Monday 6 November 2023

PM Lee Hsien Loong to hand over leadership to DPM Lawrence Wong by November 2024 if all goes well, before next GE

People's Action Party Awards and Convention 2023
PM Lee Hsien Loong says he has full confidence in 4G team, and DPM Lawrence Wong will lead party at next General Election
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2023

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong will lead the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the next general election, taking over the reins from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ahead of the polls.

PM Lee said on Sunday: “Lawrence has told me that he is ready... I have full confidence in Lawrence and his team and there is no reason to delay the political transition.”

He was speaking at the party’s biennial convention held at the Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre, addressing more than 1,000 party members.

He said that while he did not manage to pass on the baton before his 70th birthday last year as hoped, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, “if all goes well, I will hand over by PAP’s 70th birthday next year”. The party was set up on Nov 21, 1954.

The next general election (GE) has to be held by November 2025.

PM Lee noted that the ministers had already chosen DPM Wong to be their leader, a choice endorsed by the PAP MPs. The major decision that was left to make was when the handover should take place, before or after the next GE.

Handing over to DPM Wong before the GE would mean he would be the one leading the party in the campaign, and would win his own mandate and take the country forward with the full backing of the nation, said PM Lee.

“Leadership transition for any country is always tricky. Many things can go awry. Both Singaporeans and people outside Singapore, near and far, are watching very closely. Everything depends on the success of this third transition in our history,” he added.

He said that he had thought over the decision carefully and discussed it thoroughly with DPM Wong and ministers from the 3G and 4G teams.

He acknowledged that DPM Wong and the 4G team have been serving for many years now, and have taken on greater responsibilities.

They are preparing well to take the helm and have earned their spurs during the Covid-19 pandemic, he added.

Increasingly, they are setting the national agenda, such as through the Forward Singapore exercise, he said. “Therefore, I intend to hand over to DPM Lawrence before the next GE,” said PM Lee.

“After that, I will be at the new PM’s disposal. I will go wherever he thinks I can be useful,” he added.

“I will do my best to help him and his team to fight and win the next GE, and to fulfil their responsibilities… I want to help him fulfil his responsibilities, leading the country, so that Singapore can continue to succeed beyond me and my 3G minister colleagues, for many, many more years to come.”

Fighting back tears, PM Lee said: “It has been my great fortune and honour to have served the country, first in the SAF, and then in the party and government, for all of my adult life.”

As he paused to compose himself, loud cheers erupted around the hall as party members stood to applaud him.

Noting that Singapore and the PAP have been thoroughly transformed through his time as prime minister for almost 20 years, he added: “Some things never change… We remain dedicated to Singapore, we still feel the call of duty to serve the people, we still have a duty to future generations to keep this island safe and secure.

“These things have not changed under my watch, and they will not change under the 4G team. I ask each of you to give Lawrence and his team your full support, help them win a strong mandate, and work with them to take Singapore to greater heights.”

DPM Wong, in his speech earlier, spoke of how he had been working hard to get ready to receive the baton from PM Lee.

“I will not be in this alone. I will have a team of 4G leaders whom I have worked closely with over the years. We are ready to lead,” he said, adding that he is ready for his next assignment.

On his leadership approach, DPM Wong said he does not start with the assumption that he knows everything or has all the answers.

Instead, he prefers to begin by listening to a diverse range of perspectives and views and staying open to different ideas.

“I’ve been in Government long enough to know that I cannot please everyone. But I will do my best to explain my decision, to be upfront about the problems and trade-offs, and win the support of the broad majority of Singaporeans,” added DPM Wong.

Three young party activists also spoke on various topics.

National University of Singapore Associate Professor Elmie Nekmat, branch chairman of the Sengkang Central division, stressed the need to address the segregation and fragmentation brought about by digital technologies and social media.

Ms Chua Wei-Shan, organising secretary of the Young PAP, spoke on the challenges for a political party to self-rejuvenate, which involves attracting committed and forward-thinking individuals as well as fostering a conducive environment for diverse perspectives.

Dr Hamid Razak, assistant branch secretary of the PAP’s Jurong Spring division, said that recognising and valuing different perspectives can lead to more comprehensive policy solutions, and called for more collaborative decision-making.

At the event, 415 activists received party awards as recognition for their dedication and service to Singapore.

In his speech, PM Lee also spoke of the need for high quality leadership for the PAP to govern competently, keep clean and win elections.

