Master of The Moment or Master of Collusion?
I was as surprised as anyone to read that Low Thia Kiang was stepping down as SG of the Workers Party. But then again it should not have comes as a surprise. We all know that he, Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh are facing a lawsuit brought by the independent committee set up by Aljunied Hougang Town Council (AHTC). Their potential liability could be up to $33.7 million, which the committee wants them to account for, which would presumably bankrupt the trio though the lawsuit specifically seeks to recover $1.3 million, which the lawsuit alleges is the excess amount charged by the management company FMSS over what the previous managing agents, CPG, would have charged. $1.3 million would be unlikely to bankrupt the trio as they have been drawing MPs’ salaries for many years, in Low’s case for nearly thirty years, and also run businesses and have other sources of income, just as PAP MPs almost universally do (though in their case their positions are often with state owned companies, connected law firms, or businesses dependent on Government contracts in a clear demonstration of how the state has become one with the PAP and the Lee family). The amount sought is certainly much less than my father, the true hero of the WP, paid in legal costs and defamation damages over the years and the PAP made sure that he was kept out of Parliament with fake charges and kangaroo court convictions, subsequently overturned by the UK Privy Council. However perhaps Low is stepping down because he wants to leave before the next election which might see the PAP succeed in recapturing Aljunied GRC. He is following the precedent set by Lee Lilian who declined to take up the NCMP role after she lost her Punggol East seat in GE2015. At the time she stepped down I wondered whether she was doing so because she was hoping to escape liability for any impropriety at Aljunied Hougang Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), which she seems to have successfully done.
We can be sure though that the AHTC committee would not be bringing a frivolous lawsuit as it is made up of two Senior Counsel. Philip Jeyaretnam and N Sreenivasan. They would not risk their professional reputations or a complaint to the Law Society if this was a frivolous lawsuit so we must assume there is substance to the allegations. FMSS was set up by Ms How Weng Fan and her late husband Danny Loh, who were both brought in to run Hougang Town Council after Low fired the previous general secretary who was a JBJ supporter and whose late husband, Herman, played a significant role in Low’s 1991 victory. The reasons for Mr Loh’s sad demise remain obscure, as news reports tell us only that he died after an accidental fall in Japan in July 2015 which was after the Parliamentary debate on the appointment of FMSS and the conflicts of interest between AHPETC and FMSS. Loh’s death never seems to have been properly investigated but the chances of it being accidental must be statistically very low. I cannot find any record of a coroner’s inquest.
It seems unlikely that the mystery of Danny Loh’s death will be solved anytime soon. However I wanted to debunk the kind of hagiography which is now being written about Low in the wake of his decision to step down as SG. It says a lot about the lack of understanding in Singapore on what a democracy entails coupled with the fear and self-censorship that most of the press coverage hails Low as a master strategist who steered the WP away from the confrontational course charted by my father, JBJ. I refer in particular to an article that appeared in Yahoo News written by P N Balji, the former editor of Today, “Why master of the moment Low Thia Kiang is stepping down”.
Balji makes a virtue out of lending credibility to a totalitarian government and forgetting what the proper role of an opposition is. He calls Low a “rare folk hero” and says he is ” a shrewd gambler, knowing when to strike and when to pull back…he and fellow opposition veteran Chiam See Tong forged an effective middle path in Opposition politics, moving away from the hammer-and-tongs approach of the late J B Jeyaretnam…”
The claim that the WP is more credible now that it ditched JBJ has been a standard WP line fostered by Low. However far from forging a middle path WP has ceased to be anything that in a democracy would be called an Opposition party. It has consistently said that the PAP are a good government and that they do not envisage replacing them for the next 50 years. WP under Low have given to uncritical or venal Western media and governments the excuse to call Singapore a transitioning democracy.
The fact is that, having been elected to Parliament in 1991, Low was unprepared to do anything that might risk him losing his seat and the steady income flow that came with it. He decided to become electively mute once in Parliament. When my father asked him to raise questions about the Nassim Jade scandal he refused. He refused to help JBJ pay off the damages and costs arising from a defamation suit that the WP was responsible for ensuring that my father would be bankrupted and he could take over.
All along Low put making money above serving the people or the cause of democracy in Singapore. Unfortunately colluding with a totalitarian regime is seen as wisdom by the vast majority of Singaporeans who cannot see any alternative. Low used the WP also to try and stop the emergence of a real Opposition in Singapore by “choping” all the seats with the most winnable seats while at the same time deliberately failing to field enough candidates to even threaten the PAP’s two-thirds majority in Parliament. While WP candidates had to pay all their election expenses themselves WP took in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. Instead of using these to fight elections and provide a real chance of an alternative government, Low spent the money on a new headquarters building.
Low no doubt thought he had a deal with the PAP that would allow him and his cronies to make money from running AHPETC provided he did not pose any real threat. JBJ thought as much when he said that LKY was very pleased with Low for doing something he had failed to do and getting JBJ out of the WP. Apparently Low believed that since the Lee family and their PAP cronies have done the same on a much larger scale by appointing their friends and relatives to well paid positions throughout the enormous state-owned sector or awarding contracts to companies controlled by them they would leave him alone at AHPETC. If he did harbour these illusions the independent committee’s lawsuit has surely shattered them.
As I said before, poetic justice for a man who made colluding with an authoritarian government for personal profit somehow heroic in the eyes of Singaporeans.