Two apparently unrelated events happened these few days. Underneath the events, however, was the crucial issue of Malay representation and engagement by Singapore political parties.
Abdul Salim Harun, who contested in Ang Mo Kio GRC the last GE, resigned from the Workers’ Party. He was the most prominent Malay community representative in the WP in 2006, and that party’s attempt to challenge the PAP’s dominance in fielding Malay candidates. His resignation was “not unexpected” as he was supposedly open to a more aggressive advocacy, something contrary to WP’s centralist inclinations.
On the other side of the field, Fatimah Lateef from Marine Parade GRC was depicted as one who could not connect with the temple elders in her ward. SM GOh Chok Tong felt that the Straits Times’ report on the new MPs and their weaknesses tarnished Fatimah’s image as an effective MP and he “disliked the inaccuracy“.
With Abdul gone from WP, the WP has to find a new poster boy to give the party a multi-racial image. Getting someone from the minority group is vital in a contest for any GRC. Parties like the WP already have a hard time in recruiting people as compared to the PAP and a Malay criterion in a candidate makes the recruitment all the more harder. The impact of Abdul’s resignation is not slight at all. The PAP’s problem is at a higher level. They always managed to recruit Malay professionals to stand for elections but now their issue to impress is whether these Malay professionals can rally the ground regardless if the constituents are non-Malay. The allegation that Fatimah could not engage temple elders is a politically dangerous doublewhammy. Fatimah could not only interact with the Chinese, she also could not connect with people from the temple. Goh Chok Tong and the PAP could not accept this insinuation.
WP will now double efforts to find a Malay MP candidate. Similarly, PAP will now double efforts to make sure the new Malay and other minority MPs give the impression that they have good rapport with the constituents regardless of race, language religion.