Tuesday, 10 November 2020

PAP 36th Ordinary Party Conference: Singapore needs to keep cycle of good governance and stability going, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

This virtuous circle must not be broken even as PAP adapts to country's changing politics
PAP must also adapt to Singaporeans' desire for stronger opposition
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2020

Singapore needs to keep up the virtuous circle of good governance that results in political stability and enables long-term planning, even as the People's Action Party (PAP) responds to the country's changing politics, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

The PAP gained strong political support by delivering on aspects such as housing, education, healthcare and security, he said.

This resulted in political stability, and allowed the party to think long-term and bring good people into politics.

Taking a long-term view, in turn, allowed it to deliver better lives for all Singaporeans and further retain voters' confidence, he added.

Singapore must keep this cycle going for as long as possible, PM Lee told 3,000 party activists at the PAP conference. "Once we break it, it will be impossible for any party to restore it, not even the PAP."

The hybrid event - with cadres gathered at branches to elect the party's central executive committee, and party leaders and MPs at NTUC Centre - was the party's first major gathering after the July general election, where the PAP won 61 per cent of the votes and 83 out of 93 seats.

PM Lee, the PAP's secretary-general, noted that this outcome reflected a broader desire for more alternative voices and a stronger opposition to check the PAP Government.


Many countries have fiercely contested democratic systems and more exciting politics, but these do not always deliver good government, he said.

Instead, contestation often makes politics unstable and divided, with those in power focusing only on their own short-term political survival, and those out of power offering remedies without being upfront about the costs and consequences, he added.

Governments cannot make long-term commitments or set a consistent long-term direction as a result.

Singapore is not like that, PM Lee said. But to sustain the Singapore model, the PAP cannot stand still as the country and its politics change, and has to adapt to what people want to see in their politics.

Singaporeans still want stability and progress, job security and opportunities. But increasingly, they want to take part in shaping society, re-examine basic assumptions and look beyond the tried-and-tested way of doing things, said PM Lee. They also want greater checks and balances, more robust public debates and closer scrutiny of government policies.

"These expectations and desires will only grow with every generation of Singaporeans," PM Lee said.

The PAP has to respond to them.

But, he added: "We must continue representing all Singaporeans, and not just a particular sliver or segment of the population."


PM Lee also touched on the task of keeping Singapore safe from the virus and getting the economy back on track, stressing the need for the PAP to provide strong leadership and give citizens confidence to overcome their most serious crisis since independence.

The Government will also pay special attention to lower-income groups, and work on balancing the competition Singaporean workers face from foreigners in the labour market with the need for the economy to remain open, he added.


PM Lee also said leadership renewal remains one of his top priorities but, as he had previously explained, it was his duty to see the country through the crisis before handing it over in good shape to the next team.

"The PAP has kept itself vigorous and stayed in power by constantly evolving and rejuvenating ourselves, and keeping our policies fresh and relevant to the times," he said. "We have to keep on doing this, even as we forge fresh bonds between the PAP and successive generations of Singaporeans."


Speaking before PM Lee, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, the PAP's first assistant secretary-general, said the party has to retain its core strength of taking action, to get the right things done, and continue to win hearts and minds.

"To do this more effectively, we have to evolve how we engage a changing electorate," he said.

"In a more turbulent and uncertain future, the PAP will need to work even harder to build consensus and create the political space for us to do the right thing for Singapore and Singaporeans," he added.











Desire for greater political diversity here to stay, but Singapore must be alert to polarisation, says DPM Heng Swee Keat
By Lim Min Zhang and Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2020

The desire for greater political diversity and more checks and balances - clearly felt during the recent general election - is here to stay in Singapore, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Subsequent general elections will only get tougher for the People's Action Party (PAP), as the opposition will seek to deny it a two-thirds majority in Parliament, and thereafter, to displace it and form the government, added Mr Heng, who is the ruling party's first assistant secretary-general, yesterday.

The PAP won 83 out of the 93 seats in Parliament with just over 61 per cent of the popular vote, in the lower range of its projections, and lost the newly formed Sengkang GRC to the Workers' Party.


In a virtual address to party cadres at the PAP's biennial conference, Mr Heng said the party must earn the right to lead, and urged them to be alert to what is at stake.

Sharper contestation can easily spiral into unstable and divided politics, he warned. While the polarisation seen elsewhere has not taken root in Singapore, it is not immune to such pressures, he added, citing how anti-foreigner sentiments can be easily stirred up.