Right now, the party has a strong and capable top team that is in touch with Singaporeans, that has shown what it can do, he said.

“Singapore needs an outstanding ‘First Team’ of leaders – who, on top of mastering the politics, can deliver good government for Singapore,” he added.

Singapore has a good public service, noted PM Lee.

“Sometimes people argue that Singapore civil servants are so good, that we don’t need ministers who are so competent or experienced... It’s a crazy argument,” he said.

“The civil service didn’t create itself out of thin air. We have a good civil service precisely because we have had good political leadership who built up a world-class civil service.”

Civil servants can only deliver good results if led by competent ministers who understand the issues, make good decisions and command their respect, said PM Lee.

Only then can ministers guide and complement the civil servants in their work and deliver on their political promises, he added.

He likened it to an orchestra, which could be composed of the best musicians in the world, but without a good conductor, it cannot produce good music.

“In fact, if the players are not impressed with their conductor, they may leave the orchestra to perform under some other maestro’s baton, and we will be left with a mediocre orchestra,” he said.

This was seen vividly in the pandemic, where ministries and agencies performed magnificently, but without the ministers to make big, risky decisions and take political responsibility, Singapore would not have come through as it did, said PM Lee.

“Remember – if we have ordinary political leaders, we’re going to have an ordinary public service, and this is going to become an ordinary country. For other countries, it’s fine,” he said.

“But if one day this little red dot no longer shines brightly and is exceptional, if it cannot stand out compared to other countries in the world, you are nobody, you are sunk.”

PAP will work harder to win votes from Singaporeans

PM Lee also spoke of how conviction, support and votes are now harder to win.

While the party’s policies may be working and arguments may be logical, Singaporeans must be convinced that the PAP is on their side.

The party must engage widely, present and communicate its policies well, and help Singaporeans understand how they can benefit from them.

It also needs to counter opposition moves to undermine the Government, show them up when they are less than upfront, and defeat their tactics to create doubt and sow confusion, said PM Lee.

Describing briefly the party’s history, PM Lee noted that the PAP was not born dominant, but has won every election since independence decisively.

“But with each successive election, the PAP’s task has become harder… Singaporeans’ expectations have evolved. They hope to do much better for themselves, they expect much more from the Government,” he said.

He acknowledged that “quite a few” hope to see more alternative voices in Parliament, even though an overwhelming majority agree that the PAP should continue to govern Singapore – “in fact, even the opposition parties think so, and say so”.

The PAP hence faces a unique political quandary, said PM Lee.

While an overwhelming majority want – and expect – the PAP to form the Government, a significant proportion also wants the party’s opponents to do better, he said.

In working harder to win elections, the party’s politicians will have to spend more time and energy on politics, inevitably at the expense of policies, he added.

While constructive and responsible political debate is good and necessary, actual debate in Parliament does not always reach this ideal, said PM Lee.

“Not infrequently, it becomes a political brawl. The opposition tries to score political points, the Government does its best to explain its considerations and constraints, and why the opposition’s proposals may not work. And so it goes, in a repeated cycle,” he said.

While some of this is to be expected, if it goes too far, more energies will be spent debating and manoeuvring for political advantage, leaving problems unsolved and society divided, said PM Lee.

“Having more opposition MPs doesn’t necessarily make for a better government,” he said.

He noted how other countries, even those who call themselves “mature democracies”, have seen increasingly polarised politics.

For example, the United States was recently at a political stalemate when the previous Speaker of the House was kicked off his role, and the election for a new Speaker saw bitter political infighting among Republicans.

“As Singaporeans, we must manage our politics better, and at all costs we must avoid running into such problems,” said PM Lee.

Emphasising his experience in government for almost 40 years, PM Lee said there was no way PAP governments could have planned for the long-term and adopted tough but necessary policies if they had to constantly worry about being around after the next election.

“Today’s Singapore could not have been built by a weak government hanging on to power by a slim majority, or with the governing party and policies chopping and changing after each election,” he said.

“This is a nation of lions led by lions. If we have a nation of lions disunited and led by unworthy leaders, we would have come to grief a long time ago.”

He acknowledged that the possibility of the PAP being challenged is always there, and must always be there, as the essence of democracy.

Hence the party must continue to do a good job and make sure Singaporeans continue to have a good choice when they cast their votes.

