Wednesday 2 September 2015

GE2015: Future of Singapore at stake in this general election, PM Lee Hsien Loong

Singapore is at a turning point, question is which way we go: PM Lee
General election will answer this question, he says, adding that he does not think his party will have 'an easy election'
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2015

There may be a celebratory SG50 mood sweetening the ground, but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made clear yesterday (Tuesday) that the ruling party does not think it is headed into "an easy election" on Sept 11.

Factors like the electorate's aspirations and "outlook in a new world" will make this election a hard-fought one, he said, emphasising that it is not guaranteed that the People's Action Party will be returned to power.

It is the first time since independence that all parliamentary seats in Singapore are being contested.

"I think there's a lot at stake because this is an SG50 election," said PM Lee, speaking at a customary post-Nomination press conference yesterday. "The country is at a turning point. Question is, in what direction do we now go?"

Regional neighbours, foreign powers and international investors are also watching the polls, he said, for signs on whether Singapore will remain politically stable and open.

PM Lee and senior members of his team rubbished the suggestion that opposition breakthroughs in the 2011 General Election had resulted in the PAP "working harder".

PM Lee repeated Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's argument that "the world did not begin in 2011" and widened it, noting that the Government has, actually, gradually built up stronger social safety nets since the days of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Secondly, he said the thinking that opposition votes put pressure on the ruling party to please the people reduces the relationship between Government and people into a "game".

This undermines and repudiates the system that has allowed Singapore to become one of a kind - a "unicorn" among nations, he said.

"It's not a game where 'I threaten you a little bit, and then you do a bit more,' " PM Lee said.

"(Or) on the other hand, the Government threatens back a little bit, and then the voters shrink back. "If you play that kind of game, you will very soon be in the same kind of jam as other countries which do this."

Singapore has not followed that formula of contention and antagonism in its politics and that is how it has carved out its place in the world, said PM Lee.

Citing a report from political risk consultancy Eurasia Group that describes Singapore as a "unicorn", he said: "(We are a) one of a kind, miraculous animal. There's no other unicorn in the world. And it works well, it has unique solutions and the rest of the world is not sure what to make of it."

While Singapore also faces problems like others such as income inequality, its unicorn trait is in how the problems are tackled, he said.

"Our formula has been to work together, build the trust. The Government does the right things for voters to the best of our ability. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes it falls short of what the voters expect because it's harder to do than we imagined.

"But overall, there is that basic trust that I'm doing this on your behalf, otherwise I wouldn't be doing this," he said.

Referring to a Mandarin saying that means "to become an official is to become rich," PM Lee emphasised that in Singapore, "there's no money in this".

Senior Minister of State for Education and Law Indranee Rajah, who is standing for re-election in Tanjong Pagar GRC, added: "In order to achieve all those things that we've achieved, you need a strong government with a strong mandate and with good people to do the things that need to be done."


You voted for a tiger in the chamber and you got a mouse in the House... It's one of these Frankenstein monsters ... Every night, it turns into a tiger and every day, it turns into a mouse.

- PM LEE HSIEN LOONG, saying that the performance of the opposition in Parliament "frankly, has been disappointing"

The PAP - Pluralism in Parliament

It's the quality that counts, not the quantity
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2015

More is not better when it comes to the Opposition in Parliament, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

"It's the quality which counts. It's not the numbers," he said at a People's Action Party (PAP) press conference, hours after candidate nominations closed at noon.

He set out this argument in response to a question on the growing desire among Singaporeans for greater pluralism in Parliament.

Mr Lee, who is the ruling party's secretary-general, pointed out that the PAP had only three members elected to the legislative assembly in the 1955 General Election: Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Lim Chin Siong and Mr Goh Chew Chua.

"They established such a reputation for themselves, especially Mr Lee Kuan Yew, that in 1959, they swept the general election and formed the Government," he said.

The PAP won 43 out of the 51 seats in the legislative assembly general election that year.

In contrast, the last Parliament had 10 opposition MPs.

Seven were elected MPs from the Workers' Party, two were WP Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs), and one was an NCMP from the Singapore People's Party.

The performance of the opposition, said Mr Lee, "frankly, has been disappointing".

He highlighted what he saw as a disparity between their fierce speeches on the hustings and their low-key Parliament performance. "You voted for a tiger in the chamber and you got a mouse in the House," he told voters.