Race, religion and inequality are other fault lines that can greatly divide Singapore society, he said, calling on the PAP to do what it can to resist such pressures. "In a turbulent and uncertain future, the PAP will need to work even harder to build consensus and create the political space for us to do the right thing for Singapore and Singaporeans."


Speaking after Mr Heng, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said voters had sent an "unequivocal signal" that they wanted the PAP back in power to see Singapore through the challenges ahead, even as they felt the pain of the downturn and wanted more alternative voices to check the Government.

The PAP will act on feedback given by activists on its campaign, he said, stressing that the party must have the backbone and conviction to fight for its beliefs as political competition intensifies.

He added that the party will not give up in opposition-held constituencies: "We will maintain our presence. We will strive to win back the voters there - and one day, we will succeed."


Mr Heng outlined three ways the party will evolve to engage a changing electorate - by strengthening its ground engagement, improving its online outreach and growing its base of activists.

The PAP must continue to recruit widely so that its MPs and activists can represent the growing diversity of society, he added. "As a broad tent that occupies the middle ground, the PAP can better organise ourselves to champion the concerns of various groups."


PM Lee said there is no substitute for the hard, patient work of reaching out to people, solving their problems, and winning their trust and confidence. But even as the party continues its groundwork, it must not neglect the political contest which has become more intense in the new normal, he added.

To this end, the PAP must work harder to translate programmes and policies that benefit Singaporeans into messages people will embrace, he said. It must also be ready to face closer scrutiny, both in and out of Parliament.

"Where the criticisms are fair and the suggestions are constructive, we will take them in, and improve our policies and performance," he said. "But we should also defend vigorously what we believe in and stand for, take the fight to the opposition, and persuade Singaporeans of the best way forward."

PM Lee added: "You may feel desperate, your back may be to the wall - you believe in it, stand for it, fight for it. If need be, die for it."













Govt will pay attention to lower-income groups, address competition from foreigners while keeping economy open
By Hariz Baharudin and Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2020

Lower-income groups and the issue of inequality will get special attention from the Government as it helps companies and workers through the Covid-19 crisis, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Speaking at the People's Action Party (PAP) biennial conference, PM Lee said a major worry about the pandemic is that it could hurt lower-income families disproportionately, and undo years of progress made to level up low-wage workers. This cannot be done through "glib slogans or half-baked proposals", he said, but with a full range of practical support measures.

Yesterday, he cited the Progressive Wage Model, Workfare and Silver Support, and said that the Government will develop new ways to help lower-income groups.

PM Lee also acknowledged the worry Singaporeans have about competition from foreign work pass holders, and said he fully understood the pressures.


Singaporean workers must feel reassured that the Government will help them hold their own against foreign competition, and that they are fairly treated, he said. Failing to do so will lead to a lot of "angst and social tension". But the Government must also convince Singaporeans that the best way to protect livelihoods and families is to keep Singapore open for talent and business, he added.

PM Lee cautioned: "If we just close ourselves up and send away the work pass holders, it will result in fewer jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans, and more hardship for our workers and their families."

He also noted that the pandemic is as much a political problem as it is a public health problem.

Reopening the economy and relaxing Covid-19 restrictions is a delicate balancing act, he noted, pointing to how many countries had tried but failed to get the balance right and seen infections rise again.

Those countries had to lock down once more. But by then, people had become tired and cynical about the restrictions, causing them to turn against their governments and blame leaders for bad outcomes.

This illustrates how it takes political leadership to convince people of the need to keep safety measures in place, especially when case numbers are low. "We must show people while we do all these things that we care for them, and we empathise with their difficulties. And we must maintain public trust in the Government and its leaders," he added.

"So that if we have to implement new measures or policies, people will accept them, cooperate with them, and give them a chance to work. Otherwise, it will be very difficult for us to survive this crisis without further mishap," he said.

PM Lee also stressed that in this time of crisis, it is especially vital to strengthen the partnership between the PAP and NTUC.

Engagement on the ground between party branches and individual unions is "not so deep" as at the leadership level, he said, urging MPs who serve as advisers to various unions to help on the ground and engage workers directly. The PAP should recruit more union leaders, and have more activists in the unions, he said, adding that the close PAP-NTUC partnership will be a "precious asset" as Singapore navigates an uncertain future.