While opposition parties may tell voters not to worry as they do not aim to form the next government, and that the PAP can continue to think long term even with a majority of just one seat, or that neighbours will not think the country is weak – “with lives and futures at stake, voters must worry”, said PM Lee.

“Give (your vote) to the party you trust to keep us together, to build a Singapore fit for your kids and that will be there for their kids.”

PAP's integrity and honesty must never be compromised, says PM Lee
‘We’ll never let standards slip, system go corrupt’: PM Lee on need for clean governance
By Kok Yufeng, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2023

The ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) commitment to honesty and incorruptibility is “absolutely non-negotiable”, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday, as he stressed the need for high standards of integrity and competent governance.

“Singapore is a small place. Our system works,” he told more than 1,000 PAP members at the party’s biennial convention at the Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre.

“If you do something improper, sooner or later, it will come to light. And when it does, you will be investigated. And if it is proved that you did something wrong, you are out and consequences will follow.”

PM Lee, the PAP’s secretary-general, said this principle applies not just to ministers or party leaders, but also to every party member, and he cautioned those in attendance against abusing their positions or accepting any favours.

“It’s shameful. It’s wrong.

“Remember, you are a member of the People’s Action Party, and the name of the party says it all – your duty is to serve the people, to act on behalf of the people and never of yourself,” he added, highlighting the need to also keep corrupting influences out of Singapore.

“Our integrity and honesty must never be compromised, and only in that way can we do justice and uphold the trust that Singaporeans have given us,” PM Lee said.

He pointed to a Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau investigation into a minister – a veiled reference to the ongoing probe into Transport Minister S. Iswaran, who has been put on leave of absence.

“However strict our discipline, however zealous our enforcement – human nature being what it is – somewhere, sometime, someone will be tempted and will go astray.”

The Prime Minister added: “It is particularly when we are tested that we must prove our mettle, put our principles into action, regardless of the embarrassment or political cost.”

He urged PAP members to show Singaporeans and the world that the party’s standards remain “as high as ever”.

PM Lee also referred to the sprawling $2.8 billion money laundering case – believed to be among the world’s largest – in which nine men and a woman were arrested and charged with offences including money laundering, forgery and resisting arrest.

He said a journalist had asked him whether by promoting family offices – investment funds managing the assets of wealthy families – and the financial industry, Singapore is letting its standards slip to attract “unclean money”.

“My answer was: Not on your life,” PM Lee said.

“We will never let our standards slip. It’s not worth it. If we let it happen, if we relax and close one eye and let dirty money in, what will happen to us? The doubtful characters will come, they will spend generously to make themselves appear respectable, to show that they love Singapore, to ingratiate themselves to us, to try to get PR (permanent residency) and citizenship.

“They will cultivate ministers and officials, they will donate to good causes, they will make themselves useful in all sorts of ways… Very soon, our whole system would be tainted, and then corrupted.”

Noting how law enforcement agencies here picked up warning signs in 2021 and watched the money laundering network carefully before swooping in to cripple it, PM Lee said everybody who does business in Singapore must know how things work here.

“We will never let this system go corrupt,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, who will take over the top job before the next general election, said he, too, believes in keeping politics here clean, honest and right.

Besides integrity, another basic prerequisite for the PAP is clear and strong governance, said PM Lee. He said the party is elected not just to occupy office or be popular, or to seek power for the sake of it.

“We fight to form the Government, so that we can serve Singaporeans, to make decisions on their behalf, to solve their problems, to improve their lives, and to constantly watch over the nation to keep it safe and secure.”

He said the Government has to be on top of its responsibilities, be clear on what needs to be done and act decisively and promptly.

“We must be prepared to take the hard decisions, and have the courage to do the right thing for Singapore, even if this incurs short-term political costs. And if we are not ready or able to do that, we should get out of the way,” he said.

PM Lee cited examples of how the party had pushed through difficult decisions despite initial doubts and resistance – from national service to resettling people into public housing.

He said the PAP government has continued doing its best in this regard, including how it contained the Covid-19 pandemic while tackling other urgent concerns.

Beyond Singapore’s borders, PM Lee said the Government has continued strengthening ties with the United States and China amid increasing geopolitical rivalry, settled longstanding issues including those related to airspace and defence with Indonesia, and is discussing key bilateral issues with Malaysia.

Singapore is also watching closely events in the Middle East, and the recent re-eruption of conflict between Israel and Palestine has had an impact here, he added.

