A former trusted member of the Singapore Worker's Party gives our readers a special behind the scene look at the betrayal that occurs regularly within the Worker's Party. At the Worker's Party, honor and integrity are optional!
By Sajeev Kamalasanan (Former member & Ex-candidate for WP, Nee Soon GRC, GE2011) article first published on Politico Singapore on 23 May 2013.
Since my resignation from the Workers’ Party (WP) in May 2012, I have been asked by many people on the real reason/s behind my resignation. I have also been hearing about how the other individual involved in my resignation, WP Chairman, Ms Sylvia Lim, and people related to her have been proclaiming and pleading her innocence in the events surrounding my resignation and that I was the one who had made false allegations and accusations against her and the Party in the first place. And a few other members of the Party have been cleverly playing detective in conveniently linking me with other unfortunate but unrelated incidents that happened within the Party after my resignation like Dr Poh Lee Guan’s so-called “sabotage” during the Hougang by-election.
On this anniversary of my resignation, I would like to clear any lingering doubts in reasonable people’s minds about my resignation, which was mainly due to the unfair and non-transparent practices adopted by the Party in the conferment of Party cadreship. I hope that my experience (and those of other ex-candidates and ex-members) will serve as a cautionary note to all WP believers and aspiring members and candidates who would like to join and support WP, on what they can expect.
Before I get into those details, let me first of all convey my congratulations to Mr Somasundaram (ex-candidate for Moulmein-Kallang GRC) and Mr Watson Chong (my ex-team mate and candidate for Nee Soon GRC candidate) of WP for FINALLY getting their extremely long overdue and well deserved WP cadreship. They had been very quickly conferred cadreship just two months after my resignation, just before the WP cadre meeting that was held in July 2012. The suspicious timing aside (coming right after my resignation), it is indeed an appropriate recognition for both of these ex-candidates of the 2011 General Elections, who had long been denied Party cadreship. Mr Soma, in particular (who is a Master’s degree holder and a lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic and incidentally a member of the minority community), had to wait for six long years since 2006 for his contributions to be recognised by the Party.
However, there had been others who had been made cadres quite quickly within months of joining the Party. My particular concern was why some ex-candidates such as myself, Mr Soma, Mr Watson Chong and Ms Angela Oon were not being given Party cadreship whereas other (non-minority) ordinary, new ordinary members and certain new ex-candidates were easily given cadreship ahead of other ex-candidates, who nevertheless had put themselves up on the very important national platform of the General Elections. While the contributions of all members are important, it is unjust to overlook the sacrifices and risks of these ex-candidates who have stepped up to be candidates of opposition parties and not recognise all of them for their sincere efforts for the Party and nation. We simply have to look back at the Tang Liang Hongs and the JBJs to understand what risks opposition candidates face in this country to run under the opposition banner. This enormous risk cannot be compared to the much smaller risk that say an ordinary member carries by helping out in WP events on an adhoc basis. It is therefore not unreasonable to confer cadreship to ex-candidates ahead of ordinary members.
I had brought up this matter about the unfair treatment displayed by WP’s leadership on some of its ex-candidates in the cadreship selection process (besides other issues) even before Mohd Fazli Bin Talip’s resignation in February 2012 (who also had resigned citing dissatisfaction with the cadreship selection process) and again in the leadup to my resignation from the Party in May 2012. Here is part of the email that I had sent to Ms Sylvia Lim on March 13, 2012:
“I believe there are currently 4 ex-candidates who have not been given cadreship (myself, Soma, Angela and Watson). There are perhaps compelling reasons in not offering these ex-candidates cadreship and I would like to know specifically why myself and Soma have not been offered. I understand that I may be considered new to the party even though I have been a WP member since 2006 (having just started contributing shortly before the 2011 elections) but I believe there are other such new candidates like eg. Hong Boon who is nevertheless a cadre member. When comparing Soma with Hong Boon, why is Soma, a longtime helper in Aljunied (since after 2006 elections) not offered cadreship and whereas Hong Boon who joined the party just months before election got to be a cadre member immediately after the last election?”.
As Ms Sylvia Lim and the other WP MPs were questioning the PAP government on unfairness, accountability and transparency issues in Parliament, they failed to show the same for some of their own members who had stood alongside them in the same GE2011 platform which eventually led the “A-team” to victory. Besides that, I did not get any satisfactory answers from Ms Sylvia Lim about the unfairness and unequal treatment which I was questioning her about when I met up with her privately on 4 April 2012 to discuss the matter.