"Workers will need a strong labour movement more than ever, while the Government will rely on the unions to fulfil their responsibilities, to protect workers and take Singapore forward," he said.










PAP conference: GE2020 shows voters want PAP back in power; party will work harder as political contest intensifies, says PM Lee
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2020

Voters in the July general election sent the "unequivocal signal" that they wanted the People's Action Party back in power, even as they felt the pain of the downturn and wanted more alternative voices to check the government, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday.

The PAP will act on feedback given by activists on its campaign, he added, stressing that the party that must have the backbone and conviction to fight for its beliefs as political competition intensifies.


"That's how we have been able to win support for our ideas and plans, and shown Singaporeans that we remain the best team to secure their future."


Going over the PAP's showing in the recent general election, Mr Lee said the results fell short of the party's expectations, but were not completely surprising.

It won 83 out of the 93 seats in Parliament with just over 61 per cent of the popular vote, in the lower range of its projections, and lost the newly-formed Sengkang GRC to the Workers' Party.

Mr Lee said he was confident that Singaporeans firmly supported the Government's efforts against Covid-19. But by the time the election was held, people were also feeling the pain of safe distancing restrictions and the sharp economic downturn.

Some had lost their jobs or experienced reductions in income, while others were worried about their livelihoods. Businesses, too, were frustrated by the impositions placed on them.

"Because of all this, the mood was not upbeat - it was apprehensive. The anxiety was palpable, and it cost us votes," Mr Lee said.

On top of that, the pre-existing desire for alternative voices has grown and resurfaced during this election.

"Notwithstanding these trends, the unequivocal signal from voters was that they wanted the PAP to form the government, and to see Singapore through the challenges ahead," he added. "Even many who voted for the opposition did so fully expecting that the PAP Government would be returned to power, and Singapore would continue to be in good hands."

This voting behaviour arose because people believed the PAP to be the only party who could win and govern Singapore, Mr Lee said. "The outcome is already certain; so no need to make extra sure."

He highlighted how the party held its ground in both East Coast and West Coast GRCs, as well as the Bukit Batok single seat, despite the opposition mounting a strong challenge. These were important wins, he said.

He also acknowledged the work of party activists in Workers' Party-held Aljunied GRC and Hougang, noting that they had "tended hard ground" over the past five years and more.

The party was disappointed not to have done better there, and saw the narrow loss of Sengkang GRC to the WP as a painful one, Mr Lee added.

"But we respect the decision of Sengkang voters," he said, reiterating the party's commitment to these areas. "The PAP will not give up in these opposition constituencies. We will maintain our presence. We will strive to win back the voters there - and one day, we will succeed."

Mr Lee also noted that there is no substitute for the hard, patient work of reaching out to people, solving their problems, and winning their trust and confidence. On top of engaging with residents in their constituencies, MPs will also continue to reach out to organisations such as trade associations and interest groups.

But even as the party continues its groundwork, it must not neglect the political contest, which has become more intense in the new normal, he added.

To this end, the Government must work harder to translate programmes and policies that benefit Singaporeans, into messages that people will identify with and embrace. It must also be ready to face closer scrutiny, both in and out of Parliament, Mr Lee said.

"Where the criticisms are fair and the suggestions are constructive, we will take them in, and improve our policies and performance," he said. "But we should also defend vigorously what we believe in and stand for, take the fight to the opposition, and persuade Singaporeans of the best way forward."

People will sense it if the PAP is not prepared to fight for what it believes in, he said, adding that the party has historically won support because voters knew it had backbone.

"You must have guts, you must have conviction, you must have that spunk and that fight," Mr Lee added.

"You may feel desperate, your back may be to the wall - you believe in it, stand for it, fight for it. If need be, die for it."







PAP must maintain core identity representing all Singaporeans while responding to changing politics, says PM Lee
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2020

The People's Action Party must maintain its core identity and continue representing all Singaporeans even as it responds to Singapore's changing politics, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Nov 8).

He stressed that the party must continue to govern Singapore well, work the ground, stay accessible to voters and lead by example, calling on all activists to commit themselves to these tasks as the country battles its worst economic crisis since independence.

"Never forget we are the People's Action Party," Mr Lee, who is party secretary-general, said in his virtual address to around 2,000 PAP cadres at their first gathering since the July general election. "We are not the party of special interest groups or particular communities. We represent the people of Singapore."


