PAP gives glimpse of younger faces at convention

Ms Fang Eu-Lin delivers her speech at the annual PAP convention.
Ms Fang Eu-Lin delivers her speech at the annual PAP convention. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - The People's Action Party (PAP) gave a glimpse of its promising younger faces at its annual convention on Sunday (Nov 19), when three activists took the stage to speak about jobs and the economy, as well as Singapore's need to remain competitive in a rapidly changing world.

They were Ms Fang Eu-Lin, 39, of the PAP Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng branch, Ms Asyifah Rashid, 27, of the Marsiling branch, and Mr Jagathishwaran Rajo, 30, of the Zhenghua branch.

Some party members who made speeches at past PAP conventions and conferences have gone on to be fielded as election candidates - although observers said that this is not always the case.

In 2014, Ms Cheryl Chan and Mr Saktiandi Supaat spoke at the PAP 60th anniversary rally. They were fielded in the 2015 general election and elected in Fengshan and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC respectively. But those who spoke at the 2013 convention were not fielded in 2015.

"It is too early to say whether those who spoke today will be fielded as candidates. Some who spoke at past conventions have not yet been fielded," said a party insider who asked not to be named.

"The people who speak are perhaps the more prominent new faces within the party," said Associate Professor Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University.

He added: "Increasingly, the PAP in their party conventions have been trying to profile more of the rank-and-file, and trying to change the perception that it has people parachuted into the party for the elections."

National University of Singapore political scientist Reuben Wong said that with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressing the importance of getting Singaporeans' support even for its difficult decisions, the party needs faces that connect with younger voters.

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin of the ISEAS -Yusof Ishak Institute said: "The PAP convention has tended to be a training ground or test bed for potential candidates... It is also a platform to profile them so as to ascertain how party members and cadres react."

During his speech at the convention, PM Lee highlighted the need for good policies to help Singaporeans cope with social and economic disruptions, as well as for good politics.

He said: "(We need) MPs who represent different segments of society, MPs whom Singaporeans will identify with and support. Activists who do community and grassroots work day in and day out, in every branch and in every constituency.

"Key people throughout our society - in the private sector, in the public service, in the social space, who care about Singapore, understand what makes this place work, and will work with the PAP Government to make Singapore succeed."

Ms Fang said in her speech that with disruption from technology such as artificial intelligence driving greater automation, employers need to review their workforce to understand which jobs will be impacted and what types of skills upgrading are needed.

She also called on employers to consider hiring older workers, those who were retrenched and parents returning to work.

Ms Fang is a partner at the consultancy PwC. Her mother, Ms Fang Ai Lian, was a nominated Member of Parliament from 2002 to 2006.

Ms Asyifah Rashid, of the PAP Marsiling branch, stressed the need for Singapore to remain exceptional by transforming itself boldly.

The A*star biomedical research administrator added that a good social security system can be effective in countering a risk-averse culture.

In another speech, Mr Jagathishwaran Rajo, an industrial relations officer of the National Trades Union Congress, said the Government should be fiscally prudent while staying committed to protecting vulnerable groups.

The convention, at the mid-point of the current election cycle, comes at a time when eyes are also on who could succeed PM Lee, who has said he is ready to step down in the coming years.

Some observers have narrowed the choices to three men: Mr Heng Swee Keat, Mr Chan Chun Sing and Mr Ong Ye Kung.

PM Lee, 65, mentioned the trio in passing on Sunday when he spoke of those helping to implement changes to reshape Singapore's economy: "It is a major task, and we have comrades Heng Swee Keat, Chan Chun Sing, Ong Ye Kung and all the other younger ministers are all closely involved."

The prime minister missed a step when going down the stairs after his speech and the party pledge on Sunday. His near-trip prompted a gasp, then relieved applause from party members as he steadied himself and then waved to show all was well.