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Inauguration of the Workers’ Party 3rd Nov 1957

On 23 June 1957, Singapore’s then Chief Minister David Marshall mooted the idea of forming a “political party whose membership is exclusively trade unionists” to protect the welfare and rights of workers in Singapore.[1] A draft constitution of the proposed party, to be called the Workers’ Party (WP), was sent a month later to more than 200 registered trade unions in Singapore.[2] According to a statement by the Army Civil Service Union, whose then president, N. S. N. Nair, had been nominated as convenor for the new party, the WP “will work for the elimination of man’s exploitation of man, for the recognition in practice of the basic equality of all human beings and for equal opportunities for the individual for full and free development within the framework of respect for the rights of all”.[3]

The WP was inaugurated on 3 November 1957 at the Hokkien Association Hall on Telok Ayer Street, with the founding principles of merdeka (“independence”), parliamentary democracy and socialism.[4] Marshall was subsequently elected to head the newly formed party as its chairman.[5]

The first election contested by the WP is the 1957 City Council Election held on 21 December 1957, in which the young party surprised everyone by winning four out of the five seats it contested.[6] However, the party suffered a major blow when its vice-chairman and city councillor for Kallang, Chang Yuen Tong, abruptly resigned from the party in May 1958 supposedly over differences of opinion with his party colleagues, sparking off a series of mass resignations.[7] The party lost badly in the subsequent Kallang by-election, with its candidate obtaining only 3.4 percent of valid votes from the four-cornered fight. The seat went to the candidate from the People’s Action Party (PAP).[8]

In the 1959 Legislative Assembly general election, the WP lost in all three of the seats it contested.[9] Marshall, who contested in Cairnhill, lost  by 2,355 votes to  incumbent Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock of the Singapore People’s Alliance.[10] Marshall returned to the Legislative Assembly two years later when he won the 1961 Anson by-election.[11] He remained as the WP assemblyman for Anson until January 1963 when he resigned from the party due to opinion clashes with his party comrades over the issue of Singapore’s merger with the Federation of Malaya.[12]

The WP was then led by Chiang Seok Keong from 1964 to 1970.[13] In 1971, the party was given a new lease of life with the election of Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam as the party’s secretary-general.[14] A decade later, he became the first person since 1963 to beat the PAP at the polls when he won the 1981 Anson by-election.[15]

Jeyaretnam was re-elected member of parliament for Anson in the 1984 general election.[16] However, he lost his parliamentary seat two years later in November 1986 when he was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment and a fine of S$5,000 by the High Court for falsifying party accounts.[17] In the same 1984 election, M. P. D. Nair obtained the highest proportion of opposition votes in the Jalan Kayu constituency, and was offered the non-constituency member of parliament (NCMP) seat; however, he did not take up the offer.[18]

In 1988, the Singapore United Front and the Barisan Sosialis merged with the WP in light of the introduction of the group representation constituencies (GRCs) whereby members are voted into parliament as a team and at least one member has to belong to a minority racial group.[19] Although the party did not win any seats in the 1988 general election, its candidates for Eunos GRC won the highest percentage of opposition votes.[20] As a result, Lee Siew Choh and Francis Seow were offered the NCMP seat.[21] Seow ceased to be an NCMP from 17 December 1988 onwards in view of his tax-evasion convictions for which he was fined S$19,000, while Lee held the NCMP post until 1991.[22]

In the 1991 general election, Low Thia Khiang won the seat for the Hougang single-member constituency (SMC).[23] He managed to retain the Hougang seat in the 1997, 2001 and 2006 general elections.[24]

In 1997, Jeyaretnam became an NCMP after he led the party’s Cheng San GRC team to emerge as the top opposition loser in the general election held that year.[25] In 2001, he lost his NCMP seat following his failure to win an appeal against the order of bankruptcy that had been made against him.[26]

In May 2001, Low replaced Jeyaretnam as WP’s secretary-general, who subsequently resigned from the party due to a “falling out with the party’s leadership”.[27] Two years later, the party’s central executive committee elected Sylvia Lim as its chairman.[28] In 2006, Lim became an NCMP after she led the party’s Aljunied GRC team to garner the highest number of opposition votes in the general election.[29]

In the 2011 general election, Low left the Hougang constituency to join Lim in leading the Aljunied GRC team.[30] His bold move was rewarded with the opposition’s first-ever capture of a GRC.[31] The party also retained the Hougang seat through its candidate Yaw Shin Leong.[32] Furthermore, the party’s candidate for the Joo Chiat SMC, Yee Jenn Jong, and a member of its East Coast GRC team, Gerald Giam, were named as NCMPs.[33]