At our meeting, she seemed to be at a loss of words and flip flopped in trying to be “understanding” about my concerns and in giving me non-answers. I expected her to tell me that she valued all of our contributions and that we, the ex-candidates, also mattered. When I asked her specifically about Mr Soma’s case, she had replied that Mr Soma did not help out or participate in any Hammer sales to be considered for cadreship. Then, I wondered why wasn’t I considered for cadreship since I quite easily meet this criteria she mentioned of participating in the Hammer sales? Besides, there were others who were new members and who had participated at Hammer sales and had been made cadres. I was also a regular helper at her weekly Serangoon Division MPS sessions and also helped organise her other Aljunied division events. But her response surprised me — “Indians tend to leave after getting cadreship”.
It was a silly thing to say and I wish she had not said it (the public and media picked up on the racial element, of course). As for me, upon reflection, I realised that it was essentially an admission of a truth about the sorry state of affairs about the low participation of minorities within the Party. Anyone just needs to look at the whereabouts of the past WP GE minority Indian candidates and at the general lack of active participation of minorities within the WP to ascertain this reality.
Yet, coming from the Chairman, I didn’t quite expect something like this to be left hanging in the air for so long. I expected words of assurance and affirmative action from Ms Sylvia Lim, which unfortunately, did not come even in the days and weeks following our meeting. I wondered why the Party would not take actions to examine itself to see if it contributed to the low level of minority participation. Slightly more than a month later, I realised that things were not going to change or improve and it was very clear to me that I was only being made use of when the Party needed me. I was not comfortable to be part of a Party that does not set transparent guidelines, standards and criteria for judging members’ worth and contributions. It was unacceptable to me on account of fairness that they could judge a member to be worthy of being a candidate of a national event, the General Elections, yet judge him or her to be unworthy of being nominated for internal Party cadreship. I then decided to take a stand and resign from the Party over my dissatisfaction with the Party’s non-transparent and unfair cadreship selection process on Mothers’ Day.
As for Mr Soma and Mr Watson Chong, they each very well know why they weren’t given cadreship by the Party after election. Mr Soma has now seen how things suddenly changed for him after I brought up the unfair cadreship issue of WP to light publicly. Perhaps eager to take the heat off of the Party about its alleged unfair dealings with minorities (an angle which some people were pursuing) and to increase its minority cadreship headcount, Ms Sylvia Lim had travelled all the way to Mr Soma’s workplace to break the good news to him (after Hougang by-election) about her plans to nominate him for cadreship. It was a very surprising development, considering the cold treatment Mr Soma had been receiving from the Party leaders for having earlier questioned Ms Sylvia Lim on the change of his candidacy from Aljuned GRC to Moulmein Kallang GRC in GE2011.
Apparently, questioning the leaders is very much frowned upon in the WP and when pressed for real answers for uncomfortable questions, the modus operandi is to say “no comment”. To date, WP leaders (Low Thia Kiang and Sylvia Lim) have been unable to answer my queries publicly and in correspondences that I have sent to them. They may find the following questions hard to answer too:
- If a minority member is deemed to be unworthy of receiving cadreship because he or she tends to leave the Party, does that mean that no matter what he or she does to support and help the Party, all these efforts will never be good enough for him or her to become a cadre or a CEC member? Or unless he or she becomes a MP to be opted in?
- What does a minority member need to do besides the guaranteed way of winning a general election like Pritam Singh and Faisal Manap in order to be nominated to be a cadre or a CEC member? What have been and are the KPIs for cadreship and are these subject to change or interpretation?
- Following my resignation, new minority members of the Party had been fast tracked to cadreship status. Is the Party able to account why these new members are more deserving of cadreship over the older contributing members who had been denied cadreship? Are the new minority members being given cadreship to boost minority headcounts to make the Party books look good after I exposed the real issues happening in the Party?
- With the very obvious imbalance in minority Indian representation in the CEC member panel (with just Pritam Singh), will people like Mr Soma ever be considered or nominated for the CEC member position to represent the minority Indian members/community at large?
There have been other more talked about examples of real betrayal and unfairness within the Party which I encountered during my time with WP. One of which involved the WP veteran, Mr Eric Tan, the former WP Treasurer and heavyweight team leader of East Coast GRC team. Mr Eric Tan had resigned from WP immediately after the 2011 General Elections, over the NCMP seat in Parliament, which was given to Mr Gerald Giam. In the leadup to GE2011, the Secretary General, Mr Low Thia Kiang, had in fact agreed to support Mr Eric Tan for the NCMP seat should the Party be offered an NCMP seat by the government. However, after election, Mr Low changed his tune and a “secret ballot” was introduced to decide on who would get the NCMP seat.
