Goh Chok Tong reminds PAP volunteers, activists not to take Marine Parade for granted

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (fouth from left) at a dinner marking his 40 years as an MP in the constituency.
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (fouth from left) at a dinner marking his 40 years as an MP in the constituency.PHOTO: FACEBOOK / MPARADER

SINGAPORE - Shortly before Mr Goh Chok Tong was to be fielded as a first-time candidate in the new constituency of Marine Parade in 1976, he realised that he had no party branch in the area to assist him.

Fortunately, a People's Action Party (PAP) MP donated $2,000 from his branch to get Mr Goh started, and directed a few of his branch members to help Mr Goh. Several market stallholders - fishmongers and pork sellers among them - also stepped forward to help.

With their assistance, Mr Goh won the seat with 78.6 per cent of the vote, kickstarting a political career that would see him serve as Singapore's second prime minister from 1990 to 2004.

Recounting the humble beginnings of the PAP's Marine Parade branch as he marked 40 years as an MP in the constituency, he reminded grassroots volunteers that the PAP can never take the people's support in Marine Parade for granted.

"I am telling you all this to give you a picture of the natural birth of the Marine Parade branch. We did not inherit the branch from anyone. We built it from scratch," said Mr Goh, who is now Emeritus Senior Minister, at a dinner on Friday.

"Going forward, we must not assume that we will always poll more than 70 per cent in our Marine Parade ward. We should not even assume that we will always win."

Mr Goh said the high points of his time in Marine Parade were winning his first electoral contest and a 1992 by-election victory.

He added that the 2011 General Election was a low point.

"When the result for Marine Parade was announced, I felt the deep disappointment and gloom in our supporters. I too did not expect Marine Parade GRC to poll only 55 per cent. It was a lesson in the vagaries of elections. What you had done for the people as an MP or PM did not matter as much as the prevailing mood of the people," he said.

Therefore, the PAP cannot assume it will always prevail at the ballot box, said Mr Goh, giving several reasons.

For one thing, "I cannot be around for the next 40 years, it will be difficult for a new person to get the same support as me for various reasons", said Mr Goh, who has won the Marine Parade seat 11 times over the years in 10 general elections and one by-election.

Also, older voters from the Pioneer Generation who lived through Singapore's early struggles for survival will be "replaced by younger voters whose bond with the PAP is less instinctive, and more transactional", he added.

With Singapore now a "settled democracy", elections in future will depend more on the mood of the day that is influenced by prevailing politics, he said, adding that this means the PAP's brand and track record will count for less.

Finally, opposition parties will grow and attract better qualified members, he said.

Pointing to how he has passed the baton to a younger team at his constituency, Mr Goh said whether Marine Parade remains with the PAP in future will depend on what the team does.

At the national level, he added, the fourth-generation leadership team was also taking shape and honing their political and leadership skills.

"They will make mistakes just as their predecessors did, but they must find and conquer their own mountain," he said.

During the dinner, which was held at the Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy Hotel and attended by about 350 grassroots leaders and party activists, Mr Goh also thanked several party stalwarts who were key in building up the PAP's Marine Parade branch.

They include Mr Tan Kin Lian, who contested and lost in the 2011 presidential election, and Mr S. Puhaindran, who ran the constituency on Mr Goh's behalf when he was busy with his Cabinet duties.

Touching on what legacy he hopes to leave behind, he said: "Marine Parade must continue to be the best home in the land, as our Marine Parade song goes. It must be a 4G Home: Great, Gracious, Generous and Green. We must never hand over our lives' work on a silver platter to some opposition party who had never even spent time here."

Mr Yusof Lateef, 48, who is one of two branch secretaries in Marine Parade, said the mood at the dinner was nostalgic.

"It was good to see the early pioneers of the branch, there were a lot of hugs," he said.

But Mr Yusof, who has been with the branch for 30 years, said he was heartened that Mr Goh spoke about the future as well.

"Mr Goh's message was clear: The party must never cease in working for the people. We celebrated, but when the next Meet-the-People Session comes along, work starts anew," he said.