News analysis

Focus on 'you' may reflect changing times

Swept to power over the past 13 elections, the People's Action Party (PAP) is well-versed in the art of crafting election manifestos and slogans.

But its slogan for the 2015 General Election stands out for its use of one simple three-letter word: you.

"With You, For You, For Singapore," said PAP secretary-general Lee Hsien Loong yesterday .

And it appears not once, but twice, emphasising who is front and centre of the party's message this time round.

In past years, the PAP's election line has not been so direct in making an emotive appeal to the individual voter, and this is perhaps a reflection of the changing times and political culture.

In past years, the PAP's election line has not been so direct in making an emotive appeal to the individual voter, and this is perhaps a reflection of the changing times and political culture.

Previously, it has tended to favour the use of "our".

So in 2011, the message was "Securing Our Future Together" and in 1997, "Singapore 21: Make It Our Best Home".

In other years, it appealed to voters' sense of togetherness. So in 2001 it was "A People United - Secure Future, Better Life".

Before that, it did not make any direct reference to the electorate.

Its rallying cries were "Singapore - City of Excellence" (1984); "More Good Years" (1988); and "Singapore: The Next Lap" (1991).

In retrospect, it's hard to imagine those slogans sending voters' hearts racing.

But the direct appeal to "you" this time is symbolic of how the ruling party has moved to change its politics and policies in the wake of the 2011 General Election, when its vote share fell to 60.1 per cent, it lost a group representation constituency for the first time, and six opposition members got into Parliament, the largest number since independence.

In his speech in Mandarin to party activists yesterday, Prime Minister Lee recounted how the PAP had been swift in reviewing both in the last four years.

"We analysed the results of the last elections, reviewed our policies so that we can continue to serve the people and their needs," he said.

He went on to list the promises that the party has kept: from strengthening social safety nets, to how ministers and MPs have gotten to know people better via different channels.

"We have made Singapore a better home over the last four years. Our lives have improved," he declared.

Mr Lee did not mention it, but the decision after the last general election to make significant cuts to ministers' annual salaries and the removal of their pensions were surely also made with an eye to acknowledging voters' sentiments.

In the early hours of May 8, 2011, as the implications of the PAP's loss to the Workers' Party in Aljunied GRC sank in, he had promised "soul-searching".

"We in the PAP understand that this election is a watershed election and we have to adapt to this new situation and work (out) policies as well as approaches which will work in this environment with this new electorate," he had said then.

With another election now looming, he has to tread a fine line - demonstrating that the party has indeed been responsive to voters, while not giving ammunition to opposition parties, which contend that supporting them is what keeps the PAP on its toes.

The WP's slogan is "Empower Your Future" and, presenting its manifesto yesterday, it said it has been better able to offer policy alternatives due to its greater presence in Parliament.

It asked voters to "keep up the momentum" by entrenching the opposition in this year's elections.

Incidentally, the WP has used "you" before in communicating with voters; its slogan in 2006 was a straightforward "You Have A Choice".

Other opposition parties have expressed variations on this same theme, even as they pushed for specific initiatives, with immigration policy review being on the election platform for many.

The new Singaporeans First party's manifesto title is "Restore Our Nation"; Singapore Democratic Alliance is going with "Singapore for Singaporeans", while Singapore Democratic Party campaigns under "Competent Constructive Compassionate".

The Reform Party and the National Solidarity Party have yet to release their manifestos.

Yesterday, Mr Lee said that while the PAP had taken heed of voters' feedback, it would be living dangerously to vote for the opposition while wanting a PAP government.

"Some people think that by weakening the support for the Government, the Government will work harder and do better.

"This cannot be the reality."

Instead, he said, "if this team is weakened, it is actually harming your own interest".

At stake, he said, is Singapore's future - from good schools to affordable healthcare and a safe, secure haven - as spelt out in the PAP's 21-page manifesto.

Voters will have to work out how much opposition will be enough while ensuring that the PAP remains in charge - a result that even the opposition views to be desirable.

And what if the PM is right about voters living dangerously by voting opposition while wishing for a PAP government?

Voters have 13 days to decide.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 30, 2015, with the headline 'Focus on 'you' may reflect changing times'. Print Edition | Subscribe