Monday, 26 November 2012

We listen, but we have to lead: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at PAP Party Seminar 2012

PAP can't afford to be just a note taker of people's views, PM tells party activists
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2012

Even as the ruling party is leading a national conversation, the PAP cannot relegate itself to just being a "note taker" of views.

It must continue to be able to lead with its own ideas and policies, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, as he put in context what the ongoing large-scale consultation means to the party.

"We are not just asking people, what are your views, and I will go and I will be your note taker and speak on your behalf.

"I think we have ideals, we have ideas, we have policies, we have proposals. And it is our responsibility to lead that discussion together with the people in order to persuade people to see things more in the way we do," he said.

He was addressing some 500 People's Action Party activists at the PAP Party Seminar, at the end of what was the party's own version of the national conversation exercise.

Party district representatives gave closed-door presentations at the seminar, held at Lasalle College of the Arts, that captured over two months of dialogues at the PAP's 87 branches and five districts, where issues from meritocracy to politics and foreign workers had been discussed.

PM Lee, who is the secretary- general of the party's central executive committee, stressed as well that a ruling party cannot afford to behave like an ordinary political party. For the PAP, slogans cannot just sound good; they have to be delivered on, he said.

"We are very careful of what we say, and we are very conscientious to make sure it can happen. So we have to think hard. And the party has to think hard of what is its role in the future for the next 20 to 30 years," said PM Lee.

In a speech that also laid out some of the key challenges for the party and the country, he said that what has allowed for a dominant party and cohesive politics in Singapore is a middle ground. Across the constituencies, there are Singaporeans who share similar interests and an identity.

This, he said, is unlike the United States, which is divided by interests into red and blue states which support the Republican and Democrat parties, respectively.

"If Singapore had the blue constituencies and red constituencies, I think Singapore will be in trouble," said Mr Lee.

He also reiterated the difficulties Singapore faces in balancing the trade-offs in all the choices it makes and that it is important to change policies because "yesterday's solution can be today's problem".

On the foreign worker tightening, which has raised the ire of many firms, he said: "Let's proceed, but be prepared to rethink and recalibrate when the situation changes."

There is balance needed in the type of politics too, he added, between an inclusive politics and a decisive government that goes ahead with decisions even when some people do not like it.

"It's not just whether we dare to go or we don't dare. It's whether the population accepts that this Government is doing it, and you may not agree, but you believe it is doing it for the good of Singapore and good of Singaporeans," he said.

And while it may not be "politically fashionable" for a government to say, "I believe in this, follow me", a government that just agrees with what the people want would make for failed leaders, said PM Lee.

"I think we need to reflect people's aspirations and dreams, but if we are just hao hao xian sheng - whatever people say, you agree - I think we would be failed leaders."

But being decisive needs to be balanced by the need to win elections. If the PAP cannot win elections, he said, there is a risk that "politics would malfunction because it is not going to be easy to put together another group to make Singapore work".

He pointed to Japan, which has had three prime ministers in three years, and said that it is because there has been a loss of confidence in the system.

"In Singapore, we must never let that happen. That means the PAP must stay strong, must stay vibrant with members who believe in their cause, who are prepared to serve and who will fight to win."

PM Lee: Think global too in national conversation
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2012

The ongoing conversation about the nation's future should look beyond Singapore's borders, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The country, he said yesterday, does not exist in a vacuum, so Singaporeans must also consider what is happening elsewhere in the world, be it geopolitical changes or technological developments.

Mr Lee was speaking at the People's Action Party Seminar at Lasalle College of the Arts, ending two months of dialogues between PAP members at the branch and district levels.

Noting that the conversations at the seminar yesterday morning had little of the global context, he said: "We are not in a vacuum, we are not in the middle of the South Pacific, an island with a blue lagoon. We are Singapore, in Asia, and at the beginning of the 21st century... The way the world is changing and will change over the next 20 years makes a big difference to our future."

He said what will happen to China and India, and the South China Sea territorial spats will set the context for where Singapore is going and how it needs to set its policies.

"Maybe it's because we are in Singapore and everything looks peaceful and calm. But if you are elsewhere in the region, I think your attitude will be different."

He cited national conversation sessions held in China and noted how conscious Singaporeans there were about changes taking place.

"We need to know what's going to happen, or at least have some thought on what's going to happen over the next 20 to 30 years in the world. Nobody can know for sure. Is it peace, is it instability, is it prosperity, is it recession? What is the technology change?" he asked.

"In such a world, can we stay still, can we just do whatever we feel we will like to do, without paying attention to these big trends? I think that will be very unwise."

Singapore can't go down 'red vs blue' path: PM Lee
PAP must represent middle ground, for cohesive politics, Prime Minister says
by Teo Xuanwei, TODAY, 24 Nov 2012

Singapore cannot afford to go down the path of countries like the United States, where most states clearly belong to either the Democrat or Republican camp and the victorious political party has to chose whose interests to represent, said People's Action Party secretary-general Lee Hsien Loong.

"If Singapore had a blue constituency and a red constituency, I think Singapore will be in trouble," said Mr Lee, who was addressing party activists at a seminar this morning, the intra-party version of the ongoing Our Singapore Conversation.

"We have tried to make sure that all our constituencies are about the same colour … because we want all the constituencies to share the same interests. Then we can think together and when you represent Singapore, you represent the whole of Singapore."

Speaking after a closed-door session where the different party districts presented on topics such as "Inclusive politics, decisive government", Mr Lee stressed that the PAP has to represent the "middle ground" in Singapore because it is how we can have "cohesive politics".

To that end, Mr Lee noted that the party has to "not just reflect the consensus of the nation, but also form and help to shape the consensus of the nation".

It is the PAP's responsibility to help to lead the discussion together with Singaporeans to persuade them to "see things more like the way we do and to be able to see things in a constructive way which makes sense for themselves and for Singapore", he added.

Said Mr Lee: "I think that we have to reflect everybody's aspirations and dreams but if we are just hao hao xian sheng (Mandarin for 'Mr Nice Guy') - whatever people say, we agree with them - I think we will fail."


He added that while we want inclusive politics, we also want a decisive Government so as to "make the country work".

And whether the Government is able to be decisive depends on whether the population accepts that the Government is doing things for the good of Singapore and Singaporeans, as well as trusts that its "hearts are in the right place", he noted.

"If you don't have that, the Government is saying 'Charge!'; nobody is following. I think you have serious trouble," he said.

Citing Japan as an example of a country where the people have lost confidence in the system, Mr Lee said: "I think in Singapore, if the PAP is not able to deliver, I think the politics will malfunction because it's not going to be easy to put together another group to make Singapore work."


Mr Lee also reiterated that what happens in the world around us will make a big difference to the future of the Republic.

Thus, we have to look at new situations and problems afresh, as well as constantly update and revise our policies as external developments evolve.

He illustrated this point with how the Government had lowered foreign worker levies when the economy was in recession but has recently raised it.

But Mr Lee stressed that there are tradeoffs to every decision.

" If we didn't have to make choices and tradeoffs, we will just have a menu, I just take out all the things I like - more relaxed life, a higher standard of living, more space, more income, more overseas holidays - and you just tick off and it will be delivered to you. And if you have oil gushing out of the ground like some countries do, you can tick off quite a lot of things and you will get your dinner," he said.

"But in Singapore, there is no oil gushing out of the ground, we have to choose. Every choice you make has a tradeoff. There's an upside, there's a downside. Doesn't mean it doesn't make a difference, we have to find the right one. But you must decide what is the price are you prepared to pay."

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