The PAP held its biennial conference on Sunday, with cadres gathering at their respective branches to cast their votes for the party's central executive committee. Meanwhile, party leaders and MPs congregated at NTUC Centre near Raffles Place, where they had to take rapid Covid-19 tests before entering the venue.

In his speech, Mr Lee noted that the PAP has won every general election since independence by constantly evolving and rejuvenating itself, and keeping its policies fresh and relevant to the times.

But to sustain the Singapore model, the party cannot stand still as the country and its politics change, he said.

Singaporeans still want stability and progress, job security and opportunities for themselves and their children.

But increasingly, they want to also participate more actively in shaping society, re-examine basic assumptions, and look beyond the tried-and-tested way of doing things, said Mr Lee.

On top of that, they want to have greater checks and balances, more alternative voices, more robust public debates, and closer scrutiny of government policies, he added.

"These expectations and desires will only grow with each new generation of Singaporeans," Mr Lee said. "The PAP must respond to them, and at the same time, we must maintain our core identity and what we stand for. We must continue representing all Singaporeans, and not just a particular sliver or segment of the population."


These points were reiterated by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in his own speech delivered before PM Lee spoke. Mr Heng noted that the PAP's core strength is in focusing on taking action to get the right things done for Singaporeans.

"To do this more effectively, we have to evolve how we engage a changing electorate," said Mr Heng, the party's first assistant secretary-general. This involves strong ground engagement as well as a stronger online outreach, he added.

He urged activists to reach out to Singaporeans, including those whose views differ from their own, to engage them in an "inclusive and constructive manner".

The Prime Minister noted that the PAP has started a virtuous circle in Singapore by delivering on aspects such as housing, education, healthcare and security. This helped it to gain strong political support, which resulted in political stability and allowed the party to think long term. Taking the long-term view allowed it to deliver better lives for Singaporeans, enabling it to further retain voters' confidence.

Singapore must keep this cycle going for as long as possible, Mr Lee said. "Once we break it, it will be impossible for any party to restore it, not even the PAP."

Many countries have fiercely-contested democratic systems and more exciting politics, but do not always deliver good government, he noted.

Instead, contestation often makes politics unstable and divided, with those in power focusing only on their own short-term political survival.

"Those out of power make irresponsible, extravagant claims to get in. They offer deceptive shortcuts and painless remedies without being upfront about the costs and consequences," he added.

"As a result, the government cannot make any long-term commitments, and the country cannot maintain a consistent long-term direction to steer its way forward."

Singapore is not like that, but the PAP will need to adapt to what Singaporeans want to see in their politics, Mr Lee said.

He noted how the party's fourth-generation leaders have been leading initiatives to encourage Singaporeans to come forward and express themselves. These include the Emerging Stronger Conversations, as well as the East Coast Conversations launched by DPM Heng in his constituency.

The latest batch of MPs can each bring their personal experience, speaking with conviction and passion to represent the concerns and interests of Singaporeans, Mr Lee added.

He also said that leadership renewal remains one of his top priorities, reiterating that he would see the country through the crisis brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Singaporeans will judge the PAP not only by its past, but by what it will do in this term of government and what it can continue to do, Mr Lee said. "Our actions must strengthen their trust in the PAP, and our policies and plans must continue to take Singapore forward."

"We are a party of purpose, of conviction, of action. We have made life better for millions of Singaporeans," he added. "We will constantly pursue a more just and equal society. And we are ever determined to walk alongside every Singaporean, striving towards a brighter future together."







Covid-19 also a political challenge, critical to maintain public trust in govt and its leaders, says PM Lee
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic is as much a political problem as it is a health problem, as it challenges global leaders to maintain public trust in the government and its leaders, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Reopening the economy and relaxing Covid-19 restrictions is a delicate balancing act, he noted, pointing to how many countries had tried but failed to get the balance right and seen infections rise again.

In those cases, the countries had relaxed and opened up with too few precautions after their Covid-19 cases fell.

Infections spiked again, and the countries had to lock down once more. But by then, people had become tired and cynical about the restrictions, causing them to turn against their governments and blame their leaders for bad outcomes.

This illustrates how it takes good political leadership to convince people about the need to keep safety measures in place, especially when case numbers are low, said PM Lee on Sunday (Nov 8).

"We must show people while we do all these things that we care for them, and we empathise with their difficulties. And we must maintain public trust in the government and its leaders," he added.


