PAP 'must continue to bring people together'

Speaking at the annual People's Action Party conference on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told members not to be complacent and work towards achieving closer ties with every segment of society.

For Singapore to stay successful, the People's Action Party (PAP) must continue to be a strong national party that brings people together and takes the country forward in an increasingly fragmented world, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

In order to do so, the party must continue to reach out to as well as represent all segments of society.

"It works both ways. If our society is united, then it is easier for the PAP to represent a broad mass of Singaporeans," Mr Lee told PAP members at the biennial party conference.

"Conversely, if the PAP government pursues policies that benefit Singaporeans across the board, that bring Singaporeans closer together, then our society can remain united."

This will not be easy. Around the world, the opposite is happening, Mr Lee noted: Societies are fragmenting and people are splitting up into narrow groups, unable to find common ground on issues such as immigration and religion.

Extreme political groups are getting stronger and pressure groups are growing, "a vicious cycle leaving societies divided".

 
 

"It becomes us versus them. The politics becomes dysfunctional, the legislatures gridlocked and governments paralysed," said Mr Lee, pointing to how the United States had, more than once, been forced to shut down its federal government.

And Singapore, too, is growing more diverse, with people championing diverse causes and views.

"It makes for a vibrant civil society. Such diversities can be a strength, but only if we do not let them divide us," he said.

"We are here today because, from the very start, the PAP put forward a vision of a multi-racial society, and we committed ourselves to ensuring that no segment is left behind."

Singaporeans understood and supported this vision, which remains unchanged even now.

Mr Lee also spelled out two other things the party had to do to stay strong and win future elections: Serve the people and never take voters for granted, and provide strong leadership for Singapore.

"We count it a privilege to serve. We cannot be like political parties in some other countries, where people join a party for the spoils - because you enter politics, you get payoffs, you get contracts, you get deals, you are on the inside track, you get personal benefits, sometimes huge ones.

"Here, if you join the PAP, you expect hard work - and tough speeches," he added to laughter. "But we must never slacken. We cannot afford to take voters for granted."

As for leadership, the party must have not just a capable team at the helm today, but also a deep bench with an eye on the future.

This is why younger leaders have been active, taking on more ministry responsibilities and party activities, to progressively take over from Mr Lee and his older colleagues.

In his speech, Mr Lee cited Potong Pasir MP Sitoh Yih Pin and his team as a model for soldiering on.

The PAP wrested the single seat vacated by opposition veteran Chiam See Tong in the 2011 General Election by 114 votes. It had been held by Mr Chiam since 1984.

Mr Sitoh, who contested there unsuccessfully twice before, retained the seat convincingly last year after having fought extra hard, knowing he would lose unless he worked.

Mr Lee said all PAP candidates had to have this "Potong Pasir Spirit", especially as the world enters a period of greater uncertainty.

He also held up Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai and his team for winning the May by-election called after Mr David Ong resigned due to an extra-marital affair.

"It was an important result because what was at stake was not just one seat in Parliament. Bukit Batok showed that the PAP can win a by-election," said Mr Lee.

"Voters appreciated what Murali brought - good character, personal integrity and no other agenda besides a dedication to serve voters."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2016, with the headline 'PAP 'must continue to bring people together''. Print Edition | Subscribe