WP60 – Winning Hougang (1990 – 1997)

Winning Hougang (1990 – 1997)

Source: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

Despite initial successes in the 80s, the Workers’ Party had little presence in Parliament as J.B. Jeyaretnam was removed from Parliament in 1986 following a jail sentence. From 1988 to 1991, Lee Siew Choh was the only representative from the Workers’ Party in Parliament as a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament. However, the tides soon turned when Organising Secretary, Low Thia Khiang, was elected in Hougang in 1991 amidst a nationwide swing against the People’s Action Party. This was a new beginning for The Workers’ Party as they focused heavily on building a strong foundation and grassroots in Hougang.

29 March 1990:
Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP)

The government introduced the NMP scheme, which allows for non-partisan, non-contesting individuals to be Members of Parliament. These individuals would need to be distinguished professionals of their field. Their participation was aimed at increasing opportunities for political participation, and to nurture a more consensual style of governance where alternative and constructive dissenting opinions are included in national discourse.

31 August 1991:
General Election

Source: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

JBJ was not allowed to contest in the 1991 GE due to a parliamentary ban owing to his numerous lawsuits from PAP members. Low Thia Khiang overcame the odds to be elected as Member of Parliament for the constituency of Hougang. Low, at that point WP Organising Secretary, defeated PAP’s Tan Guan Seng with 52.8% of the votes and won the seat of Hougang. WP also came extremely close in Eunos GRC yet again, as well as Changi SMC. It helps to reverse the tide of waning morale in WP’s ranks.

September 1991:
Setting up new Hougang Town Council office and recruiting managing agent

Soon after becoming the MP for Hougang, Low was served a notice from HDB to move Hougang Town Council out of the office at Blk 810 Hougang Central. The Managing Agent for the Town Council, which was previously part of HDB before privatisation, terminated its contract. These actions mean the newly-elected MP has no one to manage the estate and no office to operate from.

Low rose to the challenge to build the office in line with his role as developer, and in 45 days, legally handed over the premises at Blk 701 Hougang Ave 2 to the HDB, as owner, and with the HDB then renting it to Hougang Town Council as its new office.

Formation of Hougang Constituency Committee (HGCC)

Hougang Constituency Committee (HGCC) was formed to improve the welfare of residents and forge a bond amongst the community by organising annual festive functions and get-together trips such as one-day temple tours where residents can mingle freely with their MP and also give feedback to him.

August 1992:
Formation of Hougang Constituency Education Trust (HCET)

Hougang Constituency Education Trust (HCET) – a culmination of goodwill efforts by charitable residents who wished to do more for the less privileged in Hougang. HCET has been giving out bursaries yearly to children from needy families and funds have been raised from the generous donations of sponsors who would bid for HCET’s specially-made plaques during the lunar seven-month dinners.

October 1992:
Government’s Cost Review Committee

Low was appointed by the government to the Cost Review Committee, which was set up in response to the outcry over increases in the cost of living at the 1991 GE.

By being on board this Cost Review Committee, which was convened in October 1992 and lasted about a year, Low could put forward WP’s views on the rising costs of housing, education, healthcare and transportation in the aftermath of the government’s privatisation of public services and this culminated in an independent report which WP wrote and published alongside the main committee’s report.

19 December 1992:
By-election in Marine Parade GRC

The by-election was called after the resignation of all four MPs of the GRC from their seats, including then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. The election was expected to mark the return of JBJ to electoral politics. However, WP ended up not being able to contest as one of its candidates turned up late on nomination day, preventing the party from registering for the election.

3 April 1993:
Public rally to seek public opinion

A new style of positive engagement was adopted by WP at a public rally held on 3rd April 1993 to debate the highly controversial Bill on Goods and Services Tax (GST).

January 1996:
Defamation suit and Hammer hiatus

WP found itself the object of defamation suits filed by PAP Indian MPs and a Minister, and members of the Organising Committee of the Tamil Language Week, due to an article written in Tamil and published in The Hammer concerning their efforts in promoting the Tamil language.

WP engaged in two protracted legal battles, lost one suit and had a judgment entered against it in the other suit. The total costs and damages amounted to more than half a million dollars. As a result of the lawsuits, Hammer, the mouthpiece of WP, ceased publication.

2 January 1997:
General Election

Source: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

Low retained his seat as MP for Hougang by increasing his vote share to from 52.8% to 58%. The party also polled strongly in Cheng San GRC, with JBJ as one of the candidates, and garnered a commendable 45.2% vote share. This returned JBJ to parliament as a NCMP since WP was the best performing opposition party during the election.