2 April 2011 Interview: Written Questions and Answers for the Straits Times
When and why did he join the WP? Did he join on his own or was he introduced to the WP? What were the key factors he considered before joining?
I joined the Workers’ Party on my own volition in May 2010. For the immediate term, I strongly feel Parliament must be represented by committed and responsible opposition parliamentarians in order to check the ruling party. Of all the opposition parties, I joined the Workers’ Party because it mirrored my own political beliefs and values. In addition, the level-headedness and leadership qualities exhibited by senior leaders of the party was a decisive factor in my decision to join the Workers’ Party.
How has he been involved in the party since then? How would he describe his political experiences or involvement so far?
I began participating in party level house-visits one week after I joined the party. A week later, I was selling the party newsletter, Hammer, on Sundays at markets and food courts. A large part of my party level activities in 2010 revolved around these two activities. I was elected to the Workers’ Party Youth Wing as an executive committee member in August 2010.
“Eye-opening” and enriching would be the best words to describe my political experience so far. Knocking on doors and meeting Singaporeans from all walks of life who share personal, community and municipal level concerns has been both satisfying and fulfilling. In particular, the encouragement Workers’ Party members like myself receive from some residents, encouraging us to keep up with our work in spite of the party’s resource and manpower constraints are an incredible source of motivation.
What are his reasons for standing as a candidate? How easy or difficult was the decision? Who did he consult, if any?
I put myself up as a candidate for the party’s consideration because I want to devote some part of my life to public service. Actually, the decision to join the opposition cause was a harder one to make than the decision to offer myself as a candidate to the party! Even so, the support of many of my colleagues in the party, the confidence I have in their abilities and their motivation to serve Singaporeans made the decision to stand a little less onerous than I expected it to be.
I did not consult anyone, although I did inform my family members and select close friends of my decision. It did not come as a surprise to me that my family and friends did not object, as they felt I had thought the decision through.
What are some issues or government policies that resonate most to him, and why? What would he do differently?
Generally, the key issues and government policies of concern include the rising the cost of living, income gap between the rich and poor, HDB prices and the fabric of Singapore society and its values in light of the large number of foreigners in our midst. More specifically, the educational performance of minority students at all levels is something that I worry about because of its effect on our multi-racial bonds as a nation. The poor representation of minority students awarded PSC scholarships from 2002 is a cause for concern as it suggests that minority students are not excelling at local schools.
On what I would do differently, the common thread that runs through many government policies is the relative lack of empirical data, evidence and statistical information available for public scrutiny when government policies are introduced, reviewed or modified. This lack of information makes it difficult to understand the purpose and objective of certain government policies and separately, and on what basis policy-makers come to their decisions. Critically, it also becomes difficult to measure the success or failure of government policies because of the lack of information. This could be one reason explaining the political apathy amongst some Singaporeans. It is hard for individual Singaporeans to take ownership of national problems and policies when one is not endowed with the knowledge necessary to make a positive contribution to the national discourse, or even to offer constructive criticism.
In view of this, I will endeavour to raise the standards of public accountability expected of all elected officials and seek to persuade the ruling party to become more accountable to Singaporeans.
What are his views on the group representation constituency (GRC) system?
The GRC system should be abolished. The case against it is well known – that individuals of doubtful political quality can make their way into parliament by riding on the coat tails of a stronger candidate or Minister.
For the purposes of this interview, I want to focus on the contention that the GRC system ensures the representation of minority candidates in parliament. The problem with this argument is that “weak” minority candidates can ostensibly make their way into parliament without really having the pulse of their communities and seriously working to address the unique problems these very communities face. Singapore’s political history has evinced minority candidates holding their own in single seats, with J.B. Jeyaretnam’s historic Anson victory in 1981 and 1984 a case in point. An even larger number of minority PAP candidates have done the same in the past. These are clear instances of minority candidates defeating Chinese candidates on merit and without any tinkering of the electoral system. Secondarily, there are other ways of ensuring strong minority candidates are elected into parliament, for e.g. if evidence emerges of a need, then a designated number of constituencies can be earmarked for contest by minority candidates.
What feedback or response has he received about his potential candidacy? Are there anyone in his family or circle of friends who were politically involved especially with the WP? Has he been approached or involved with the PAP?
All my friends have been largely encouraging, although confirmation of my candidacy remains in party hands. None of my immediate circle of friends are politically involved with the WP, although I am aware of some friends who have been courted by the PAP. A well-connected acquaintance once suggested to me that if I ever wanted to consider going for a PAP “tea session”, to get in touch with him. I declined the offer, stating I was not interested in joining the PAP.
Can he tell us some interesting things about himself? Like his hobbies, biggest achievement so far, biggest unfulfilled dream, CCA involvement in schools etc?