PM Lee, who is secretary-general of the ruling Peoples' Action Party (PAP), was speaking at the party's biennial conference, where cadre members voted to elect the party's top decision making body.

The Covid-19 situation in Singapore is under control, he said, after the country took "drastic but essential" steps to save lives, including the two-month circuit breaker period which caused the economy to nosedive.

The task facing the country now is to keep the situation stable and to get into a position where Singapore can safely and confidently open up further.

"We cannot simply relax the current restrictions, and hope that Covid-19 cases remain low. The more we open up and resume normal activities, the more likely it is that we will have new cases, including from overseas, either visitors or returning Singaporeans," he said.

To deal with new cases and minimise the danger of major outbreaks, Singapore has to improve its processes and safeguards to detect infections early and prevent big Covid-19 clusters, he noted.

This is why much work is being done to strengthen Singapore's testing and contact tracing capabilities, PM Lee said.

This includes deploying and developing rapid test kits as well as expanding the digital check-in system Safe Entry and the Bluetooth enabled contact tracing programme TraceTogether.

With these efforts in place, Singapore will be able to move on to phase three of its reopening without suffering big waves of infections, and get back to a more normal life where larger social gatherings are allowed and more international travel is permitted.

Public trust in the Government is key to the country's coronavirus response.

"So that if we have to implement new measures or policies, people will accept them, cooperate with them, and give them a chance to work. Otherwise, it will be very difficult for us to survive this crisis without further mishap," said PM Lee.







Vital to strengthen ties between PAP and NTUC as Singapore tackles Covid-19 crisis, says PM Lee
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2020

People's Action Party MPs who serve as advisers to various unions should go beyond advising and help out on the ground and engage workers directly, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Nov 8).

The PAP should also recruit more union leaders to join it, and have more party activists within the unions so that ties are kept warm and close at the working level, said PM Lee, who is the party's secretary-general.

In making these points, he stressed how it is especially vital to strengthen the partnership between the PAP and the National Trades Union Congress in a time of crisis.

Ties between the ruling party and labour movement remain very strong at the leadership level, he said, but the engagement is "not as deep" on the ground between PAP branches and individual unions as well as union branches.

Urging PAP MPs to engage workers, he said: "That way when worker issues arise, PAP MPs and leaders will have a solid feel and understand the ins and outs of issues and why workers are worried, what their concerns are. And PAP MPs can speak up on behalf of workers in Parliament, and show them that they have a voice in the PAP."


PM Lee was speaking at the biennial PAP conference, where cadre members voted to elect the party's its top decision making body.

This year, the Prime Minister, other party leaders and MPs gathered at the NTUC Centre, along with invited unionists.

"Fighting for workers is deeply embedded in the PAP's DNA," said PM Lee, as he highlighted the symbiotic relationship between the party and unions.

This is why the PAP sends representatives to attend the NTUC delegates' conferences, and why unionists from the NTUC are joining party cadres at the PAP conference on Sunday, he added.

"It is not just for old times' sake, but an expression of our abiding close ties," said PM Lee, who said that the enduring and productive relationship between both sides has formed the foundation of Singapore's harmonious tripartite relations, and sustained the country's economic success.

In the current Covid-19 crisis, the unions need the Government on their side looking after workers' interests, supporting their families, protecting jobs and livelihoods, he said.

"And this is when the PAP government needs the strong support from the labour movement, to keep a finger on the pulse, to get workers to understand and support the measures and the policies that will help us get out of this black time," he added.

He cited a food voucher scheme for the needy by FairPrice as an example of the partnership between the NTUC and PAP branches.

The scheme is overseen by the NTUC team, including secretary-general Ng Chee Meng and NTUC Enterprise group chief executive Seah Kian Peng, who are both party members. The total amount of food vouchers that will be disbursed to needy families has gone up from $1.2 million last year to $3 million this year.

With much more economic disruption and turbulence in the job market expected in the wake of Covid-19, along with new models of work expected, the close partnership between the PAP and the NTUC will be a "precious asset" as Singapore navigates through an uncertain future, said PM Lee.

"Workers will need a strong labour movement more than ever, while the Government will rely on the unions to fulfil their responsibilities, to protect workers and take Singapore forward.







PAP conference: Lawrence Wong, Desmond Lee elected to party's top committee for first time
Results signal continuity, stability in party's leadership ranks amid the crisis: Observers
By Yuen Sin and Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2020

Education Minister Lawrence Wong and National Development Minister Desmond Lee have been elected to the People's Action Party's (PAP) top decision-making body for the first time, reflecting the acknowledgement by cadres of their prominence on the national stage.