The "fierce, rousing" arguments made during rallies are not brought up by the same opposition politicians in parliamentary sittings, he said.

"They know that in Parliament, if they raise those issues, face to face in debate, they will be pinned down and the fallacies and the insincerities and the untruths will be exposed... So they remain quiet.

"It's one of these Frankenstein monsters... Every night, it turns into a tiger and every day, it turns into a mouse," he said.

But Mr Lee also acknowledged that political moods change, and the current PAP has to forge its own relationship with the electorate.

The bond that Singapore's pioneer generation had with the founding members of the PAP is not easily replicated, as it emerged through the crucible of nation-building, he said.

These included going through crises, solving problems and experiencing success together.

"The new Government and a new population have to find their own ways to bond together, through new experiences," said Mr Lee.

The PAP - Reaching out to youth

Young voters seek human connection and understanding
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2015

Young voters want a human connection, not just abstract policies, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong when asked what issues the People's Action Party (PAP) might face in reaching out to this group.

Noting that young people form the majority of his nearly 844,000 Facebook fans, Mr Lee said that besides following political news, they enjoy "soft" topics such as nature or cultural events.

"They want to know that there's a person there... whom they can connect with, whom they can understand and who understands what they want," said Mr Lee, secretary-general of the PAP, at a party press conference yesterday.

As for what exactly young people want, he said: "They have that ability and that potential to go far, and they are anxious that they should be able actually to make it."

The PAP's approach has always been to invest in the young, he said. "That's what motivates our whole venture."

Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo said most young Singaporeans want the same thing as their parents' generation - a better life - but also want to take part in creating this. "We have heard young Singaporeans say that they don't just want to be served, on a platter, policies ready-made. They want to be participants in the creation of those policies."

To fulfil their aspirations, the Government has broadened the suite of educational and skills training programmes available, she said. It has also updated its outreach policies and put up more policies for public consultation.

But one challenge the PAP faces is that young people "consume content" largely through social media rather than newspapers or television news, noted Mrs Teo. The PAP has put in more effort to reach out on such platforms, though it is a work-in-progress, she said.

Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah wanted young voters to think seriously about the future.

She repeated Mr Lee's point that Singapore's future will be determined by its Government, its leaders and its direction.

And those three things, in turn, will be determined by the votes of Singaporeans - including young voters - in this general election.

"Especially first-time voters who have not voted before, I would ask you to think about this issue, because what is really being put before you is: How are you going to determine the future of the country?" said Ms Indranee. "And that choice, that direction, lies in your hands."

The PAP - Selection process

Candidates assessed for office continually
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2015

Among the People's Action Party's (PAP) 21 new candidates, there are some potential office holders from obvious backgrounds. But others are from different backgrounds who can offer new perspectives and experiences, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Speaking yesterday at a PAP press conference, he added that MPs' prospects of being office holders are not decided only when they first enter politics.

Asked which of the ruling party's new candidates were of ministerial calibre, Mr Lee said some had "more obviously... appropriate and relevant backgrounds". But he added: "Others may have come from different backgrounds but will be able to make very interesting additions to the team and provide new perspectives and new experiences."

One new face who has already been tipped for office is former defence chief Ng Chee Meng, part of the PAP's six-member slate for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, whose military background fits the ministerial mould.

Yet Mr Lee added that PAP candidates are assessed for office not just upon being elected, but continually.

"As long as they are in Parliament, we look at it and see where they can make their best contribution," he said. "And if you look at my track record, you will see that I have very often promoted from the backbenches."

He highlighted three examples: Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, and Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo.

"So it's like SkillsFuture, you know, it's never a single point," he said, referring to the programme to help students and workers develop specialised skills throughout their lives.

"One day we'll have an upgrading programme for MPs."

Duty of regulators to call out lapses in governance: DPM Teo
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2015

Government agencies are only doing their duty in taking the Workers' Party-run town council to task over its lapses in finances, said Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

At a People's Action Party (PAP) press conference, Mr Teo rebutted the WP's charge that government departments are targeting the ruling party's political opponents.

Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) chairman Sylvia Lim made this argument on Sunday, after the Ministry of National Development (MND) produced figures that it said showed that AHPETC's former managing agent had been "grossly profiteering" off its sole client.

