PAP must be a strong national party to take Singapore forward, he tells activists at its 34th conference
The world is going through an uncertain period and the People’s Action Party (PAP) needs to raise its game as it prepares for the next general election.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is the PAP’s Secretary-General, made this spirited rallying call at the ruling party’s biennial conference on Dec 4. Speaking to more than 2,500 activists at the Singapore Expo, he outlined two major priorities for the PAP government in the years leading up to the next polls, which must be held by 2021.
First, Singaporeans need to be equipped with the skills to look after themselves. That is why there is heavy investment in education, and a big push to upgrade workers through the SkillsFuture national movement.
The government is also strengthening social safety nets, through initiatives like the Pioneer Generation Package, MediShield Life, CPF Life, Silver Support and Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS), and tackling the challenges of an ageing population.
More hospitals, polyclinics and social service centres are being built and the government will step up its efforts further, said Mr Lee.
“We are working together. For that, I think Singaporeans can take credit, the PAP government can take credit. We came together, did the right things and delivered results for the country,” he pointed out.
Second, the PAP must stay a strong national party that is able to connect with all segments of society and represent them well. Mr Lee stressed the need for the PAP government to pursue policies that bring all citizens closer in order to ensure society remains united.
Serving the people is PAP's duty
“The Party must serve the people because that is our duty. We count it a privilege to serve. The PAP cannot be like political parties in some other countries where people join a party for the spoils. Here, if you join the PAP, you expect hard work and very tough speeches. We must never slacken, we cannot afford to take voters for granted,” he said.
Central to the party’s future is the ability to provide strong leadership, and Mr Lee underscored the need to have a capable PAP team with a deep bench for the future.
During the conference, the cadres elected the next Central Executive Committee which will serve a two-year term from January 2017.
“I’m glad that we have strengthened the next leadership team in the last two GEs,” said the Party Secretary-General, pointing out that the younger leaders are taking on more ministry responsibilities and running most party activities as they prepare to progressively take over in the coming years.
Mr Lee noted that Singapore is moving forward from a position of strength, compared to other developed countries, which have to grapple with high unemployment and stagnated incomes.
The unemployment rate in Singapore is low. Household incomes here are also growing steadily, even for the lower and middleincome.
And while others are slashing their social safety nets due to budget constraints, Singapore is investing more in this aspect.
Mr Lee also noted that citizens in many developed countries – the UK and the US, for instance – have expressed angst and discontent over a lack of opportunities and hot-button issues like immigration and race.
Expressing his concern over the growing trend of protectionism and nationalism, he warned that if the more countries adopted this attitude, the world will change – for the worse. A small and open economy like Singapore, which relies on free trade, friendships around the world and cooperation with other countries, will experience the consequences as a result.
While the global trade outlook and relations between the major powers remain uncertain for now, he said that Singapore has little choice but to accept the world as it is.
“We will continue to cooperate with the major powers. We ourselves must stay open, because if we close up like other countries, our people will be finished,” he said.
Truly a home to call
Even as the PAP government does all it can to ensure people can lead fulfilling lives, Mr Lee emphasised that Singapore will only be a home if Singaporeans choose to make it one.
That is why there are ongoing plans to develop key infrastructure like a new megaport, airport terminal, and to build and upgrade HDB towns.
“In Singapore, when you get married, we help you to own a home and start a family,” he said. “This is not so in any other major city in the world. In Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, Shanghai, London or New York, housing is a big issue, especially for young people.”
He urged citizens to stay united, feel a sense of nationhood, make common cause with fellow citizens, and be proud to be a Singaporean.
Singapore, he added, has reached where it is today because the people trust the PAP government to do the right things and serve them well.
“We must never take that trust for granted. Never be complacent or arrogant, never forget your duty or ideals. Let us stand together, shoulder to shoulder, with you, for you, for Singapore,” said Mr Lee.
Replicate the Potong Pasir spirit
Mr Lee singled out Potong Pasir as a role model for the PAP to “stay strong, fight effectively and win elections.”
The single member constituency, now helmed by Sitoh Yih Pin, was in the hands of the opposition for 27 years from 1984 to 2011. It was only at the 2011 general elections that Mr Sitoh, on his third attempt, managed to wrest it back by a slender 114-vote margin.
Mr Sitoh and his team continued to work the ground and were rewarded when the PAP retained Potong Pasir convincingly at GE2015.
“They fought extra hard because they had lost before. They knew that if they didn’t go all out, they could lose again. They were determined to win,” said Mr Lee.
“We all must have this Potong Pasir spirit. It’s especially important at this time, because we are entering a period of great uncertainty. We have to work harder to earn our living, to keep Singaporeans united, and to take Singapore forward.”
Mr Lee also paid tribute to Murali Pillai’s success in the Bukit Batok by-election in May.
The lawyer ensured the PAP retained the ward with 61.2 per cent of the popular vote. “It was an important result, because what was at stake was not just one seat in Parliament.
Bukit Batok also showed that the PAP can win by-elections. Voters appreciated what Murali brought – good character, personal integrity, and no other agenda apart from a dedication to serve voters,” he said.
This article was first published in the December 2016 issue of Petir Magazine.