Monday 28 November 2011

More intense competition as PAP enters new phase - Khaw Boon Wan

By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 26 Nov 11

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has entered a new phase in Singapore's political landscape, where the key political challenge will be one of more intense competition in a more challenging domestic environment.

This is the consensus among party members, following extensive consultations after the General Election (GE) of May 2011.

PAP chairman Khaw Boon Wan, who highlighted this at the party's awards presentation ceremony on Saturday evening, said the GE reflected some permanent changes.

He said the party has to find ways to improve the lives of not just the lower-income but also those in the middle-income group.

This will require significant resources at a time when Singapore's economy is maturing and when growth will slow.

Mr Khaw stressed that the party has to adjust its approach and style to strengthen the emotional connection with the people.

In particular, it must be able to connect with the younger generation, understand their aspirations, as well as engage and work with them.

Mr Khaw said that to achieve all these, members must continue to evolve, reinvent and reinvigorate the party.

During the May GE, the PAP was returned to power, winning 81 of the 87 seats in Parliament and regaining Potong Pasir after 27 years.

It lost a Group Representation Constituency (GRC) for the first time and saw its vote share slip to 60.1 per cent.

Mr Khaw said over the last seven months, the PAP conducted extensive consultations with party activists at the branch, constituency and district levels.

Internal consultations will culminate in the PAP Convention on Sunday.

During Saturday evening's awards presentation ceremony, Mr Khaw paid tribute to 372 party members for their contributions and "indomitable fighting spirit".

Mr Eric Low, who failed in two election bids in Hougang, was given the top Meritorious Services Medal.

Mr Khaw praised Mr Low for keeping up the branch activists' morale and fighting spirit, as well as guiding and helping out PAP candidate for Hougang, Desmond Choo, in the election campaigning.

"Mr Desmond Choo did not win but gained considerable battle experience. He will be stronger next time, to reap the fruits of his and Mr Eric Low's labour," said Mr Khaw.

He also paid tribute to the late Choo Siu Heng, a first-generation PAP activist who died recently from cancer.

Mr Khaw recounted how Mr Choo thought he was still in the midst of the May election even as he was dying at home.

He said Mr Choo would anxiously ask his visitors about the election and whether the party had won.

Mr Khaw also lauded another senior party activist, the father of Marine Parade GRC MP Tin Pei Ling.

He said Ms Tin's father recounted to him that his mother once got into a fight when a woman bad-mouthed the PAP and former minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

"Pei Ling's grandmother has seen how the PAP government has transformed lives. She would not let baseless criticism go unanswered," said Mr Khaw.

Mr Khaw added that Ms Tin's father ran a busy coffeeshop but his mother would get him to help in every Meet-the-People Session (MPS) night even though they were short-handed.

"The MPS was more important than their coffeeshop business," he said.


GE 2011: What went wrong

PAP chairman Khaw Boon Wan identified four trends that led to the ruling party having its lowest score since Independence. They are:

- Stronger mood for more opposition voices. While the majority of Singaporeans want a PAP government, there is also a stronger mood for more opposition voices in Parliament.

- Strengthening of the opposition. Singapore society has become more politicised and this has energised the opposition. Opposition parties entered GE 2011 with better-qualified candidates.

- Shift in demographics. There are more young voters, who are influenced not just by what they read on the Internet, but also by a certain mood for political change.

- The digital age. People are easily connected on the Internet. Unfortunately, anti-establishment sentiments also spill over into the physical world.

Mr Khaw also highlighted three areas where the ruling party did not do well. They are:

- Shortcomings in government policies: 'Some government policies did not work out as well as intended, as in housing, immigration, transport and cost of living.

'We tried but could not fully resolve these problems in time.'

- Perceived disconnect with the people: 'As a responsible party, we have to sometimes implement unpopular policies, with little room for flexibility. This has led to criticism that we want our people to fit into our policies, rather than have policies serve the people. This creates a perception that the PAP has become disconnected from the people.'

- Campaign coordination and strategy: 'Our campaign processes could be better coordinated. In some branches, our campaign strategy on physical development did not gain good traction with voters. At the national level, despite steering the economy out of the deepest recession since Independence, we were less effective in getting political mileage out of it.'

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