Translated by Donaldson Tan
This is a non-verbatim translation of Xin Ming report 《新明日报专访刘程强 看尽反对党起落，知道问题所在 》 dated 9 April 2011.
(2011-04-09) ● 叶伟强 报道
LTK: I know what’s wrong with Opposition
Low Thia Khiang (LTK) was promoted from Assistant Secretary General to Secretary General of the Workers’ Party (WP) on 27 May 2001. He has held this position for the last 10 years. According to him, the Workers’ Party has undergone 3 major reforms under his leadership.
WP has undergone 3 major reforms
Xin Ming: What are your 3 most important achievements as Secretary General of the Workers’ Party?
LTK: The most important achievement is re-structuring of the party leadership to facilitate the cooperation and coordination between central leadership and middle-tier leadership, between central leadership and every party member. The second achievement is maintaining party discipline. The third achievement is the gradual renewal across middle-tier and central leadership structures. The Workers’ Party has undergone major transformations over the years.
Xin Ming: On party discipline, unlike the other opposition parties, we observe that there is very little contact between WP members (including the Chairman) and journalists. We understand that they are forbidded to speak to outsiders on party matters. Why do you control the party so tight?
LTK: I don’t control. Do you think it is possible for me to control? I have been in politics for 30 years. Having seen the rise and fall of many opposition political parties. I know where the crux of the problem is. I know how I should manage the WP in order to minimise the electorate’s disappointment.
Rule No. 1 of joining a political party is that as a member of the organisation, you are no longer an individual. You have to maintain a united front in terms of conduct and speech. If you are an independent candidate, you are free to do whatever you want as it is your own business. However, a team has its own way of doing things and as a team player, you must be prepared to do things together.
On eligibility of membership, we seek out to find people who can understand the strategic picture of our political environment, have team spirit and understand the organisational need of the Workers’ Party. I don’t control members, but members must be able to understand what we as the Workers’ Party are trying to achieve.
LTK: Key reason for 1991 GE Victory is my refusal to accept media interview.
Xin Ming: Why are you unfriendly to the Media?
LTK: Yes, I often reject approaches by journalists. It is difficult for both me and you. After the results of the 1991 General Election was announced, many reporters approached me asking why I won the General Election. I told them it was because there was no opportunity for smear campaign as there was no media interview about me. At that time, I felt reporting in the media was unfair.
Media bias-ness is one key reason why I am in politics. When the PAP government first announced its plan to shut down Nanyang University, we wrote in a lot of letters to the media about it, but none of the letters were published. How do one not feel sceptical about the Media after that experience?
There were also times that I accepted media requests for interviews. However, it remains the journalist’s perrogative on where my answers would appear in the news report. I am no fool. However, times have changed. Even if you don’t report, the news will still spread online.
Meeting people face to face is more authentic
Xin Ming: What kind of politician are you?
LTK: I don’t know. If I feel something must be done, I will execute it.
Xin Ming: Sylvia Lim’s command of the Chinese language has improved considerably over the last 5 years. She credited this to taking Chinese language classes. In the last few weeks, we observed on television that you answered fluently in English to questions fielded by journalists. Have you been taking English classes too?
LTK: No, I didn’t take any English class. However, I cannot avoid speaking English. Nowadays, young people speak English while Chinese-educated people are increasingly rare. My command of the English language is not superb, but party members have been very understanding towards me. English and Chinese thought are structured differently, so it is difficult for me to code-switch. There were also times I aborted interviews half-way because of this.
Xin Ming: Many WP candidates are English-educated…
LTK: We have no choice. Where have the Chinese-educated Singaporeans gone to?
Xin Ming: How long more would you be in politics?
LTK: I don’t know. I don’t even know how long more I would live. My family medical history is not fantastic. My parents passed away at a young age, so I do not give any thought on this.
Xin Ming: You are hardly active on your Facebook account. Do you monitor online political sentiment?
LTK: My facebook account is updated by someone else. I am not accustomed to online interaction. I am more traditional. I prefer face to face interaction. Social networking is more suitable for use between friends.
On student who asked PM Lee whether Houngang constituents pay less tax, LTK praised him for having the Hougang spirt.
Xin Ming: During the recent Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum, a student who lives in Hougang asked the Prime Minister if Hougang constituents should pay less tax or serve lesser time for their National Service considering that Hougang is penalised for electing a non-PAP Member of Parliament. What is your take on his question.
LTK: This student is courageous and has the Spirit of Hougang. His question is a good one, but I can understand the Prime Minister’s answer. Estate upgrading cannot be carried out in one sweep across the country. We are not privy to the formulation process and execution phases of estate upgrading by the HDB. However, if the decision is based on political support for the ruling party, then there is room for discussion.
During the last General Election, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said he intends to push forward a multi-million dollar upgrading program. So what? Such policies are divisive. No wonder the student said “Am I a Singaporean?” This is supposed to be a right, but it has become perceived as a penalty for Singaporeans.
Xin Ming: Young voters may aspire for more amenities and improvement in residential environment…
LTK: We are still capable of managing the estate. Just as what the Prime Minister had said, the basic amenties and infrastructure are there, but we still have to queue for our turn. For the past 20 years, Hougang did not degenerate into a slum. I often tell residents that that it is a question of time. If they wait long enough, they will get it.