Before the 2020 general election, not much was known about Worker’s Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh other than the fact that he popularised the phrase “Ownself check ownself!”.
10 years ago, Singh was a young lawyer who had just burst onto the political scene. Now, a decade after entering politics, the 43-year-old is the secretary-general of his party and the country’s first ever Leader of the Opposition.
So, who exactly is Pritam Singh, the man everyone’s talking about at the moment?
Here are 10 facts about our Leader of the Opposition, the man you’ll be hearing a lot more in Parliament.
1. He Didn’t Come From an Elite School
Unlike many prominent politicians, Singh didn’t come from an elite school, and had trouble with his studies early on.
Singh, who studied at Woodsville Primary School and Belvedere Primary School, said he “fumbled badly at the Primary School Leaving Examination”.
He then entered the Normal stream at Saint Thomas Secondary School where he “bumbled [his] way into junior college and university”.
One of his secondary school teachers described him as a “quiet and shy” boy.
She added that she believes that being in a “non-elitist school” prepares an individual to “understand and appreciate all that we have in Singapore and how to truly move society forward”.
2. He Has a Master’s Degree in War Studies
Later on, when Singh discovered he had successfully enrolled in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at NUS, he said it felt like he had “hit the lottery”.
There, he completed a bachelor of arts degree in history.
He later earned a Diploma in Islamic Studies from the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), and a Master of Arts degree in war studies from King’s College in London.
3. He Was a Major in the Army
The WP secretary-general enlisted into the SAF in 1994 and served as a career commissioned officer from 1997 to 2002.
Singh is an NSman who holds the rank of major (might have been promoted by now), according to CNA. He is a combat engineer.
He’s also a bit of a war geek, as you can tell from his Master’s degree and posts on Instagram.
4. He Entered Politics in 2010
Singh entered politics back in 2010 when he was just 33.
According to The Straits Times, Singh went to WP’s former headquarters in Syed Alwi Road and asked to join the party even though he was a fresh-faced lawyer who had no experience in the political arena.
But party members were impressed with how passionate and vocal Singh was.
In Singh’s WP biography, he said he was attracted to the party by the leadership of Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang.
“In trying circumstances, both have sought to provide credible opposition to the People’s Action Party (PAP) in Parliament,” he said.
5. He Won His First General Election
A year after joining the WP, Singh contested in his first general election in 2011. He was part of a five-member team led by then-chief Low Thia Khiang that contested in Aljunied GRC.
The team made electoral history, winning 54.71% of the votes and unseating a PAP team led by then-Foreign Minister George Yeo.
It was the first time in the country’s history that an opposition party managed to capture a group representation constituency (GRC).
Not bad for your first election, eh?
6. He’s Singapore’s First Official Leader of the Opposition
7 years later, Singh was elected unopposed as WP secretary-general, taking over Low Thia Khiang’s post after he helmed the party for 17 years.
His ascent was far from over, however. In 2020, Singh led his party to a historic victory, seizing a record 10 seats in parliament with the capture of two GRCs and an SMC.
Due to the unprecedented number of opposition members in parliament, PM Lee formally designated Singh as the official Leader of the Opposition, the first in the country’s history.
Prior to WP’s win in GE2020, the position was considered an unofficial role, meaning they didn’t draw any additional allowance nor get any extra resources or duties.
Singh’s formal appointment means he will get the appropriate staff support and resources to perform his duties.
In addition to getting twice the allowance of a regular MP, Singh’s privileges and additional resources include:
- The right of first response to ask the lead questions to ministers on policies, bills, and motions
- Longer speaking duration for speeches, equivalent to that given to political office holders
- Receiving confidential briefings by government on select matters of national security and external relations
- Allowance to hire up to three additional Legislative Assistants
- Provided an office and secretary to support administratively with Parliamentary business
7. He Will Donate Half His Increased Allowance To Low-Income Residents, Charities, & WP
You’ve often heard opposition parties, including WP, complain about the high salaries that MPs and ministers receive.
So, when you read that the WP chief will be getting S$385,000 as leader of the opposition, you might be quick to scream hypocrisy.
But hold your figurative horses for a second, because Singh recently announced that he will contribute half of his additional allowance (i.e. about $8,000 a month) to:
- low-income residents and community programmes in WP’s constituencies
- Charities or worthy causes
- Workers’ Party specific needs
The official leader of the opposition addressed his new salary in a Facebook post on Tuesday (28 July).
8. He Loves His Kopitiam Food
An MP might earn much more than the average Singaporean, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be dining out at fancy restaurants every night.
The father-of-two clearly loves authentic heartland fare, as you’ll see on his Instagram.
9. He Speaks Mandarin
Most minority residents who claim to speak Mandarin can probably only utter a string of expletives that they learned in secondary school.
Not only does Singh speak Mandarin, but he was confident enough to give an entire speech in Mandarin at a WP rally back in 2015.
10. He’s a Manchester United Fan
This may upset many WP supporters who are fans of Liverpool, but Singh is also a Manutd fan.
He even watched a Manutd match with Eunos residents at a McDonald’s outlet in Bedok a few years ago.
Singh may be the secretary-general of the WP and our first official Leader of the Opposition, but he is still, truly, a heartlander.
And on a side note, other than Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, politicians have been talking about NCMP (Non-Constituency Member of Parliament) in recent days. So, what’s an NCMP? Do you know that it’s just like an MP but the allowance is much lower? Watch this video to find out more: