Sunday, 19 July 2020

Singapore GE2020: PAP spells out reasons vote fell below expectations

GE2020 results a ‘clear mandate’ although 61.2 per cent vote share lower than 65 per cent PAP hoped for: Lawrence Wong
But it says GE result is still a solid majority and its heartland base kept faith with the party
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 19 Jul 2020

The voters made it clear that they wanted a People's Action Party (PAP) government at the helm by giving it 61.2 per cent of the vote in the general election, but the result fell slightly short of the party's own expectations, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong yesterday.

It was nevertheless a solid majority, given the difficulties that people were facing on the ground, he added.

"And that's because the base kept faith with the PAP, knowing that the PAP kept faith with its base. What is this base? They are the working class, the middle class, the heartland of Singapore," said Mr Wong, who shared the party's preliminary analysis of the recent election.

He acknowledged that the result was lower than the 65 per cent the party had hoped for, with that 4 percentage point gap translating to around 100,000 votes.

To close the gap, the party must do better at appealing to the young and work to address the economic pain of voters in their 40s and 50s, Mr Wong said.

"We are unlikely to exceed 65 per cent of the vote in future," he added. "The desire for diversity in Parliament, for checks and balances, is permanent. It is here to stay, and we must be prepared for this new reality."

Mr Wong, a member of the PAP's central executive committee, was addressing party activists in a speech streamed live from the PAP's Bedok headquarters, and took questions from reporters afterwards.

Putting the party's performance in context, he said pundits and commentators had predicted that the PAP could get more than 70 per cent of the votes as voters sought safety amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The ruling party itself did not expect that, given the pain on the ground.

In fact, over the past nine general elections, it had approached or surpassed the 70 per cent mark only twice, said Mr Wong. In 2015, it got 69.9 per cent of the vote. In 2001, it won with a 75.3 per cent vote share. In contrast, the party got 63 per cent or less in four out of these nine races, he added.

This year's result is at the "low end of the expected range", which is between 60 and 65 per cent.

"It is not a very good result, but it is within the range of expectations, and we've been here before," he added. "The expectation that the PAP should have had a result at the top end this time, I think, has coloured the outcome as a setback."

He set out several reasons for the PAP's performance in the polls.

First, the Workers' Party ran a good campaign that spoke to the desire of many voters to have more checks and balances in Parliament, he said. The emergence of the Progress Singapore Party cut into the PAP's western strongholds.

The PAP's online campaign also did not connect well with voters, Mr Wong noted. "We produced a lot of good content online, but not all of this connected with netizens - especially on newer platforms like Instagram and Telegram."

While there has been much talk of younger voters turning away from the party, the swing against the PAP was also seen among voters above 40, who make up a much larger proportion of the electorate, Mr Wong said. This group faced economic hardship due to job or income losses from the pandemic, he added.

The PAP also saw support fall among those who lived in private property, who may have felt they were not sufficiently supported during the crisis, he said.

The party will conduct a thorough review of the general election, identifying two areas that the party will have to work on. It must better connect with younger voters and address the "real economic pain" that a substantial segment of older voters are feeling, he said.

The emphasis on the base will remain unchanged. "Our policies must always tilt in favour of the less fortunate and vulnerable," said Mr Wong. "This is in the PAP's roots and DNA. We must never waver in our commitment to social justice, to preserve social mobility for all Singaporeans, and to build a more fair and just society."

Four factors that led to swing away from PAP
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 19 Jul 2020

- WP's campaign for checks and balances, and emergence of PSP

- Loss of support among young voters and older ones feeling the economic pain

- PAP’s online campaign did not connect well with voters

- Support fell among those who live in private property, though not uniformly across estates

The fall in support for the ruling party was not solely among younger voters, but also among other groups such as workers in their 40s and 50s who were feeling the pain caused by the pandemic, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong yesterday.

These older voters had swung to the opposition primarily because they had suffered income or job losses, had their businesses disrupted, or were forced to downsize to lower-paying jobs, he said.

He said it was not the case that the young had abandoned the PAP nationally, as there were many polling districts and constituencies with such voters where the party received good support, like in Punggol West where it won 61 per cent of the votes.

Mr Wong, who is in the PAP's central executive committee, was addressing party activists virtually from the PAP headquarters in Bedok, where he summed up the reasons that the ruling party performed worse than expected.

The PAP had hoped to garner 65 per cent of the votes, but received 61.2 per cent instead.

First, the Workers' Party ran a good campaign that spoke to the desire of many voters to have more checks and balances in Parliament, Mr Wong said.

This year also saw the emergence of the Progress Singapore Party, which cut into the PAP's strongholds, especially in the west.

Another contributing factor was that the PAP's online campaign did not connect well with voters, Mr Wong said, adding: "We tried our best. We produced a lot of good content online, but not all of this connected with netizens - especially on newer platforms like Instagram and Telegram where the platforms require different sort of content, say, from a platform like Facebook."

He added: "And as with a normal campaign, the negative messages carry further reach than positive messages, and this is further accentuated on the Internet."

He noted that much of the post-election commentary has focused on younger voters and how they have turned away from the PAP.

But voters in their 20s and 30s made up only a third of the electorate, with first-time voters aged between 21 and 24 making up less than 10 per cent of the vote.

"So the swing against the PAP was not concentrated solely among the young. And it was not just unhappiness about the PAP style of campaigning, or how we talked about race, or Pofma," he said, referring to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.

Voters in their 40s and 50s, and perhaps even those in their early 60s, also voted against the PAP because of the "real economic pains" they faced. Many in this sandwiched group are looking after both elderly parents and young children, and faced difficulties even before the pandemic hit.

"But since then, I think the challenges have been exacerbated," said Mr Wong, noting that many schemes rolled out under this year's four Budgets were targeted at helping this group.

"Unfortunately, no amount of help will be enough in a crisis of this magnitude. So, we will continue to review and update our policies, and we will do whatever we can to address your anxieties and pain during this difficult period."

PAP also saw support fall among those who lived in private property, although this was not uniformly the case across all private estates.

Voters in these estates could have felt that they were not sufficiently supported during the crisis, Mr Wong said. "They might be business owners, they might be SME owners, and they would be facing considerable economic difficulties."

At a press conference after his address, he was asked if some of these findings - such as the need to connect better with younger voters and improve the party's online campaign - were new to the PAP.

Both these two issues had been thrown up after the 2011 election, and are a "work in progress", he replied.

Other issues, such as the severe economic difficulties faced by many segments of the population, are brand new, he added.

Although the PAP was aware of these issues, the crisis was of such magnitude that they could not be resolved quickly despite government intervention.

"No matter what kinds of resources that you can mount to help them, it is really very hard to talk about businesses that are facing difficulties, contractors who are unable to work because their workers still need to be cleared in the dormitories," he said.

Mr Wong added: "That's why we knew, going into the election, that this was a challenge, and I think the results have shown that... there are issues arising from this particular segment, and we will have to continue to work hard at thinking about ways we can help this group address the difficulties through this crisis."

PAP vote share unlikely to exceed 65% with more opposition voices
By Lim Yan Liang, The Sunday Times, 19 Jul 2020

The strong desire among Singaporeans for more opposition voices in Parliament means the PAP is unlikely to exceed a 65 per cent share of the popular vote in future elections, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

But while this "major trend" means subsequent general elections will only get tougher for the People's Action Party, it will aim for "at least the upper end of the 60 to 65 per cent range" of votes, he said.

The recently concluded election has shown that voters' desire for political opposition is strong, and that desire for checks and balances to a PAP Government is "permanent", Mr Wong told activists in a live-streamed speech from the party headquarters in Bedok.

"Even those who prefer the PAP as government would vote tactically for the opposition where it is credible," he said of the party's preliminary assessment of the results of the July 10 general election.

On the elected opposition, he said: "It is here to stay, and we must be prepared for this new reality: For now, Singaporeans want to see the PAP in power, but they also want a credible opposition to check on the PAP."

A reasonable expectation for the PAP in the recent general election would have been around 64 to 65 per cent of the vote share, or somewhere between the outcomes of the general elections in 2011 and 2015.

The PAP got its lowest vote share since independence, 60.1 per cent, in the 2011 General Election.

Mr Wong said it would be difficult for the PAP to achieve the 69.9 per cent vote share it got in the 2015 General Election or the 75.3 per cent it managed in the 2001 General Election, two elections that were "outliers" to the historical trend.

The 2015 General Election was Singapore's SG50 milestone and the year founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew died, while the 2001 General Election was called soon after the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and amid a recession.

The remaining seven of the nine elections since and including the one in 1984 saw the PAP get between 60 per cent and 66.6 per cent of the votes, with about 63 per cent or less in four.

This means the PAP's vote share of 61.2 per cent this year was "not a very good result but it is within the range of expectations, and we've been here before", said Mr Wong.

The overall results made it clear that voters want the PAP in charge, and the opposition explicitly reassured voters they were not aiming to replace the PAP. "We were up against a major trend that has been there for many years, and that is a desire to have more opposition in Parliament to check the PAP, to have more diversity of views and debate on policy alternatives," he said.

The PAP will work to win back the four per cent - or roughly 100,000 voters - who swung away from it this election, said Mr Wong.

He told activists the PAP had to argue for what it believes in, and keep on winning the trust and support from a new generation of voters.

"Remember, the right to leadership cannot be inherited. Just because the PAP has governed Singapore since independence doesn't mean that it always will govern Singapore throughout," he said.

"We must continue to strive to win the trust of our people and we must prove that we can govern well. Then we can develop a stable political balance and the PAP can continue winning future elections."

"Now that we have put the election behind us and elected a strong team to represent Singaporeans, let us stay focused on doing our best for Singapore and Singaporeans," added Mr Wong. "We have five years to overcome the problems, consolidate on the ground and show voters what we can do."

PAP must appeal to young, address the economic pain
Lawrence Wong highlights two areas to work on for party to do better in future elections
By Hariz Baharudin, The Sunday Times, 19 Jul 2020

To improve its performance in future elections, the People's Action Party (PAP) has to do a better job of appealing to young voters, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong yesterday.

The ruling party also has to address the "economic pains" of the middle-aged sandwiched class to better the 61.2 per cent vote share it received at the recent general election, he added.

Mr Wong, who is a member of the PAP's top central executive committee, highlighted these two areas in a speech to party activists streamed from the PAP's Bedok headquarters. He also took questions from reporters afterwards.

The PAP has to work hard to understand and connect with young voters, who have different aspirations, hopes and expectations, he said.

"The issues they care about are different from the older generation and the older Singaporeans, and they also look at existing issues differently," he said.

"So we need to build trust and a new social compact with younger Singaporeans."

He also spoke of the need to mobilise young people to help those who need help, noting that a few of the PAP's new MPs are young Singaporeans who "have come up the hard way and feel passionately about helping others to succeed".

"We will need to get more young people like them to identify with the PAP as a party that provides hope and a path to the future, and build our bonds with a new generation of voters," he said.

Addressing the economic pain of a substantial number of Singaporeans in their 40s and 50s who are looking after both elderly parents and young children is equally crucial, he added.

This sandwiched group has been feeling the pinch even before COVID-19 hit, he noted, and is now facing greater challenges as the pandemic worsens, with some having to take pay cuts or even losing their jobs.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the coronavirus, said this is why many of the schemes announced in the four Budgets earlier this year have been aimed at this group.

He highlighted how in the first Budget, the Government increased the SkillsFuture Credit top-up for mid-career workers aged 40 to 60 by an extra $500, to help them stay employable and move on to new jobs and roles. Some one million workers benefited from this.

While there is no way to quickly resolve the economic challenges faced by this group of Singaporeans, Mr Wong said that the Government will continue to work on coming up with ways to help this group address their difficulties.

"Unfortunately, no amount of help will be enough in a crisis of this magnitude. So, we will continue to review and update our policies, and we will do whatever we can to address their anxieties and pain during this difficult period," he said.

The minister also said that the nature of the election campaigning, which was mostly done online due to COVID-19 restrictions, did not connect with some voters.

"This was a digital campaign, and we do not do so well in this arena," he noted.

Asked if the party's GE post-mortem had uncovered new revelations that previous reviews did not, Mr Wong said some issues - like the need to improve online campaigning - have come up after previous elections.

"We heard this in 2011 as well (about) the need to continue to appeal and engage younger voters, we are aware. So, in a way, these are a work in progress and we will continue to work harder at it," he said.

One specific way would be for the PAP to focus its energies on mastering new digital platforms that will best connect with voters.

Mr Wong cited feedback from a resident that while the party's videos on Facebook were good, they were not suited for a platform like Instagram.

He added that there might even be new mediums, like video-sharing platform TikTok, which could become more relevant.

"So we will have to accelerate that work to master this new medium, again doing more than we have been already but working doubly hard at this," he said.

With 10 MPs, Workers' Party expected to surface alternative policies, not just question government ones: Lawrence Wong
By Lim Yan Liang, The Sunday Times, 19 Jul 2020

Now that the Workers' Party (WP) has 10 MPs in Parliament, it cannot just continue to question and ask for changes to government policy, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

"It is also their duty to put forward serious policy alternatives to be scrutinised and debated," Mr Wong said at a press conference at the People's Action Party (PAP) headquarters in Bedok to give the party's reading of the election results.

He added that while the WP has told voters that its aim is to provide a stronger check on the PAP Government - rather than to take over as the Government - this is because it "is a message they know voters want to hear".

"The WP says that their long-term aim is to deny the PAP two-thirds of the seats in Parliament," said Mr Wong. "But I have no doubt that they want to displace the PAP and form the Government one day - except that they find it inconvenient to acknowledge this now," he added.

The WP's win in Sengkang GRC in the July 10 general election means it now has an unprecedented 10 of the 12 opposition seats in Parliament. The remaining two seats, for Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs), will be taken up by Ms Hazel Poa and Mr Leong Mun Wai of the Progress Singapore Party, whose West Coast slate emerged as the best losers in the general election.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on the morning after the election that WP chief Pritam Singh would be formally designated as the Leader of the Opposition and given appropriate staff support and resources.

PM Lee had also said that he looks forward to the 10 new opposition MPs and two NCMPs participating in and contributing to parliamentary debates, as well as to the national debate, as Singapore deals with the coronavirus crisis and economic fallout.

Yesterday, Mr Wong said that details of the support to be given to Mr Singh are still being worked out, and will be announced by the Government and Parliament when ready.

He added that there is nothing wrong with having the ambition to one day form the Government, as that is what political parties in parliamentary democracies exist for.

"To win over voters' confidence and support in order to win power, form the Government and carry out their policies - it is part of a democracy at work," he said. "So we must be clear-eyed about this."

With the hustings over, elected representatives should now focus on their parliamentary work, which is to scrutinise and rigorously debate not just government policies, but also any alternative policies that the WP or NCMPs may wish to bring up, added Mr Wong.

Part of that process entails identifying the costs and downsides of any proposed policy because it is impossible to satisfy everyone, and "at the end of the day, someone has to bear the costs", he added.

"What we need to do is to understand policymaking is difficult work," he said.

"It may not have the same emotive appeal as an election rally, but now we come to the hard work of governance and governing Singapore - for the good of all Singaporeans and for the future of Singapore."

"So we hope, whether it's PAP or the Workers' Party, we can, in Parliament, have these rigorous debates, constructive debates that will enable better policies to be made for the betterment of all."

WP: Realistic policy alternatives also depend on PAP's openness
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 19 Jul 2020

The Workers' Party will continue to give "forward-looking suggestions for the welfare of Singaporeans" despite facing resource constraints, said party chief Pritam Singh.

He noted yesterday that unlike the Government, which can tap a 120,000-strong civil service as a resource for parliamentary debates, the WP continues to rely mainly on its volunteer base for political work.

"The extent to which realistic policy alternatives can be advanced both in public and in Parliament is also a function of the PAP's approach to democratic politics," said Mr Singh, who has been designated Leader of the Opposition.

What remains to be seen, he added, is if the People's Action Party Government will become more open in sharing information.

The Aljunied GRC MP was responding to National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who said in a speech to PAP activists that the WP "cannot just continue asking the Government questions".

It is also the opposition party's duty to put forward serious policy alternatives to be scrutinised and debated, now that it has 10 MPs in Parliament, Mr Wong added.

To this, Mr Singh stressed that questioning the Government remains a "fundamental role of a responsible opposition - not just in Singapore, but in any parliamentary democracy anywhere in the world".

"This duty is critical in holding the Government to account and it will remain fundamental to the WP's work in Parliament," he said.

The WP will also continue to put forth proposals in the House, he said, citing plans for a redundancy insurance scheme and suggestions for an alternative approach to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, both of which have been raised in Parliament previously.

It will also encourage public conversations on topics such as the lease decay of Housing Board flats, and release public working papers to highlight issues that significantly affect Singaporeans, he added.

"This term, our efforts in Parliament are centred on key bread-and-butter concerns; jobs for Singaporeans, healthcare for our seniors and more generally, cost of living concerns, among others," Mr Singh said.

"A key aspect of our focus will cover political issues that have a direct impact on transparency, accountability, balance and fairness."

Mr Singh also noted in his response to Mr Wong that the WP remains far from its medium-term goal of securing one-third of the elected seats in Parliament. This would require the party to have 32 elected MPs, and mean that the PAP would no longer be able to muster the two-thirds majority needed to change the Constitution at will.

"Even so, such an outcome would still give the ruling party a very strong mandate with 61 elected seats, allowing it to advance its agenda and policies," Mr Singh said.

The WP's 10 MPs currently represent about 11 per cent of the elected seats in Parliament. In comparison, its six MPs held just under 7 per cent of seats after the 2015 election.

Said Mr Singh: "Whatever the expectations the PAP has of the WP, the WP's purpose and approach in Parliament is to advance and achieve better outcomes for Singapore, and to champion the welfare of Singaporeans. We will remain steadfast and fully committed to that cause."

GE2020: No policy set in stone, but need to bear in mind costs of change, says Lawrence Wong
By Hariz Baharudin, The Sunday Times, 19 Jul 2020

No policy is set in stone, and the PAP is always prepared to review, update and improve its policies, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

Rigorous debates in Parliament between MPs, be they from the People's Action Party (PAP) or the opposition, will enable better policies to be made for all Singaporeans, he added.

"No policy is sacrosanct. There is never a policy that we say (is) cast in stone and can never change. We are prepared to always review, update and improve policies," said Mr Wong.

"But let's also be clear, every change or every adjustment you make to a policy carries with it costs and benefits - there is upside, there is downside."

He was speaking in a live-streamed session on the results of the July 10 general election to party activists, and took questions from reporters at the PAP's headquarters in Bedok.

The PAP was returned to power at the election, winning 83 of 93 seats, but saw a slide of 8.7 percentage points in its share of the popular vote to 61.23 per cent.

Mr Wong was asked how the party's vote share - which has been described as a clear mandate rather than a strong mandate - will affect the way the Government formulates its policies.

He replied that while the results from GE2020 have given the PAP a clear mandate to allow the party to pursue its agenda and policies, these can be debated in Parliament.

"And the debate should be a two-way debate. Not just looking at government proposals, asking for government policies to change, but also looking at alternatives and scrutinising these alternatives - what their costs are and what the downsides are," he said.

"It's very hard for anyone who has been involved (in) doing policy work to find a policy that can be done to satisfy everyone, it's almost impossible," he added.

"You can say 'Let's do it', but at the end of the day, someone has to bear the cost. It could be another segment today, it could be a future generation later on, but somehow, some time, someone will have to bear some of the cost."

Tackling COVID-19 crisis comes first; political succession can be dealt with later
By Lim Yan Liang, The Sunday Times, 19 Jul 2020

The main focus for the Government now is getting Singapore through the COVID-19 crisis, and the question of political succession will be dealt with at a later point, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

Speaking to reporters at the PAP's Bedok headquarters during a press conference that was live-streamed to party activists, Mr Wong also said there was "nothing to be read" from who chairs such press conferences.

"We are at the stage where we are still in a crisis, we are really looking at getting Singapore out of this huge crisis - healthcare, economic issues - (and) so our focus right now is to have the team all working as one focusing on this, overcoming the crisis and emerging stronger from the crisis," he said.

"It doesn't matter whether it's 4G, 3G, whatever G, right? I think whoever is in Government, all of us are focused on this particular issue.

"There will be time later on to talk about succession but now, let's focus our minds on overcoming the crisis and getting through it. That's our main focus."

Asked about the timing of the press conference and why he was helming it instead of Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat or Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, Mr Wong said the People's Action Party (PAP) conducts a post-mortem after every election, and the party felt it would be useful to set the context of its preliminary findings of the election results.

Mr Heng and Mr Chan are, respectively, the PAP's first and second assistant secretaries-general. Mr Wong is a member of the party's central executive committee, and adviser to the PAP Policy Forum, which organises regular dialogues for rank-and-file party members to engage government leaders on policies.

"We are doing a thorough review as we do after every general election, but this time round we decided not to wait until the end of the review, which might take a month or more, but to just come out earlier to set this in context and to give our perspectives," said Mr Wong.

"I'm doing it today but it could have been any one of us. I don't think you need to read too much into who is the spokesperson."

Mr Wong was also asked whether the review would look at whether DPM Heng remains the best person to lead the PAP's 4G team, following GE2020.

Mr Heng's last-minute switch on Nomination Day from Tampines GRC, where he had been MP for two terms, to helm the PAP's East Coast team is seen by some as a move that prevented the loss of East Coast GRC to the Workers' Party, but observers noted that Mr Heng's team won the five-member GRC with a slimmer than expected vote share of 53.39 per cent.

Mr Wong said the review would be focused on the election, rather than on succession matters.

"At an appropriate time once the review is completed, we might do a similar press conference like this," he said. "It may be a different person... again, it may be me, may be someone else - nothing to be read from the person helming it."

"Or it may be done later on at the party convention. We find different occasions where we may share some of these, if there are additional things that we wish to share, both with our activists and also with the public," he added.

Singapore GE2020: PAP hasn't seen a swing away from party by minority groups, says Lawrence Wong
By Hariz Baharudin, The Sunday Times, 19 Jul 2020

There has not been a disproportionate shift in support away from the People's Action Party among minority voters, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

"We have not done a very comprehensive study because all of this is ongoing, but in the broad scans that we have seen in different constituencies, it has not been the case that areas with high proportions of minority groups have swung significantly against us," he told reporters. He was replying to a question on support for the PAP from ethnic minorities in GE2020 at a press conference at the PAP's headquarters in Bedok.

Mr Wong cited his own constituency, Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, noting that the Marsiling and Woodlands areas of the four-member group representation constituency have a significantly higher share of minority families compared with the national average.

But from what he has observed, it was not the case that the polling districts with a higher minority share swung more significantly.

"We did not see that pattern. It's premature to conclude and make a generalised statement about how they might have voted," he said.

"There may be different patterns across different constituencies but I would not be able to say at the overall level, whether or not there was any swing amongst the minority group at this stage."

He added: "Even if they had voted against us, it might not have been an issue of race or the issues that they identified with as a community, but related more to national issues - around jobs, around incomes as well. So we will have to tease out the factors."

The PAP won 63.18 per cent of the vote in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC against a Singapore Democratic Party team, down from 68.73 per cent in GE2015. This was a smaller swing than the 8.7 percentage point drop nationwide.

Asked if the result would have been different if the election were held later, Mr Wong said: "COVID-19 is going to be with us for many, many more months... very, very likely till next year. I can't see any possibility of this diminishing at the end of the year."

Outcome of GE2020 good for Singapore, reflects desire for new balance in politics: Tharman
By Fabian Koh, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2020

The outcome of the recent general election was good for Singapore, and reflects a desire among Singaporeans for a new balance in politics, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

The country's politics has changed permanently, he said in a Facebook post last night. "We will have to make this new balance work well for Singapore."

That will happen if there is vigorous and informed debate between the People's Action Party (PAP) and the opposition on policies, "with both sides treating the other with equanimity", he added.

Mr Tharman said the results were good for the PAP, as the ruling party secured a solid mandate with 61.2 per cent of the popular vote.

Second, the 8.7 percentage point swing in vote share from the 69.9 per cent that the PAP secured in 2015 - which Mr Tharman described as an "unrepeatable high" - is leading the party "to review its own game so as to win the hearts, and not just the minds, of a changing electorate".

The Coordinating Minister for Social Policies said the election results were also good for opposition politics, and not merely because they won more votes collectively.

"The stronger vote for the WP (Workers' Party) than others, with its more reasonable brand and eschewing of campaigning around a single figure, reflected a discerning public and a political culture that bodes well for Singapore," he said.

He noted that the opposition also fielded more candidates who were credible in the eyes of the public.

While the PAP had a strong cast too, with several candidates who brought fresh perspectives, the opposition benefited from another major factor, he said.

Namely, that people hold the PAP - with its longstanding, dominant position - to different standards from the opposition. "That's human nature," he said. "It also reflects a desire among Singaporeans for a new balance in politics."

Mr Tharman is the second PAP leader to give his take on the election results over the weekend, a day after National Development Minister Lawrence Wong shared the party's preliminary post-mortem with party activists and the media.

The Senior Minister said the aim of both the government of the day and the opposition must be to serve Singaporeans' interests through policies that can stand the test of time, "rather than gain popularity today by telling people what they would like to hear, or promising benefits without revealing the costs and making clear who will bear them".

Singapore has to do more to achieve social justice, he said, but in a way that enables it to last.

It can do so by strengthening social mobility, raising the pay of the lowest-income workers without risking unemployment, ensuring middle-aged Singaporeans continue to have good careers, as well as giving greater peace of mind to retirees and being able to sustain the benefits for them over time.

Singapore, he added, can never claim to be a model for anyone else in politics, as each society moves forward out of its own history and social circumstances.

There are three key challenges that democracies face that the country must address as well, in a way that reflects the changing aspirations of Singaporeans, said Mr Tharman, whose PAP team secured 74.6 per cent of the votes in Jurong GRC to defeat the Red Dot United team.

First, Singapore must be a democracy with a strong centre and avoid the polarised politics that many other democracies have drifted into, even as its own politics gets more contested, he said.

He also stressed the need to keep working to promote multiracialism in society. "That's already our strength, and it's what evades most societies, but we must strive to build on it in the coming years."

This must include efforts to breed closer interactions as children grow up, and reduce the soft or implicit disadvantages that minorities still face in many workplaces.

"And we must be a more tolerant democracy, with greater space for divergent views, and a more active civil society, without the public discourse becoming divisive or unsettling the majority," he added.

Mr Tharman said that if Singapore can evolve in these ways, they will "help ensure stability in our democracy in the years to come".

"And they will tap the energies and ideas of a younger generation of Singaporeans and their desire to be involved in public affairs."

PM Lee tells PAP MPs to be prepared for sharper questioning with more opposition MPs in Parliament
In a letter, he also tells them to express their views frankly and addresses social media use
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 2 Aug 2020

People's Action Party (PAP) MPs must expect sharper questioning and more robust debates in Parliament with more opposition MPs and a Leader of the Opposition in the House, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In an eight-page letter to all ruling party MPs on how they should conduct themselves, released to the media yesterday, PM Lee told them to be prepared to engage the opposition, to clarify their interventions and scrutinise their ideas.

