The People's Action Party has started preparing for the next general election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
Mr Lee told past and present PAP MPs at a dinner in Parliament House that he has asked Health Minister Gan Kim Yong to take charge of the process of identifying new candidates for GE2021.
Mr Gan, who takes over the task from Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, has already started work.
He told reporters that the first tea session with potential candidates is likely to take place this month.
"We are now going through referrals and nominations from the grassroots, ground activists, MPs and different sources," he said.
PM Lee said he was glad the PAP secured a clear mandate from Singaporeans across the board at the Sept 11 GE. While factors like SG50 events and government policies such as the Pioneer Generation Package played a part, the strong result also reflected the hard work MPs had put in, he noted. The PAP won 83 out of 89 seats and 69.9 per cent of the popular vote in GE2015.
Mr Lee added that a key contribution of retiring MPs was to help their successors settle in. Here, the PAP was helped by the fact that after GE2011, it identified and deployed potential candidates early.
"This gave them time to learn and settle in, and gave the public time to size them up and warm to them," he said. "It's certainly something we want to do again next time."
The PAP has also improved the candidate selection process, and roped in seasoned activists, senior backbenchers and members with private sector experience in assessing candidates. This gave the selection panel a diversity of perspectives, helping it make sharper and more reliable assessments of potential candidates, Mr Lee said.
Last night, he thanked 15 recently retired MPs, who collectively served almost 250 years in Parliament, for improving community life in their wards and speaking up on a wide range of national issues.
They include former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng, who was first elected in 1984, and former minister Mah Bow Tan, who was elected in 1988, as well as Mr Hawazi Daipi, Mr Inderjit Singh, Mr Seng Han Thong and Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, who were elected in 1997.
Mr Lee said: "Some spoke forcefully and vigorously in Parliament, while others made your points firmly but in your own quiet and equally effective way."
He cited Mr Yeo for mooting a rare private member's Bill to improve laws related to animal welfare, a "considerable undertaking".
He also thanked for their contributions former officeholders Mr Hawazi and Mr Lui Tuck Yew, and Mr Wong, Mr Mah and Mr Raymond Lim for having stayed on a term as MPs and "taking good care of their ground while nurturing able successors". PM Lee presented 12 recently retired MPs who were present with letters of appreciation and caricatures of themselves by local artist Christopher Pereira.
Mr Wong said putting candidates on the ground earlier was useful as they could get to know the grassroots leaders and residents and understand what is required of them.
He noted that he only had six months on the ground before he was fielded in the 1984 General Election, while his successor, Mr Chong Kee Hiong, had two years.
Community, Culture and Youth Minister Grace Fu, who is Leader of the House, said the "longer runway" ahead of GE2015 helped prepare new candidates better.
She also thanked the families and spouses of retired MPs and quoted Mr Hri Kumar Nair who had said: "When an MP is elected, his entire family serves."
"You now have your husband or wife back," she said.