Yesterday, Mr Teo said that calling out lapses in governance was the duty of regulators like the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra), which did an ad-hoc review of the managing agent's auditor after the MND flagged its concerns.

It was Acra which found that FM Solutions and Services, AHPETC's then managing agent, had turned a net profit of $2 million in the same year that the town council had an operating deficit of $2 million.

"That's their duty, whether it is a PAP town council, a government agency, a private company or a statutory board. And we expect no less from them when it comes to an opposition-run town council," said Mr Teo, who is in charge of the civil service.

Weighing in at the same press conference, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed that government agencies "have the responsibility to investigate the facts if there are mistakes".

"And if there is a need to take corrective actions or legal actions, they will have to do so.

"We have to deal with this issue fairly. We cannot say just because it is the opposition's town council, and that the problem may be politicised, so we give them special treatment by not checking the details of their operation or some of their internal problems," said Mr Lee, speaking in Mandarin.

"Whether the problems exist is an objective fact. It will be good if the problems can be found out. Everyone should welcome it."

If there were problems in a PAP-run town council, that would be his problem as well as the MND's, said Mr Lee, because as party secretary-general, he "takes the final responsibility".

He also said that AHPETC's issues were serious ones which raised questions about its governance, profitability, viability and propriety. The WP will have to explain these issues to voters, he added.

"It's regrettable that it has not been satisfactorily addressed and explained until now, but I think these are things which voters will take note of," he said.

Longer-term view on wages needed: Tharman
By Chia Yan Min and K.C. Vijayan, Senior Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2015

Foreign labour inflows have been tightened significantly in recent years but this will not be enough to raise incomes for Singaporean workers in the long term, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

For that to happen, Singapore must be able to continue to hold its own in an increasingly challenging international environment.

This means companies have to be able to upgrade and create good jobs, even as Singaporeans at all stages of life are given opportunities to actively develop and deepen their skills, he added.

Mr Tharman, who is leading the five-member People's Action Party (PAP) team in Jurong GRC, was speaking to the media yesterday at the Keming Primary School nomination centre in Bukit Batok.

The team also includes Mr Desmond Lee, Mr Ang Wei Neng and newcomers, Mr Tan Wu Meng and Ms Rahayu Mahzam.

They will face five candidates from the Singaporeans First party (SingFirst). They are: information technology consultant Wong Chee Wai, retired army colonel Tan Peng Ann, sales director Wong Soon Hong, chemist David Foo and retired police officer Sukdeu Singh.

Mr Tharman said he welcomed the contest. "We wish them well, and we take every voter very seriously. We've been working in Jurong for a long time, we've achieved something in building a strong and caring community.

"But there's a lot more that we want to do," he said.

He added that he is "glad that (SingFirst) shares our views and priorities, particularly on having a level playing field for Singaporeans".

"That's foremost in our minds. We're concerned especially about middle-aged, mid-career Singaporeans," Mr Tharman said.

There are no "extreme solutions" to the challenge of creating opportunities for Singaporeans at all stages of life and ensuring that incomes continue to rise, he added.

"People know we've been making significant moves. Singaporeans are able to judge for themselves. They know that solutions don't work instantly, in any country," he said.

He added that Singapore is starting from a strong position, with much lower unemployment than other countries, and wages still rising for the lower- and middle-income groups.

On the PAP team's plans during the nine-day campaign period, Mr Tharman said: "We are not nine-day people... We've been working since the end of the last nine days. On the ground, quietly, no cameras - that's our style in Jurong."

Jurong was the second-best performing group representation constituency for the PAP in the 2011 polls. It won 67.0 per cent of the votes against a team from the National Solidarity Party.

When asked if they were intimidated by the incumbent's strong showing in the 2011 election, SingFirst's Mr Tan said: "Why should we be intimidated? Let's take a look at what they have done, and what we are going to do. We are confident enough to give them a good fight. History is no indicator."

He added that his party believes that Singapore's senior citizens should be given "a better position in life".

"Generally we need to raise the self-esteem of senior citizens... If you walk around Jurong, you see many old ladies who are cleaning tables, and these are the people we want to help," he said.

His teammate, Dr Foo, said: "What we are asking for is transparency in immigration, and (for the Government to) list out the skill sets that are required by the country."

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