I personally felt that it was an unfair treatment towards Mr Eric Tan for the Party to call for a “secret ballot” system to select the NCMP from the best losing East Coast GRC team (consisting of 5 members) rather than to appoint him, the team leader, to the NCMP seat. Mr Eric Tan was the most senior and experienced member in that team, with a successful background and track record of being the top 100 bankers in Singapore and furthermore the Party had enough faith in him to appoint him to be the leader of a GRC team in national elections. Mr Eric Tan is also to be credited for reeling in MP Chen Show Mao and NCMP Yee Jenn Jong into WP as candidates for the GE2011. More importantly, he was one of the 5 brains (besides Low TK, Sylvia Lim, Jane Leong and Ng Swee Bee), a key person in the WP election committee to deliberate on the 2011 General Election strategy and who approved the selection of the candidates based on WP’s so called “3C2P” (credibility, capability, character, passion and public spiritedness) for each constituency in the elections. Under his leadership, his team pulled in the second highest GRC votes for WP.
I understand and do appreciate the notion that all members in the team played their respective roles and contributed to the final result but it is not unreasonable to first and foremost recognise and credit the leader of a team for a job well done. This happens in the real world all the time. So, unless, if Mr Eric Tan had rejected the NCMP offer, only then it would have been fair to conduct a ballot to decide from the remaining 4 team members on who would get the NCMP seat (and not just the 3 selected members for the secret ballot; and how were they selected anyway?). If a good team leader like Mr Eric Tan, can be brushed aside and sidelined by the “secret ballot” system or in the name of WP’s new “renewal process” (which, ironically, we did not see come into play in the Hougang by-election candidate selection), it is quite clearly telling about how the Party values individuals and how the system/goal posts can change at different times and in the process sideline members who had stepped up and helped the Party to become a credible and strong opposition Party after GE2011. A valid question would be — Is the “renewal process” being used as a tool or excuse to perhaps get rid of older experienced and perhaps more outspoken members with a vision from the Party? If so, it is a shame if talented and capable members are being unfairly denied the opportunity to contribute further because others in the Party may be uncomfortable that these capable members may perhaps one day outshine them.
Another WP veteran, Dr Poh Lee Guan’s case, intrigued me. Many have accused him of intentionally planning to sabotage WP during the Hougang by-election (days after my resignation from the Party). I however have my doubts. Why would someone like Dr Poh (who had sacrificed his well paying job and high profile career, like Mr Eric Tan, in the private sector) for WP back in those days where there was a lot of risks involved in opposition politics here, do so? He has stood for three consecutive elections (2 SMC & 1 GRC wards) under the WP banner, spent more than a decade of his life serving and funding WP from his retrenchment money, and had served in key roles in WP as Hougang SMC Town Councillor and Asst Secretary General of WP. It seems incredible that he would want to sabotage the very Party which he helped to bring up to where it is now. At best, his good intentions of being a spare tyre for the Hougang by election as a backup candidate were misconstrued as attempts to willfully bring down or embarrass the Party.
Dr Poh had of course failed to inform WP leaders of his plans but why just blame Dr Poh for using his intelligence and street smarts to put himself up as a backup plan (the PAP apparently had backup candidates and the WP didn’t)? Why didn’t any of the two WP leaders or any CEC members try to call or message him to find out what or why he was doing so? I had heard that there had been some friction between Dr Poh and the party leaders from even before GE2011, which some members were aware of, and perhaps this may have contributed to the complete breakdown of communication between the Party and Dr Poh during this critical time.
I had come to know about the friction during the campaigning period of GE2011 as his fellow Nee Soon GRC team member. Back then, I was concerned that the problems may affect our Nee Soon GRC campaigning and I had written an email to the two WP leaders and former MP Yaw Shin Leong on the rumours and accusations that had been made up against Dr Poh by some loyal Party members during the election time. Subsequently, I had responded to Mr Yaw’s follow up queries to find out more about this matter (the two WP leaders had been silent). For a veteran member and for someone who had contributed substantially to the Party all these years, I felt that Dr Poh had more than enough mitigating factors that should have been taken into consideration when deciding on his future with the Party. The decision to expel him at once was overly harsh. A stern warning for his actions or a demotion to regular membership status could have sufficed.
fter my resignation, I had been called all kinds of names like sourgrapes, traitor, etc. by total strangers who do not even know about the internal politics/workings/circumstances/issues within the WP which caused me and other members before me like Mr Eric Tan, Mr Mohd Fazli, and others to resign. And when people like us resign from the Party over betrayal, unfairness or even stand up for our rights, we suddenly become or are made to look like the trouble makers to the public and in WP supporters’ eyes. It is indeed very easy (but not very clever) for outsiders to pass judgment on such matters and I took it in my stride as I know that I need not dignify the comments, opinions, speculations or assumptions of people who had absolutely no clue or idea about what they are talking about (unless they are some ex-WP member/s or more).