“Like people elsewhere in the world, Singaporeans identify with the plight of the Palestinian people, and Muslim Singaporeans especially have felt this very strongly,” he said.

“But all Singaporeans are appalled by the human suffering in Gaza as Israel attacks targets there, as they were by Hamas’ terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians on Oct 7 that prompted these IDF (Israel Defence Forces) military operations.”

PM Lee added: “The Government has to take a national position that upholds our consistent principles, which considers the sentiments and feelings of our population.

“We feel sympathy for the civilian victims on both sides and will extend humanitarian help to those in need. But we must not let problems elsewhere widen fault lines in our society.”

To prepare for the future, PM Lee said the Government has made longer-term decisions.

For example, the increase in the goods and services tax – which will climb from 8 per cent to 9 per cent from 2024 – is a difficult but unavoidable move to fund the rising healthcare needs of an ageing population.

He said policy changes have also been made on sensitive social issues, such as the repealing of Section 377A, which criminalised sex between men.

PM Lee added: “Tackling a global pandemic, solving immediate problems and planning for the future, all at the same time – this is what people expect of a competent and efficient government.”

‘I am ready for my next assignment’: DPM Lawrence Wong at PAP conference
By Jean Iau, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2023

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Sunday said he has been working hard to get ready to receive the baton from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“I will not be in this alone. I will have a team of 4G leaders whom I have worked closely with over the years. We are ready to lead,” he said, adding that he is ready for his next assignment.

He called on the party’s activists to broaden their outreach to grow the diversity of people they bring into the party and engage Singaporeans on different platforms.

DPM Wong, who is the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) deputy secretary-general, also urged the party to improve how it communicates and make clear what it stands for, what its long-term plans are, and what it is doing across the board.

Speaking to more than 1,000 cadre members at the PAP’s Awards and Convention held at the Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre, DPM Wong said he and his fellow 4G leaders will engage the activists.

“Collectively, we must renew, refresh and strengthen our party,” he said.

Commenting on his leadership approach, DPM Wong said he does not start with the assumption that he knows everything or has all the answers.

Instead, he prefers to begin by listening to a diverse range of perspectives and views, and staying open to different ideas.

“As a leader, I will have to judge the balance and do what I assess to be in the best interest of all Singaporeans,” he said, noting that there will always be some who will disagree or not be satisfied with his decisions.

“I’ve been in Government long enough to know that I cannot please everyone. But I will do my best to explain my decision, to be upfront about the problems and trade-offs, and win the support of the broad majority of Singaporeans,” added DPM Wong.

He said his approach to leadership would be to find common ground among Singaporeans and the things that bind them together. He added: “Not separating and dividing, but keeping us together as one united people.”

DPM Wong said that Singapore must always find ways to forge consensus in the light of its diversity.

“If our instinct is to disconnect from and dismiss those who disagree with us or are different from us, then we all stand to lose,” he noted.

“We must resist the urge to draw lines, and instead focus on our commonalities, and find ways to make space for one another,” he added, noting that this is how the Government has dealt with sensitive issues including allowing nurses to wear the tudung and repealing Section 377A.

DPM Wong also spoke of the consensus generated by the Forward Singapore exercise, which was led by the PAP’s fourth-generation leadership team and culminated in a report released in October.

This report is more than a policy document and represents a shared vision and road map for Singapore’s future, he said.

DPM Wong reiterated that he did not assume that the PAP would win the next general election convincingly, or even win it outright.

He said that policies do not happen in a vacuum and are driven by politics.

“Adopting difficult policies, doing big things in Singapore – they require not only political gumption on our part but also political support from Singaporeans,” he said.

He noted that long-term policies require political durability and consistency to follow through.

“If a political party is hanging on to office by its fingernails – do you think its leaders will be thinking and planning long term?

“I certainly doubt so, because all they will think about is survival and that’s what we are seeing now across the great democracies of the world.”

But Singapore has avoided this fate because it has a strong PAP government, added DPM Wong.

On broadening its outreach, DPM Wong said the party needs to go beyond engaging residents through its branches and specific segments through functional groups.

“We must engage a wider range of groups, and grow the diversity of people we bring into our PAP,” he said.

While not everyone the party reaches out to will agree or join the party, DPM Wong said that as long as they are open to making a common cause with the party, it would welcome them as friends.

He urged the party to sharpen its messages to not only focus on action and rely on government communications.

“If we only focus on actions, and we fail to get our messages across effectively, I think we will have a big problem,” said DPM Wong.