Having spent a significant part of my childhood in a HDB flat, and having gone to neighbourhood schools my whole life, I am not too different from ordinary born-and-bred Singaporeans who have completed national service and continue to fulfil their national service responsibilities as NSmen. I used to enjoy a good game of soccer, although exercise these days is limited to a casual jog three times a week as far as possible, and the occasional session in the gym. Current affairs and history remain life-long intellectual passions, although law has recently begun to inspire me in profound ways. My movies of choice are likely to be comedies or thrillers.
My biggest achievement was founding the commentary syndication service, OpinionAsia (www.opinionasia.com) that provides a platform for writers on both sides of the political spectrum to comment on Asian issues. OpinionAsia’s syndicated pieces have appeared in regional newspapers like the South China Morning Post, Japan Times, Al-Eqtisadiah, Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter and Gulf News amongst others.
My biggest unfulfilled dream is to become a lawyer. I enrolled into the Singapore Management University’s Juris Doctor program in 2009 and am due to complete my substantive course requirements in the next few weeks, before being called to the Bar at the end of this year. I am certainly looking forward to make this dream a reality.
We also need his biodata as outlined below.
Name: Pritam Singh
Occupation: Founder, OpinionAsia.com
Marital status: Single
Highest educational qualification: B.A. (NUS), M.A. (King’s College London), Diploma in Islamic Studies (IIU)
Languages spoken: English, Punjabi, Malay (basic)
Likely to be fielded in: pending confirmation
Weblink to ST article: http://www.straitstimes.com/GeneralElection/News/Story/STIStory_652209.html
THE Workers’ Party (WP) has a potential new candidate in postgraduate law student Pritam Singh and he is keen to champion what he describes as more rigorous law-making in Singapore.
In an interview with The Straits Times during which he revealed that he is likely to contest the elections, he said that while Singapore’s executive and judiciary are First World, its legislature is lagging behind: ‘We have a very good and trustworthy judicial system… and there’s confidence in that pillar of Government.
‘We need institutions that reflect the demands of Singaporeans. Let’s move towards a First World Parliament.’
For a start, he said, there ought to be more information for the public to scrutinise when government policies are introduced or changed.
He cited as an example the Government’s decision to let in more foreigners after 2006 and the lack of information and debate on the move.
The WP’s previous manifesto, he noted, had called for a freedom of information law to require public agencies to disclose government information.
‘Until that comes along, the PAP (People’s Action Party) would be better served by being more accountable and transparent,’ he added.
Mr Singh is among what is expected to be a bumper crop of more than 20 WP candidates, many with tertiary education, who will be fielded in the upcoming polls. The WP fielded 20 candidates in 2006.
Mr Singh, 34, writes about policies and socio-political issues on his blog, Singapore 2025, which he hopes gets citizens thinking about the future they want.
While the WP continues to be tight-lipped about its candidates, the party leadership gave Mr Singh permission to be interviewed.
On why he joined the opposition, he said he was prompted by his desire to bring about more rigorous debate on the laws being passed in Singapore, to force a more accountable process.
‘The level-headedness and leadership qualities exhibited by senior leaders of the WP was a decisive factor in my decision to join the party,’ he added.
He has a training contract with a local law firm and plans to sit for the bar examination to qualify to be a lawyer. He studied history and political science at the National University of Singapore, before he received the Chevening and Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas) scholarships to do a master’s in war studies at King’s College in London.
He was a research associate at Iseas from 2004 to 2007, and obtained a diploma in Islamic studies from the International Islamic University in Malaysia.
He founded Opinion Asia, a commentary syndicate focusing on Asian issues, in 2006, and in 2009 enrolled in the Singapore Management University’s Juris Doctor programme which gives mid-career professionals the chance to do a law degree. Mr Singh, who is single, lives with his lawyer father, housewife mother and his elder sister in a terrace house in Jurong.
He was elected to the executive committee of the WP youth wing in August.
Asked about criticism by some opposition members that the WP was not forceful enough and seemed happy not to be too far away from the PAP line, he said: ‘If Singaporeans think we are too close to the PAP, I would recommend they look at the speeches secretary-general Low Thia Khiang and chairman Sylvia Lim have made in Parliament.’
Mr Low has been MP for Hougang since 1991 and Ms Lim is a Non-Constituency MP who led the WP team in Aljunied GRC in the 2006 polls.
Mr Singh added: ‘We have to play by the rules the PAP has set until we get into Parliament and convince the PAP to change or modify the system and certain policies Singaporeans disagree with.’
Among the issues close to his heart is the educational performance of minority students and its effect on Singapore’s multi-racial bonds.
Singaporeans, he said, expect good, strong candidates from the opposition and from the PAP, but the latter has a much broader choice of individuals.
‘In the opposition, we don’t have many people coming forward compared to the PAP… and if a party can attract strong candidates who can connect with average Singaporeans, maybe they are the ones you want to consider voting for.
‘We are determined that ours are candidates the WP and Singaporeans can be proud of,’ he added.