GE2020: PAP has to work hard to appeal to young voters and address economic concerns, says Lawrence Wong

Voters wait in line at Block 54 Cassia Crescent on July 10, 2020.
Voters wait in line at Block 54 Cassia Crescent on July 10, 2020.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - To improve its performance in future elections, the People's Action Party has to do a better job of appealing to young voters, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

The ruling party also has to address the "economic pains" of the middle-aged sandwiched class to better the 61.2 per cent vote share it received at the recent general election, he added.

Mr Wong, who is a member of the PAP's top central executive committee, highlighted these two areas in a speech to party activists streamed from the PAP's Bedok headquarters. He also took questions from reporters afterwards.

The PAP has to work hard to understand and connect with young voters, who have different aspirations, hopes and expectations, he said.

"The issues they care about are different from the older generation and the older Singaporeans, and they also look at existing issues differently. So we need to build trust and a new social compact with younger Singaporeans," he said.

He also spoke of the need to mobilise young people to help those who need help, noting that a few of the PAP's new MPs are young Singaporeans who "have come up the hard way and feel passionately about helping others to succeed".

"We will need to get more young people like them to identify with the PAP as a party that provides hope and a path to the future and build our bonds with a new generation of voters," he said.

Addressing the economic pain of a substantial number of Singaporeans in their 40s and 50s who are looking after both elderly parents and young children is equally crucial, he added.

This sandwiched group has been feeling the pinch even before Covid-19 hit, he noted, and are now facing greater challenges as the pandemic worsens, with some having to take pay cuts or even losing their jobs.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the coronavirus, said this is why many of the schemes announced in the four Budgets earlier this year have been aimed at this group.

He highlighted how in the first Budget, the Government increased the SkillsFuture Credit top up for mid-career workers aged 40 to 60 by an extra $500, to help them stay employable and move onto new jobs and roles. Some one million workers benefited from this.

 
 
 
 
 

While there is no way to quickly resolve the economic challenges faced by this group of Singaporeans, Mr Wong said that the Government will continue to work on coming up with ways to help this group address their difficulties.

"Unfortunately no amount of help will be enough in a crisis of this magnitude. So, we will continue to review and update our policies, and we will do whatever we can to address their anxieties and pain during this difficult period," he said.

The minister also said that the nature of the election campaigning, which was mostly done online due to Covid-19 restrictions, did not play to the party's strengths and did not connect to some voters, especially the young.

"This was a digital campaign, and we do not do so well in this arena. We tried our best, we produced a lot of good content online. But not all of these connected with netizens, especially on newer platforms like Instagram and Telegram where the platforms require different sort of content, say, from a platform like Facebook," he said.

Asked if the party's GE postmortem had uncovered new revelations that previous reviews did not, Mr Wong said some issues - like the need to improve online campaigning - have come up after previous elections.

"We heard this in 2011 as well (about) the need to continue to appeal and engage younger voters, we are aware. So, in a way, these are work in progress and we will continue to work harder at it," he said.

 
 
 

One specific way would be for the PAP to focus its energies on mastering new digital platforms that will best connect with the electorate.

Mr Wong cited feedback from a resident that while the party's videos on Facebook were good, they were not suited for a platform like Instagram.

He added that there might even be new mediums, like video sharing platform TikTok, which could become more relevant.

"So we will have to accelerate that work to master this new medium, again doing more than we have been already but working doubly hard at this," he said.