PAP must not allow split between masses and elite to take root, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

PM Lee Hsien Loong speaking at the PAP65 Awards and Convention at Singapore Expo, on Nov 10, 2019. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - The People's Action Party (PAP) must not allow the disconnect between the masses and the elite seen in other countries to take root in Singapore, said its secretary-general, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"The PAP must always remain the party of the people," Mr Lee said at the party's convention on Sunday (Nov 10), warning on 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.

Mr 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, Mr 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 masses and elite cannot happen in Singapore, Mr Lee stressed.

"We must make sure that our system works for ordinary Singaporeans, so that they will embrace it as their system."

He pointed to efforts like strengthening social safety nets for the vulnerable and the Pioneer and Merdeka Generation Packages.

In his speech, Mr 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.

The first is to maintain the "deep reservoir of trust" with Singaporeans by continuing to uphold high standards of integrity, being frank about difficult or unpopular decisions, and delivering on promises.

The second is to give people hope for the future by creating opportunities for every Singaporean to take part in the country's growth, conceiving and delivering on "bold plans for the future" and tackling future problems vigorously.

PM Lee cited as examples infrastructural developments such as the Greater Southern Waterfront and Jewel at Changi Airport, and the government's plans to tackle rising sea levels from climate change highlighted at this year's National Day Rally.

The PAP must continue to sustain faith in the party in each successive generation by maintaining trust, giving people hope for the future, and ensuring unity and social cohesion, he said.

Demonstrations in places like Hong Kong and Chile show that politics has broken down with people losing faith in institutions, he noted.

"Thankfully, in Singapore, our domestic politics has been quite different," said Mr Lee. "The anger and frustration that have divided many societies elsewhere have not taken root here."

He added: "The PAP is humbled to enjoy the people's trust. Singaporeans believe the PAP will improve their lives and take the country forward."

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