Both men, who are seen as key members of the PAP's fourth-generation leadership team, were co-opted into the central executive committee (CEC) at the last biennial party conference in 2018.

Observers and party cadres say the results of yesterday's election signal continuity and stability in the PAP's leadership ranks amid the ongoing crisis.

Mr Wong, 47, co-chairs the multi-ministry Covid-19 task force, while Mr Lee, 44, co-chairs a task force to help Singapore's economy emerge stronger from the crisis.

Over 2,000 party cadres voted at the PAP's biennial party conference yesterday, with the top 12 nominees elected for a two-year term. The other CEC members are Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 68; Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, 59; Mr Chan Chun Sing, 51; Mr Gan Kim Yong, 61; Ms Grace Fu, 56; Mr K. Shanmugam, 61; Mr Masagos Zulkifli, 57; Mr Ong Ye Kung, 50; Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, 51, and Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, 59. The 12 were elected by secret ballot from a list of 19 nominees.

Ministers Indranee Rajah, 57, who was among the top 12 in 2018, and Josephine Teo, 52, were co-opted into the CEC as they got the 13th and 14th highest votes.

The other names on the ballot were labour chief Ng Chee Meng, 52, newly promoted ministers Maliki Osman, 55, and Edwin Tong, 51; Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary, 48, and North West District Mayor Alex Yam, 39.

Mr Ng, who lost the contest for Sengkang GRC in the July general election, had been elected into the top 12 in 2018.


Associate Professor Eugene Tan from Singapore Management University's law school said a possible reason for Mr Ng's omission from the top 12 could be that he was not re-elected as an MP in GE2020.

Another possible reason, cadres say, is Mr Ng was not viewed in the same light as others with ministerial portfolios. Observers believe Mr Ng would be co-opted into the CEC for union representation.

On newer ministers not getting in, former PAP MP Inderjit Singh said cadres want to see a slower transition to the 4G at this stage.

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior analyst at management consultancy firm Solaris Strategies Singapore, said Mr Wong and Mr Lee's election into the CEC reaffirms their importance in the 4G team.

Associate Professor Bilveer Singh, deputy head at the National University of Singapore's department of political science, added both are future PM candidates.

Prof Tan noted that Mr Lee has the longest runway among his CEC colleagues. "He may well be a stalwart of the 5G leadership," he said.







PAP conference: A reminder of need to balance change with continuity
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2020

Every two years, over 2,000 men and women in white congregate for the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) conference, where they elect the party's top decision-making body and map the way forward.

But unlike previous conferences, the PAP cadres cast their votes yesterday in a distributed manner amid the Covid-19 pandemic and news that a deeply divisive election had produced a new US president.

Education Minister Lawrence Wong and National Development Minister Desmond Lee - who have won plaudits for their leadership and personable approach during the crisis - became the latest two ministers to be inducted into the party's central executive committee.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed the evergreen importance of trust which is buttressed by solid work. "In politics there is no substitute for the hard, patient work of reaching out to people, solving their problems, winning their trust and confidence," he said.

At last year's party gathering - in alternate years, where there is no voting, it is called a convention - PM Lee too, spoke of trust, outlining what the party must do to keep the electorate's faith in it, give people hope for the future, and ensure social cohesion amid an erosion of trust in the political class and establishments around the world.

Another key point of the speeches by PM Lee and PAP first assistant secretary-general Heng Swee Keat yesterday was on engagement. While there is no question that the party has to deliver competent government and substantive policies, PM Lee said that "good policies must be accompanied by good politics". In short, the Government is not just an administrator, but also a beacon and galvanising force.

"The PAP must provide Singaporeans with strong political leadership. To imbue Singaporeans with determination and confidence. To put our people at the centre of everything we do, listen to their aspirations and anxieties, and light a candle for them in this hour of darkness," he said.

He added that the party must adapt to what Singaporeans want in their politics. While stability and job security may be paramount, increasingly, Singaporeans want other things too - from participating more actively in shaping society, to the closer scrutiny of government policies and more robust public debates. "These expectations and desires will only grow with every generation of Singaporeans," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng broke this down further by describing what forms of engagement are needed, beyond the traditional method of walking the ground. This includes engaging residents on thematic issues such as jobs and sustainability. It also means strengthening online outreach, something which some analysts saw as the PAP's weakness during GE2020.

