Pei Siong 吴佩松, Media Team Chair
Leon Perera, Media Team Deputy Chair and Webmaster
Firuz Khan, Deputy Webmaster
Gerald Giam Yean Song 严燕松, Youth Wing President
Chen Show Mao 陈硕茂, Council Member
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