The party will need to engage Singaporeans on different platforms, including through social media, to get its message across to the right audience.

The need to communicate better extends to communicating how PAP’s policies differ from the opposition’s.

DPM Wong said that in most areas, the opposition’s proposed policies are shades of PAP’s policies but in some areas, their positions are fundamentally different.

The PAP must explain why its approach is better for Singapore and Singaporeans.

He also called on the party to review and strengthen how it is organised.

DPM Wong said the party started with a single branch office in Tanjong Pagar in 1955 and continues to have tremendous strength in party branches, each doing significant work serving residents in every constituency.

He acknowledged that activists across the branches are passionate about many causes and the party has many young members brimming with new ideas, and eager to step up.

“All of you represent our greatest strength. You are the key to building a stronger relationship of trust with our people,” he said.

DPM Wong said that he wishes to provide activists with more resources to drive their causes and ideas into action and support them in engaging and mobilising Singaporeans.

“Together, we will demonstrate our resolve and dedication as a party, fully committed to the mission of uniting Singaporeans and building our shared future together,” he said.

Lawrence Wong’s political workplan ahead of Singapore’s next general election
Entrusted to reform the People’s Action Party for more than a decade, its presumptive Secretary-General and Prime Minister of Singapore has at least four tasks ahead.
By Gillian Koh, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2023

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had first raised the issue of political succession more than 10 years ago before the 2011 General Election (GE2011).

This week, a timeline was set. A clear signal was sent that the People’s Action Party was ready to take its final steps in the transition to Singapore’s fourth premier.

“I intend to hand over to DPM Lawrence (Wong) before the next general election,” PM Lee, who is also PAP secretary-general, said at his party’s convention on Sunday.

“If all goes well, I will hand over by the PAP’s 70th birthday (in November) next year (2024),” he added, assuring Mr Wong that he will be “at the new PM’s disposal” to go where he may be useful.

Mr Wong, the PAP’s deputy secretary-general, was not coy about taking up this mantle. “I am ready for my next assignment,” he declared at the same event.

Wong, at the heart of party reform

In his speech, Mr Wong said he will lead the party to adopt new strategies and programmes, “so that at that time when we mark this happy occasion... we can look forward to a refreshed PAP ready to fight the next election”. This is his first task.

There are steps towards decentralisation and empowerment in the party he hinted at. Activists will be better equipped as leaders and trusted with new resources to craft projects meaningful to them, while presumably seeking input from local constituents.

If so, such bottom-up efforts can help the PAP become more immediately relevant to the ground and deeply engage with it. The ability to form bonds of friendship and emotional ties with constituents is what Mr Lee said the men and women in white need at the past two party conventions.

In truth, Mr Wong has been a reformer in the party for a long time now.

At the 2013 PAP convention, three years after GE2011, which saw a swing of 6.5 percentage points away from it and the loss of Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) to the Workers’ Party (WP), Mr Wong had a key role in drafting an important party resolution and its refreshed Constitution, which were subsequently adopted.

Amid citizen worries that the PAP had lost touch with the ground and after deep internal soul-searching, Mr Wong helped the party recommit itself to its democratic socialist ideals – to building a fair and just society, and “strengthening an open and compassionate meritocracy”.

This political movement translated into shifts in government policy. Examples include the 2016 KidStart and Fresh Start Housing Scheme, which provide active support to disadvantaged families to do better in life. Changes were announced to the PSLE scoring system in 2013 to reduce excessive competition. The roll-out of a SkillsFuture Credit system in 2015, as well as the subsequent expansion of the WorkFare Income Supplement and the Progressive Wage Model, help to temper the vagaries of a capitalist economy.

The unique electoral quandary

Even if the PAP can rediscover and channel its reformist streak to win over Singaporeans, Mr Wong has to confront a longstanding electoral trend. This is his second task.

Three years ago, Mr Wong was trusted to deliver a public statement on the PAP’s analysis of its performance at GE2020.

At the time, he acknowledged that winning 61.2 per cent of the votes cast was 4 percentage points lower than the party had hoped for, and that it was disappointed to have lost Sengkang GRC.

There were four key reasons for the results, he explained. A critical factor among them was the compelling argument by the opposition parties to deny the dominant PAP a blank cheque to govern. This, in effect, was using the PAP’s strength against itself.

