GE2020 is making history.
No, it’s not just because it’s held during Covid-19, it’s because many veteran powerhouse politicians are stepping down.
From the PAP, we have Goh Chok Tong and Khaw Boon Wan:
And from the WP, the three powerhouses, Low Thia Khiang, Chen Show Mao & Png Eng Huat:
Low Thia Khiang has long been regarded as the most successful opposition party politician to date and was well-loved by people in his constituency and respected by many.
Here are 10 facts about Mr Low Thia Kiang, the opposition politician who might have been an MP even before you were born.
1. Basic Information
Born on 5 Sep 1956, Mr Low studied at Lik Teck Primary School and Chung Cheng High School before going on to Nanyang University where he studied Chinese language and literature, along with government and public administration.
In 1981, he completed a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Chinese Studies at NUS and in 1982, a diploma in teaching.
No wonder PM Lee focused on his education back in 2018 when he was talking about Mr Low’s speech during the Budget 2018 debate:
2. Why He Joined Politics
In 1980, Chinese-based Nantah University (Nanyang University) and English-based University of Singapore merged.
This led to Chinese-educated students like Mr Low Thia Khiang being marginalised.
He had wanted to take political science but was rejected for his poor English.
Soon after, he went on to get trained as a teacher at the Institute of Education.
He had wanted to help students not end up like him but found his efforts hindered by another educational policy: the 10-year-old (Primary 4) streaming exams.
He felt that the education policies would kill the students, no matter how hard they work, as they will not be able to escape the system.
It was the last straw for Mr Low who felt that “it was unbecoming of the government to do this to [their] own citizens and [their] future generations of Singaporeans”.
3. His Own Education Bursary
After getting elected into parliament as the MP of Hougang, Mr Low decided to use his position of power to create an education bursary for students from underprivileged families.
Called the Hougang Constituency Education Trust, he went around to solicit for donations, even from organisers of the seventh-month dinners and temple dinners.
Organisers were very supportive of the trust fund and the WP would “send out the Education Trust Plaque for yearly auctions to raise the bursary funds”
4. An MP Since 1991
In 1982, Mr Low joined the Workers Party and in 1984, he was the election agent for party leader, J. B. Jeyaretnam, in his successful campaign to win the Anson constituency.
He is well-known for his speeches given in Teochew, which made him really popular in Hougang.
Basically, he’s like BTS V there.
He won the Hougang SMC seat in 1991 and entered parliament.
Subsequently, he re-elected in the 1997 General Election, 2001 General Election and the 2006 General Election.
5. He Never Minces His Words
Mr Low is famous for his acidic words and blunt comments during parliamentary debates.
It also doesn’t matter who he goes up against, he never fails to get his points across.
You can check out this video, made by MS News, on three of his iconic comments on the Lee Family Saga:
Yes, the infamous saga that gave birth to the “ownself-check-ownself” tagline.
6. Pulled Of A Politically-Risky Move
When the Workers Party made history by being the first opposition party in Singapore to win a GRC, the flipside of the coin is a massive failure.
Between 1991 and 2011, there were only two opposition politicians in parliament: Mr Low Thia Khiang and Mr Chiam See Tong.
Both of them decided to leave their strongholds at Hougang SMC and Potong Pasir SMC to challenge a GRC.
In the worst-case scenario, they might lose their main areas (Potong Pasir and Hougang), and fail to win at the GRCs, leaving no opposition MPs in parliament for that term.
Thankfully, Mr Low, together with his team – Sylvia Lim, Pritam Singh, Chen Show Mao, and Muhamad Faisal Manap – went up against a formidable PAP team made up of current Education Minister Ong Ye Kung and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, George Yeo, and won.
This helped to launch not one, but six opposition MPs into parliament.
7. Achieved The Goals That He Had Set For Himself When He First Took Over WP
In a recent interview with the media, Mr Low Thia Khiang said that when he first became the leader of Workers’ Party (WP), he set out two goals for himself:
- To win a GRC for WP
- To build up a new generation of leaders and pass the reins over
He managed to complete both goals in 2018.
The first when he won Aljunied GRC in 2011 and the second when he passed the reins of WP to Mr Pritam Singh, the current secretary-general of WP.
He believes that the Workers’ Party is more than just a few individuals, and believed that just like it evolved after he took over, the WP will evolve again as younger leaders take up the reins.
8. Fielding Quality Candidates Into The Party
When Mr Low took over WP in 2001, it was PAP’s largest walkover in Singapore’s history.
Mr Low felt that opposition parties were not able to field good candidates and there were too much infighting.
Which is why when he took over, the admission criteria into Workers’ Party is very stringent, and people who are recruited mustn’t be there for “personal glory or benefit”.
He’s been working hard for 17 years to recruit the best possible people he could find, and well, looking at the WP lineup in 2020, it seems like his efforts might’ve paid off:
9. His Fall Had A Lasting Impact
Just recently, Mr Low actually had a bad fall.
He has recovered and is discharged from the hospital.
However, he told reporters, he had lost his sense of smell.
His favourite food, laksa, which has so many different layers of fragrance and smells, only smells spicy and salty to him.
He emphasised that he’s lucky to get away from the accident with just that.
“Such a bad fall could have been very very serious, but now I am mostly OK. If I lost my sense of smell, it is a small thing, so be it.”
10. Well-Respected By Both Sides Of The Line
Of course, other than his permanent loss of smell, the fall also made many Singaporeans aware of the respect he commands, both within and outside his party.
Mr Low Thia Khiang took a different approach from his predecessor, which was more “adversarial” in nature (he say himself one, not me).
In 2011, he described WP as a party which co-drives the vehicle; should it go the wrong way, the co-driver will then slap the main driver.
In our simple ang moh, it sounds like he just wants to work together, just as their promotional video said:
And while he stands on the opposite of most PAP policies, it doesn’t stop them from respecting him, as we can tell from his fall incident.
Many PAP MPs, including Chan Chun Sing and Alex Yam, among many others, took to Facebook to give him well-wishes:
One even visited him with durian and pears.
Now, before you get too sad, Mr Low Thia Khiang isn’t quitting politics altogether.
According to WP leader Pritam Singh, Low Thia Khiang, Chen Show Mao and Png Eng Huat decided to step down so that younger leaders can take up the reins.
They will also be able to become senior leaders and guide the younger generation of WP leaders.
In other words, you might still be able to see Mr Low conversing with you in his perfect Teochew at a coffeeshop with his wide smile.
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