SINGAPORE — The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) needs a strong win at the upcoming general election to show it has the full backing of the people and to secure Singapore’s long-term future.
This was the sentiment expressed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during this speech at the party’s convention on Sunday (10 November) at the Singapore Expo, according to local media reports.
“Others will be watching us closely to see if the PAP wins a strong mandate, especially at a time of leadership transition,” said Lee to the 2,500 party members and activists at the event.
“We must convince Singaporeans to give us a strong mandate. Not just to return a PAP government, but also to secure Singapore for the long term,” he added, noting that the coming election will be a “high stakes” one.
A matter of trust
Lee, who is the PAP’s secretary-general, pointed to the breakdown of politics in many countries and how “trust in leaders has been eroded”, citing the examples of protests in Chile and Hong Kong.
While the “anger and frustration” behind such unrest has not taken root here, he warned that Singapore is “not immune” to such pressures over social issues and that “they can overwhelm us too if we are not careful”.
He also raised issues such as Singapore’s position amid China-US tensions and the country’s relations with its neighbours. On this note he cited the need for a “capable government” that is able to deal with bilateral issues firmly and has the “full backing of the people”.
“The unity of Singaporeans is our first line of defence,” he said.
Calling on the PAP to “always remain the party of the people”, Lee also pointed to the strengthening of social safety nets – as seen in efforts like the Merdeka and Pioneer Generation Packages – as one of the means of maintaining social cohesion.
Making the tough choices
In leading the nation, the PAP must also never be afraid to do what is right, even if it means making unpopular decisions, said Lee.
He cited the example of the government’s move to amend the Elected Presidency to ensure minority representation and the announcement of an impending hike in the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
On the issue of the Presidency, Lee noted that it had provoked negative reactions.
“Overall, from a short-term perspective, this issue is a political minus for the Government. But this is part of governing," he said. "I am convinced that we did the right thing.”
Regarding the change in GST, he said it was better for the government to be upfront in announcing it as this was the “right and responsible thing” to do in order explain the need for the increase and to give people advance notice.
“Few governments in the world tell you before an election that they plan to raise taxes. I could have kicked the can down the road, and left this to the future PM and his team,” said Lee.
Backing the next generation
On the PAP’s leadership transition, Lee said the fourth-generation (4G) team – led by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat – has taken shape and are aware of what is expected of them.
“Back them, they are our team, they are Singapore’s team,” he said.
Lee added that the PAP must be prepared for a “tough fight” in the coming general election, which must be held by April 2021.
“This election is not just about the PAP doing a bit better or a bit worse. This election will decide if Singapore can sustain good and stable government, to be different from other countries for a long time to come,” he said.
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