Mr Heng acknowledged that the PAP must have a stronger presence online, and that it will take "experimentation and imagination" to adapt its content and messaging in new ways.

But even amid much-needed change, PM Lee took care to make a third key point: There will be continuity and stability in leadership succession. His statement comes after former senior minister S. Jayakumar posed an intriguing question last week, on whether the PM will revisit his earlier intention not to lead the PAP into the next GE, should Singapore still be suffering from the pandemic fallout. PM Lee had said he hopes to step down by the time he turns 70, which would be in February 2022.

Yesterday, PM Lee assured Singaporeans that leadership renewal remains one of his top priorities, and reiterated his intention to see the country through the crisis. "It is my duty to see our nation through this crisis, before I hand over responsibility for Singapore in good shape to the next team and into safe hands," he said, urging Singaporeans to support him and his team.


The speeches yesterday were a tacit acknowledgement by the party leadership that form matters in addition to function. Like it or not, the optics and process of engagement can affect whether a policy is embraced. They were also a call to members to embody the PAP's activist roots. PM Lee reminded them the party began as one of the workers and unions, and it must ignite its founding ethos: "You must have guts, you must have conviction, you must have that spunk and that fight."

And they called for unity, recognising that Singaporeans are not monolithic, nor is politics here irrevocably partisan or unstable.

The results of an Institute of Policy Studies survey released last month showed voters in the swing category, defined as being mixed in their views compared with pluralists and conservatives, rose sharply in GE2020. Pluralists, or those who firmly desire more political diversity, rose just slightly, with more of them emerging among the less-educated and lower-income.

This shows voters here generally do not hew to extreme political positions, and the desire for more political diversity has bread-and-butter issues at its root. Hence the emphasis of PAP leaders yesterday that the party must continue to represent the broad middle ground in Singapore politics.

With these in mind, those who predict the decline of the PAP, given its loss of another group representation constituency this year, have much to chew on.

The party has no lack of resolve and resources. And with the right approach, it can - and has stated it wants to - wrest back the ground that it has ceded.







PAP co-opts four new members into its top decision-making body, including Ng Chee Meng
Unchanged faces in CEC's top ranks show need for unity amid Covid-19 fight: Analysts
By Justin Ong, The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2020

The People's Action Party (PAP) co-opted four new members into its highest decision-making body yesterday, a move some political observers say identifies three faces to watch.

They are Minister Edwin Tong, MP Alex Yam and businessman Victor Lye, a PAP grassroots leader who had contested, without success, in two general elections.

The fourth was a non-surprise: labour chief Ng Chee Meng, who led the team that lost to the Workers' Party (WP) in Sengkang GRC in July's general election.


Given the close ties between the PAP and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), it would be a "massive departure" from the past if the labour movement was not represented in the 36th Central Executive Committee (CEC), Singapore Management University's Associate Professor Eugene Tan, a former Nominated MP, told The Straits Times.

Yesterday's announcement also signals the PAP's succession plan is intact, with Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat poised to take over from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the observers added.

DPM Heng and Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing remain first and second assistant secretaries-general.

The organising secretaries continue to be National Development Minister Desmond Lee, and Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu.

Mr Lee, with Education Minister Lawrence Wong, was elected by party cadres for the first time into the CEC at the PAP's biennial party conference earlier this month.


Two others were also co-opted into the CEC for garnering the next-highest number of votes after the top 12 were elected.

The duo are Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, and Mrs Josephine Teo, the Manpower Minister.

Mr Wong will continue to chair the party's Policy Forum and Mrs Teo, its Women's Wing.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong will remain as party chairman and Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli, its vice-chairman.

The party treasurer is Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam and the assistant treasurer is Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung.

PM Lee remains the PAP's secretary-general.


The unchanged faces in the top ranks of the CEC did not surprise the analysts, given the need for party unity as the Government battles Covid-19.

"Right after GE, and with the crisis of a generation, what you want is stability and continuity," said Prof Tan.

Added former PAP MP Inderjit Singh: "The PAP does not want to make it seem someone has to take the fall for the (GE) results. So the signal is no change in succession plan for now."

The PAP's overall vote share in GE2020 is 61.24 per cent, an almost nine percentage point drop from 2015. It also lost the newly formed Sengkang GRC, giving the WP victory in two group representation constituencies and one single-member constituency.


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