The People's Action Party (PAP) must not let the disconnect between the masses and the elite seen in other countries take root in Singapore, said its secretary-general, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
"The PAP must always remain the party of the people," he said at the party's convention yesterday, warning of the need to guard against dangerous societal rifts beyond race and religion.
"Every party member - you may be a leader, you may be an ordinary member - you must identify with the people, we must serve the people," he said, adding that government policies have to emphasise the people's needs and deliver results.
PM Lee noted that in other societies, the masses no longer trust the elites. Traditional parties have become feeble, and even socialist parties, supposed to care for the common man, have lost their base.
This has led to the rise of populist movements that "explicitly want to upend the system, turn things upside down", while not necessarily being able to offer anything better, he said.
Citing the example of the United States, PM Lee described how the Democratic Party lost the white working class that used to be its core supporters to President Donald Trump. This split between the masses and the elite cannot take root in Singapore, he stressed.
"We must make sure that our system always works for ordinary Singaporeans, so that they will embrace it as their system."
He pointed to efforts such as strengthening social safety nets for the vulnerable and rolling out the Pioneer and Merdeka generation packages to help older people with their healthcare costs.
In his speech, PM Lee also stressed two other things the PAP had to do, apart from ensuring unity and social cohesion, to prevent Singapore from falling prey to global pressures that have divided societies elsewhere: maintain trust, and give Singaporeans hope for the future.
On trust, PM Lee highlighted three reasons behind the "deep reservoir of trust" the PAP has built with Singaporeans, which it should continue to maintain.
First, it upholds high standards of honesty and integrity, not only at the national level - the PM, ministers and MPs - but also among party members on the ground, including branch activists and town councillors.
Whether it is putting together the Government's Budget, awarding a town council contract, or looking after branch funds, it should be done on behalf of the people, said PM Lee.
"It is the people's resources, you are looking after it, you must do it honestly and in the interest of the people," he added.
Second, the PAP builds trust by being frank about difficult or unpopular decisions. "When there are difficulties, we do not gloss over them or sugar-coat the reality," he said.
"Even if the decision is unpopular, we work very hard to persuade people that this is something we have to do together."
Finally, trust is also built by delivering on promises, said PM Lee, adding that the Government's policies have made Singaporeans' lives better in concrete, visible ways.
He pointed to how the Government is providing and continually improving on high-quality and affordable necessities such as healthcare, education, housing and transport. "Unlike other political parties, we cannot afford to woo voters with empty words, because we do not want them to come back to haunt us," he said.
GIVING PEOPLE HOPE
The other thing the party must do is to give people hope for the future, and this can be done in three ways, said Mr Lee.
The first is to create opportunities for Singaporeans to take part in the country's growth, he said.
This is why the Government has invested heavily in good education at all levels, including the pre-school and tertiary levels, and emphasised expanding and upgrading the economy to create good jobs for young people.
He also highlighted the SkillsFuture programme, which gives workers skills to take on new jobs and stay employable.
"All these enable Singaporeans to participate fully in our growth and success, and leave no one behind to walk alone," he said.
The second way is to conceive and deliver on "bold plans" for Singapore's future, while the third is to tackle future problems vigorously.
PM Lee listed plans that have been completed, like Jewel at Changi Airport. He also pointed to plans in the pipeline such as the Greater Southern Waterfront and Changi Terminal 5, as well as how the Government is preparing to tackle rising sea levels caused by climate change.
"We will never reach the limit of what we can do in Singapore," he said. "The only constraint is our imagination and daring. Every new generation will have the opportunity to shape Singapore to what it dreams, to what it imagines can be."