"PAP MPs should express their views frankly, whether for or against government policies. During debates, speak freely and with conviction. Press your points vigorously, and do not shy away from robust exchange," he said in the letter titled "rules of prudence", which is traditionally issued to PAP MPs after each general election.

"However, please exercise judgment when putting your points across, and do not get carried away playing to the gallery," he added.

The PAP won 83 out of 93 seats and 61.2 per cent of the votes in the July 10 polls, in which all seats were contested. With the Workers' Party taking 10 seats, party chief Pritam Singh will formally be appointed Leader of the Opposition.

On the PAP's results, PM Lee said: "The people have endorsed what we have done in our previous term, and given us a clear mandate to take Singapore forward, through the crisis and beyond.

"Now we must work with Singaporeans to keep Covid-19 in check, protect jobs and livelihoods, and make sure everyone comes through safely together."

This time around, PM Lee also specifically addressed the use of social media by MPs in his letter.

He noted that social media has become a part of daily lives and MPs are free to use it to let the public know about their work or their views. He urged them to "have some fun" and to "try out different platforms", but to also be mindful that they are elected public figures.

"So observe decorum, ensure factual accuracy as this is an absolute requirement for us, and remember every social media post will be permanently associated with you and the party," he said. "Be honest, empathetic, positive and affirming in all your messages. Know your audience and be sensitive to how they feel. Do not use social media to attack another person," he added.

PM Lee also reminded MPs that social media is but one way to connect with people, and they have to attend to residents' needs and interact with them in person.

The rest of the letter set out in detail the standards that PAP MPs must abide by in areas ranging from parliamentary attendance to the acceptance of company directorships to receiving gifts.

As in years past, PM Lee stressed the importance of upholding the party's reputation for clean and incorruptible government.

To this end, MPs should separate their public political status from their private business or professional interests, he said. This means they should, among other things, be careful of the invitations and gifts they accept, and ensure they do not lobby public officers on behalf of friends, clients or their employers.

MPs also should not solicit directorships, nor accept those where the company wants to "dress up the board with a PAP MP or two, in order to make the company look respectable".

PM Lee also cautioned MPs against using Parliament to lobby the Government on behalf of their business or clients. "You may, however, relay feedback and speak freely to Cabinet ministers... ministers will listen carefully to arguments on principles, especially when they relate to the general policy of their ministries. But ministers will not exercise their discretion to change individual decisions without very good reasons which they can justify publicly," he said.

Even when raising funds for non-political purposes for constituency and grassroots organisations, MPs have to be extra scrupulous in accepting donations.

He advised them to gather multiple small contributions, rather than depend on one or two large donors so as to "avoid incurring obligations which may expose you to awkward requests later".

PM Lee also urged MPs to always listen closely to Singaporeans, help them tackle pressing needs, and accurately reflect their worries and aspirations to the Government.

"Never break faith with the people," he said.

In Parliament, MPs' honest, informed views are important political input to ministers in policymaking, he told them. And ministers will accept all valid, constructive suggestions, but will also have to challenge inaccurate or mistaken views.

"Over time, the public will see that PAP backbenchers are as effective as opposition MPs, if not better, at holding ministers to account, getting issues fully debated, and influencing policies for the better," he said.

He added that he has asked the Speaker of Parliament to give all MPs, particularly new MPs, ample opportunity and latitude to speak, noting that their first opportunity will be during the debate on the President's Address at the opening of Parliament later this month.

Summing up the letter in a Facebook post sharing it yesterday, PM Lee said: "Whether or not we are in a pandemic, our responsibility as MPs is clear. We are servants of the people, and will carry out our duties with integrity, honesty and incorruptibility. We will always be sensitive to the views and attitudes of the people we represent, and conduct ourselves with humility, modesty, decorum and dignity."

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