The Institute of Policy Studies’ post-election survey series conducted since 2006 confirms much of these findings.

Professionals in the higher middle-income bands are more likely to feel that the country is better served if there are opposition voices in Parliament to hold a strong PAP government to account and for alternative views to be explored, as part of a governing system.

Those who have benefited from the system will feel that voting against it on occasion will keep it honest and committed to good governance.

Mr Lee himself mentioned this again at the PAP convention.

“The PAP faces a political quandary unique in the world: An overwhelming majority of the voters want us to form the government,” he said on Sunday. “In fact, they expect the PAP to form the government. But among those who want us to form the government, quite a significant proportion also want our opponents to do better.”

Finding the right political equilibrium between the need for a strong government and having enough opposition representation to keep it so is not an easy one to arrive at.

It is for this reason that Mr Wong rallied the party faithful to fight to win every seat. There is no telling which constituency is vulnerable in the heat of an election.

Tackling issues of economic competitiveness and cost of living

Another reason Mr Wong attributed the fall in support for the PAP in GE2020 to was the economic pain that middle-aged voters and small businessmen suffered during the pandemic.

His third task in gearing up for the next election is to assuage concerns about the economic climate and assure voters they have good jobs, wages, and support to cope with the rising cost of living. This was an issue hotly debated in Parliament this week, during a motion filed by the Workers’ Party calling on the Government to review related policies.

Having led the charge as co-chair of the Multi-Ministry Taskforce tackling the Covid-19 crisis, Mr Wong has found that life has not gotten easier for Singaporeans.

The world has jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire – from the pandemic, to the eruption of the Russian-Ukraine war in February 2022 and now the Israel-Hamas war. Painful adjustments are needed in supply chains for business continuity and for companies to remain cost competitive.

But volatility and the rise in the prices of energy, food, minerals and precious metals are straining businesses and households.

Over the past two Budgets, Mr Wong, as Finance Minister, has assured Singapore that large sandbags of public monies to ease the transition to a higher-cost Singapore have already been planned for and more support will be available if needed.

The opposition will continue to decry the announced rise in goods and services tax and other statutory costs, which the Government will reiterate are needed for structural rises in social spending, especially to address the needs of an ageing population.

What is different now is that Mr Wong and his 4G leaders have provided a compass for the party and people to guide Singapore through these troubling times: new forms of social support including re-employment aid in the Forward Singapore report launched in late October.

It puts flesh on the PAP’s vision for a compassionate meritocracy articulated in 2013, now reinterpreted for an age of radical economic, technological, social, and ecological disruption of 2023.

The challenge is to find enough time to translate these effectively to strengthen the belief that the PAP deserves a strong mandate to deliver further progress and social inclusion – possibly over the next two Budgets and through partnerships with the community and the corporate sector.

Overcoming the first campaign

As Mr Wong addresses all of the above, there is a fourth task. New PAP leaders taking their party into a general election for the first time suffered an electoral swing away from it. Mr Wong has to think of how to overcome such an effect.

Singapore’s second prime minister Goh Chok Tong conceded four seats to the opposition and saw a swing of 2.2 percentage points away from the PAP to a vote-share of 61 per cent in his first campaign as leader of the PAP in GE1991.

The opposition coalesced around a “by-election effect” strategy of contesting less than half the seats available, effectively returning the PAP to government on Nomination Day, so that voters can elect opposition candidates without worrying their vote would topple the incumbent party.

Mr Lee suffered an 8.7 percentage point swing away from the PAP and conceded two seats to the opposition in 2006 after the latter shifted to contesting more than half the seats.

At the party convention, Mr Lee noted that leadership transition in any country is tricky, and the next GE coincides with this milestone. Mr Wong must work hard against this factor, which the opposition will surely strategise around. This provides context for Mr Wong’s refrain that he does not assume the PAP will form the government in subsequent elections.

Mr Lee has and will undoubtedly continue to explain that a strong mandate is crucial to bring into office a deep bench of capable leaders, foster unity behind government responses to challenges facing Singapore, and maintain confidence among citizens and investors in the country’s future.

In turn, Mr Wong and the 4G leaders have conveyed their earnestness to serve and their sense of empathy with the struggles of the man in the street. As the PAP adopts a more relational approach in its work, they have plans to deliver on, which they hope will be appreciated when voters elect their representatives in Singapore’s 15th Parliament.

Dr Gillian Koh is Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Policy Studies, National University of Singapore.

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