At the crux of the matter was the issue of fairness. All ex-members of the opposition parties are humans, after all, and it is not unreasonable to expect transparency and fairness from your peers and colleagues in the Party, a party which I and many others before me believed in. There has never been a need for me to make any allegations or accusations against anyone in the Party leadership position for no valid reason or without any proof which I can show to prove that my claims are indeed genuine.
n fact, I could have just ignored (like some others) or turn a blind eye to all the injustice, unfairness, etc. shown to the members who had helped the Party to succeed or just hang around for another opportunity to be a candidate at the next GE (just for the publicity and limelight). Or I could have waited for Ms Sylvia Lim’s so-called “secret plans” which she had told me she had for me to materialise, something which I feel was offered to silence me from asking the Party leaders too many questions about the unfairness issues involving the other members in the Party.
In the months following my resignation, there have been some sudden noteworthy and interesting developments within the WP. For some reason, there’s an increased visibility by Party members at multiracial events and an increased propensity to be photographed with members of the minority community. This can be clearly seen by comparing the photos taken at WP events, both before and after the Hougang by-election.
In June 2012, a couple of members from the Party’s Youth Wing posted on their Facebook rather surprising and embarrassing confessions/admissions that they were attending Indian and Malay weddings/functions for the first time in their lives with other Party members. This is really sad and it shows how isolated and far back the Party’s future generation appears to be after a year of winning a GRC. I certainly hope that other youth members in the Party have not been living under a rock like these people appear to have in their 30-odd years of existence in this very multiracial country. It is indeed surprising and worrying that the strongest opposition party/brand in Singapore has within its folds members who actually lack meaningful interaction with people from other communities and faiths.
Recently, in response to press queries about the poor attendance of minorities at a WP dialogue-cum-tea session to try to engage the minorities, Ms Sylvia Lim was quoted as saying that the numbers of minorities participating in WP is quite strangely very “subjective” (whatever that means). I was not surprised about the poor attendance by the minorities as I had been informed by some active Indian minority members in the Party that they had not even been invited to the event. Ironically, my wife who had also resigned at the time of my resignation from the WP had been invited! Maybe other non-members or ex-members had been invited too. So, perhaps what Ms Sylvia Lim meant by her “subjective” comment is that one can be considered to be a member if the Party needs his/her opinion or help at a given time but at other times is not considered a member if the Party doesn’t need this person’s opinion or help. This probably explains why not all minority members were invited to the event, perhaps only those that will provide agreeable views were selected to be invited. This selective and dispensable view of a person’s membership and status within the Party probably also explains why and how ex-members like myself, Dr Poh, Mr Mohamed Fazli, Mr Eric Tan and many others who quietly resigned before us (which the public does not know about) had found themselves in situations of unfairness in the Party. I certainly hope that Singaporeans will not become dispensable digits like these ex-members should WP form the government one day.
Nevertheless, with all these sudden developments in the one year after my resignation, I feel vindicated that my past efforts in writing many emails, giving feedback and suggestions and posing straightforward questions to the WP leaders about issues (mainly to Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Low Thia Khiang and the former MP, Mr Yaw Shin Leong), were not exactly wasted. Some change appears to be happening but unfortunately, the timing so soon after my resignation does make me wonder if the change from within the Party is genuine and if it will be sustained for the betterment of the Party’s road ahead before the next GE2016.
I believe that the media scrutiny following my resignation spurred the Party to fast track the cadreship of those certain ex-candidates (which I had been asking about before my resignation) and of some Party members belonging to the minority community. If so, these new inductees need not feel smug about the “recognition” that the Party has now suddenly accorded them with cadreship. It’s also nice to see some new “wannabe candidates” and members instantly benefitting from my resignation and from my speaking out about my experiences with the Party.
I believe that my experience and insights about the Party will serve as a cautionary tale for others on what they may encounter in the future. A mark of a great leader is the ability to empathize and put himself or herself in the shoes of others before making any moves or decisions that will affect others. It does not bode well for the country to elect any leaders that may tolerate or turn a blind eye to injustice and unfairness issues involving its own members. Just imagine the consequences if such behaviour is replicated on a national basis to affect Singaporeans’ lives. Hope that this will also make all Singaporeans think about the importance of choosing wisely the people who are truly voicing the voters’ concerns and on the real issues to improve our lives and our future (other than a strong party brand).