SINGAPORE - The People's Action Party (PAP) must continue to be close to all segments of society and serve the people, never taking voters for granted, Prime Minister and party secretary-general Lee Hsien Loong told 2,500 party activists on Sunday morning (Dec 4).
In a speech at the PAP's annual conference, he looked ahead to the next general election - due by 2021 - and cautioned that it would not be like last year's general election, which the PAP won resoundingly with 69.9 per cent of the vote.
This is because the world is entering a period of great uncertainty, Mr Lee said, citing Brexit and the recent United States presidential election, and the rise of extreme right parties in Europe.
"We must never become complacent. We must deliver on our promises, make sure Singapore continues to succeed. Never take the people's mandate for granted," he said.
Mr Lee gave three ways the party could prepare for GE2021.
Improving Singaporeans' lives amid an uncertain world
First, people must understand the major changes taking place in the world: that major developed countries like the United States and Britain are becoming more socially divided, and are turning inward and protectionist.
This has negative impact on the global economy, as well as peace, security and stability. It is not a favourable external environment for Singapore, which relies on trade and an international order where countries big and small cooperate and compete by rules that are fair to all.
Second, despite this uncertain external environment, the PAP must continue to improve the lives of Singaporeans, said Mr Lee.
"Given the significant difficulties ahead, we have to strive even harder," he told the activists, adding that Singapore faces similar challenges as other countries, such as slower growth and workers concerned about jobs.
But it is in a much better position, he said, noting that more jobs are being created than there are Singaporeans to fill them, household incomes are rising, and youth unemployment is low.
He cited two ways the Government is working harder to help citizens: by equipping Singaporeans with the skills to take care of themselves through schools and training programmes, and by strengthening social safety nets.
PAP: 'Stay strong to unite Singaporeans'
Third, for Singapore to continue to be prosperous and strong, the PAP must remain a strong, national party, said Mr Lee.
"If the PAP government pursues policies that bring all Singaporeans closer together, then our society can remain united," he said.
But this will not be easy, as Singapore is becoming more diverse, a trend mirrored around the world where people are splitting into narrow groups and unable to find common ground on issues such as immigration and conservative versus liberal values.
As a result, mainstream political parties with a broad base are weakening, while extreme political groups and pressure groups are growing. But Singapore's diversity can be a strength if it does not divide Singaporeans.
What the PAP needs to do, said Mr Lee, is to reach out to all segments of society and represent them.
These include men and women of different races and religions, labour movement members, older professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) as well as millennial workers, elderly, the young, the disadvantaged and vulnerable as well as the successful and ambitious.
Mr Lee added that the PAP must continue to be a party that serves the people: "We cannot be like political parties in some other countries where people join a party for the spoils. (There) you enter politics, you get payoffs, contracts, deals, you're on the inside track, you get personal benefits, sometimes huge ones. Here, if you join the PAP, you expect hard work and tough speeches."
The party also needs strong leadership both now and for the future, said Mr Lee, for whom succession planning is a priority.
He added that the party's younger leaders have been active, taking on more ministry responsibilities and party activities, and would progressively take over from him and his older colleagues.
"That is how the PAP can stay strong, fight effectively and win elections," he said, as he called on members to work harder and never be complacent or arrogant, or take voters' trust for granted.