SINGAPORE - The People's Action Party has started preparing for the next general election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.
Mr Lee told past and present PAP MPs at a dinner in Parliament House on Tuesday night that he has asked Health Minister Gan Kim Yong to take charge of the process of identifying new candidates.
And Mr Gan, who takes over the task from Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, has already started work to prepare for GE2021.
He told reporters that the first tea session with potential candidates is likely to take place by the end of this month.
PM Lee and Mr Gan were at a dinner to thank retired PAP MPs for their contributions to the party over the years.
Mr Lee said he was glad the PAP secured a clear mandate from Singaporeans across the board at the Sept 11 general election.
And while national factors like the SG50 celebrations and Government policies like the Pioneer Generation Package played a part, the hard work MPs had put in was crucial to the strong result, he added.
The PAP won 83 out of 89 seats and nearly 70 per cent of the popular vote at GE2015.
Mr Lee also said a key contribution retiring MPs had made was to help their successors settle in on the ground.
And the PAP was helped by the fact that after GE2011, it identified and deployed potential new candidates early.
"This gave them time to learn and settle in, and gave the public time to size them up and warm to them," Mr Lee said.
"It's certainly something we want to do again next time," he added.
The PAP has also improved the process of candidate selection, and included seasoned activists, senior backbenchers as well as members with private sector experience who were practised in assessing candidates for posts.
This gave the party a diversity of perspectives, and helped it make sharper and more reliable assessments of potential candidates, Mr Lee added.
Mr Lee also thanked the 15 retired MPs, who collectively served almost 250 years in Parliament, for improving community life in their wards and speaking up on a wide range of national issues.
They include former Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng, who entered politics with PM Lee in 1984, and former minister Mah Bow Tan, who first stood in 1984 and was elected in 1988.
Others who retired include four who were elected in 1997: Mr Hawazi Daipi, Mr Inderjit Singh, Mr Seng Han Thong and Mr Yeo Guat Kwang.
"Some spoke forcefully and vigorously in Parliament, while others made your points firmly but in your own quiet and equally effective way," he said.
For example, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, a four-term MP who was redeployed to Aljunied GRC at the last election, raised a rare private member's bill to improve laws related to animal welfare last year, which Mr Lee called a "considerable undertaking".
He also highlighted the five former officeholders who retired from politics at the GE - Mr Hawazi Daipi, Mr Mah Bow Tan, Mr Raymond Lim, Mr Lui Tuck Yew and Mr Wong Kan Seng - for their valuable contributions in their portfolios.
He singled out former Cabinet ministers Mr Mah, Mr Lim and Mr Wong, for staying on another term as backbenchers and "taking good care of their ground while nurturing able successors".
Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu, who is Leader of the House, also paid tribute to the retired MPs, especially former Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng and Senior Parliamentary Secretary Hawazi Daipi, for coaching the new candidates selflessly and generously.
She also thanked the spouses of the newly retired MPs by quoting recently-retired MP Hri Kumar Nair who had said: "When an MP is elected, his entire family serves."
"When an MP is out serving the residents, a father or mother, a husband or wife, a son or daughter is out there serving. The spouse, parents or older children have had to step in to look after the home front," she added.