In February 2012, the party lost the Hougang seat after Yaw was expelled from the party over allegations of infidelity.[34] However, the party managed to recapture the constituency in the by-election held on 26 May when its candidate Png Eng Huat beat his PAP rival.[35] In January 2013, Lee Li Lian contested and won the Punggol East by-election, which was called after the PAP member of parliament for the SMC stepped down as a result of his extramarital affair.[36]

References
1. Marshall: A party for union men only. (1957, June 24). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. New party for workers only. (1957, July 28). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. The Straits Times, 28 July 1957, p. 5.
4. Workers’ Party (Singapore). (2007). The Workers’ Party: 50th anniversary commemorative book, 1957–2007 (pp. 20–21). Singapore: The Workers’ Party. Call no.: SING 324.25957 WOR; Birth of new party. (1957, November 2). The Singapore Free Press, p. 2; Marshall is back in politics. (1957, November 4). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Former chief minister now heads new Colony Workers’ Party. (1957, November 5). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Workers’ Party, 2007, p. 21; 500,000 vote today. (1957, December 21). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Workers’ Party, 2007, p. 21; Council man quits his party. (1958, May 28). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Workers’ Party (Singapore). (1997). Power to the people: 40th anniversary of the Workers’ Party (p. 3). Singapore: Workers’ Party. Call no.: SING q324.25957 WOR; Victory for PAP. (1958, July 27). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Workers’ Party, 1997, p. 3; People’s Action Party to contest all the 51 seats...two constituencies have 7 candidates (Part 1). (1959, April 26). The Straits Times, p. 11; People’s Action Party to contest all the 51 seats...two constituencies have 7 candidates (Part 2). (1959, April 26). The Straits Times, p. 11; Merdeka – then leaders are chaired in the streets. (1959, May 31). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Workers’ Party, 1997, p. 3; Lim opposes Marshall in Cairnhill: Lee in Tanjong Pagar. (1959, April 26). The Straits Times, p. 1; The results: All you want to know. (1959, May 31). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Workers’ Party, 2007, p. 21; Sam, J., & Ee, B. L. (1961, July 16). Marshall back in assembly. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Workers’ Party, 2007, p. 22; Soh, T. K. (1963, January 18). Marshall quits as Workers’ Party chairman. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Workers’ Party, 1997, p. 5.
14. Workers’ Party, 1997, p. 6; Workers’ Party, 2007, p. 23.
15. Fong, L., et al. (1981, November 1). Jeyaretnam takes Anson. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. PAP wins all but two. (1984, December 23). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Workers’ Party, 1997, p. 12; Jeya’s disqualification came into effect on Nov 10. (1986, December 10). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Non-elected MP: Offer lapses. (1985, March 5). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Two opposition parties to merge. (1988, January 11). The Straits Times, p. 13; Cheng, S. T. (1988, May 8). Barisan to go under the hammer. The Straits Times, p. 20; 13 GRCs for next general election. (1988, June 15). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Workers’ Party, 1997, p. 15; Fong, L. (1988, September 4). PAP landslide. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. It’s back to parliament for Siew Choh after 25 years. (1989, January 8). The Straits Times, p. 10; Francis Seow and Siew Choh made non-constituency MPs. (1988, September 18). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Seow no longer non-constituency MP. (1989, January 10). The Business Times, p. 3; Other NCMPS. (2001, November 11). The New Paper, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Fong, L. (1991, September 1). PAP wins all but 4; share of votes dips to 61%. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Workers’ Party, 2007, pp. 100–106.
25. JBJ in parliament. (1997, January 15). The New Paper, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. JBJ loses his NCMP seat. (2001, July 26). The Business Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Workers’ Party, 2007, p. 31; Kan, F. (2001, October 24). JBJ quits WP. Today, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Ahmad Osman. (2003, June 2). Now more youthful, WP gets first woman chairman. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. WP picks Sylvia Lim as next NCMP. (2006, May 10). The New Paper, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Kor, K. B. (2011, April 28). Battle royale. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
31. Zuraidah Ibrahim. (2011, May 8). 81-6. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
32. Chan, F. (2011, May 8). Hougang SMC; WP retains ward with strong win. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
33. Opposition trio named as NCMPs. (2011, May 17). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
34. One, A. (2012, February 16). Workers’ Party expels Yaw. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
35. Lim, L. (2012, May 27). Hougang by-election; WP wins 62.1%. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
36. Au Yong, J. (2013, January 27). Punggol East by-election; WP sweeps Punggol East with 54.5%. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.

 

The information in this article is valid as at 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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