PAP has 30 potential new candidates on the ground ahead of next GE: Ng Eng Hen

Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen, speaking at the 3rd International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Fullerton Forum: The Shangri-La Dialogue Sherpa Meeting at the Fullerton Hotel on Jan 26, 2015. The People's Action Party (PAP) has lined up more
Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen, speaking at the 3rd International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Fullerton Forum: The Shangri-La Dialogue Sherpa Meeting at the Fullerton Hotel on Jan 26, 2015. The People's Action Party (PAP) has lined up more than 30 potential new candidates ahead of the next General Election (GE). -- PHOTO: MINDEF 

SINGAPORE - The People's Action Party (PAP) has lined up more than 30 potential new candidates ahead of the next General Election (GE), said party organising secretary Ng Eng Hen.

They have been whittled down from "a few hundred" names, he said in an interview published in Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao on Sunday.

About two-thirds of the potential candidates are from the private sector, while the rest are from the civil service, uniformed groups, unions, tertiary institutions, non-governmental organisations and voluntary welfare organisations, added Mr Ng, who is also Defence Minister.

But while all the potential candidates are already working the ground, not all will be fielded in the upcoming GE, which must be called by January 2017.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an interview earlier this month that the PAP would field roughly the same number of candidates as it did in the 2006 and 2011 GEs. Each of these previous polls saw 24 new PAP faces.

At least 18 of the potential candidates for this round have already been identified in media reports. They include Kestrel Capital senior vice-president for investments Desmond Choo, colorectal surgeon Koh Poh Koon and Ong Ye Kung - all of whom were defeated in previous polls.

"We usually put out more (candidates) than we field each time, because through the process, some find that they're not suitable, or sometimes the residents give feedback that (the candidates) need more time," Dr Ng said.

While the party has narrowed down its potential candidates to form a "fairly good slate", it is "constantly looking" for the best people to steer the country through challenges such as an ageing society, a population with more polarised views and a more challenging economic environment.

He added that there are two groups of candidates that have been more difficult for the PAP to find. The first comprises those with a lot of experience and global exposure, like the chief executives of top companies, who could help position Singapore better in the years ahead.

Some say that even though joining politics is an important cause, they are concerned about the "fractious political environment" which is "more contested" these days, Dr Ng said.

The second group comprises those who have been through the "school of hard knocks", and who would be interested in making sure that every Singaporean is given the opportunity to rise.

Having these two types of candidates is valuable because they would ensure that Singapore can remain competitive, while keeping an eye on those lagging behind, he said.

He added that the party is trying to find people who are both good on the ground, and of "ministerial calibre".

"Singaporeans look to the PAP to form a stable government. Even in the last election, you had opposition parties who said they didn't want to form the government," he said.

"We take that responsibility very seriously, so we look for new MPs with ministerial potential. If we didn't, as older and more senior ministers retire ... then it must mean that you have a weaker government."

Dr Ng also told Zaobao that most PAP branches would have started preparations for the GE. "(The GE) can be this year or next year, we just have to be prepared. And our potential candidates understand that... They may have a longer runway, or a shorter one, but within that time, they have to work hard to establish themselves."