SINGAPORE — The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) must be ready to face closer scrutiny and adapt to what Singaporeans want to see in politics if it is to thrive going forward.
This was the message conveyed by Singapore’s Prime Minister and PAP secretary-general Lee Hsien Loong during his speech at the party’s central executive committee elections on Sunday (8 November).
“To sustain this PAP model, the Singapore model, the PAP cannot stand still. The country is changing, the politics is changing, and so the PAP must change as well,” said Lee, whose 45-minute speech was also aired live on the party’s Facebook page.
Lee noted that Singaporeans today want more than just political stability, job security and opportunities for themselves and their children.
“Increasingly, Singaporeans want other things, too. To participate more actively in shaping our society; to re-examine basic assumptions; and look beyond the tried and tested way of doing things.
“And to have greater checks and balances and more alternative voices, more robust public debates and closest scrutiny of government policies,” he said, adding that such expectations will only grow with every new generation.
The 68-year-old also reminded his party colleagues that they need to continue serving all Singaporeans in their work and to not compromise on the party’s identity and core values even as it changes with the times.
“We must stand 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 our performance.
“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. If we are not prepared to fight hard for what we believe in, people will soon sense it,” said Lee.
As the political contest in Singapore grows more intense, he added that the PAP “must work harder to translate programs and policies that benefit Singaporeans into messages that people will identify with an embrace”.
On the issue of leadership renewal, Lee – who became prime minister in 2004 – said it remains one of his top priorities but reiterated that he would see the nation through its COVID-19 crisis before handing over responsibility to the “next team”.
Lessons form GE2020
Regarding the 2020 General Election results, Lee said he was “not surprised” that the PAP’s performance fell short of expectations, despite some analysts predicting a landslide victory for the party.
The election saw the PAP taking home 61.2 per cent of the overall votes and conceding a record 10 parliamentary seats to the Workers’ Party.
“Several commentators had predicted a landslide victory for the PAP. They said, ‘This is a crisis election, there will be a flight to safety’... I never believed this. On Nomination Day I said I didn't think this was a realistic outcome,” said Lee.
He added that by the time the elections were held in July, many were “feeling the pain” from the safe-distancing regulations and the sharp lockdown, which had a dire effect on Singapore’s economy.
Lee also touched on the PAP’s “strange dilemma” of having many voters want more alternative voices in Parliament while also having the party remain in charge of the country.
“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... Paradoxically, people voted like this because they believed that the PAP was the only party that could win and govern Singapore,” he said.
Going forward, Lee said the party will draw lessons from the election to improve its future performance. He added that National Development Minister Desmond Lee is heading the party’s after action review of the election and is gathering feedback from its activists and branches.
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