PM Lee calls on PAP to unite Singaporeans, continue with pragmatic and centrist approach

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned that Singapore cannot take its success for granted, and set out four things the PAP must do to maintain good politics and continue to improve people's lives. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Party Secretary-General Lee Hsien Loong at the PAP Conference and Awards Ceremony at Singapore Expo, Hall 8 on Nov 11, 2018. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
The PAP Conference and Awards Ceremony at Singapore Expo, Hall 8 on Nov 11, 2018. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Party members queuing to enter the PAP Conference and Awards Ceremony at Singapore Expo, Hall 8 on Nov 11, 2018. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The People's Action Party (PAP) must win the next general election convincingly, by uniting Singaporeans and taking a pragmatic and centrist approach, said its secretary-general, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The party serves every Singaporean, he said, adding: "We are setting a clear direction, supported by the broad mass of Singaporeans who want to see stability and progress for many years."

Mr Lee was speaking at the biennial PAP conference at the Singapore Expo on Sunday (Nov 11), where cadre members met to elect the party's central executive committee (CEC) - its top decision making body.

"The new CEC will be leading the party into the final stretch, gearing up to put our record before voters," he said.

He warned that Singapore cannot take its success for granted, and set out four things the PAP must do to maintain good politics and continue to improve people's lives.

These are: Understanding the concerns of Singaporeans and addressing them, giving them hope for the future, encouraging inclusive politics and maintaining unity, and providing capable and good leadership.

Singaporeans must have confidence that the party has good men and women who can take the country forward, Mr Lee said.

This year's CEC election is a major transition point for the party, he noted, with five senior members stepping down.

Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, and retired Cabinet Ministers Yaacob Ibrahim and Lim Swee Say are not on the ballot for cadres to elect the party's next CEC. Mr Teo, Mr Tharman and Mr Khaw will stay on in Cabinet.

Mr Lee lauded the five for their contributions, and thanked them.

The party takes a major step forward in its political renewal, he said.

After the elections, the new CEC will meet "within a couple of weeks", to elect a new slate of office holders, he said, adding that he will follow up with a Cabinet reshuffle in due course.

The lineup of CEC office-holders is expected to provide more clarity on who the country's next prime minister will be.

The PAP has had two smooth leadership transitions, providing continuity and renewal, Mr Lee said.

He noted that the fourth generation leadership team has been in Cabinet for several years now, and tested in several portfolios.

They are a team of able men and women with a good combination of skills amongst them, he said.

"I can see them gelling as a team, and am confident that they have what it takes to lead Singapore," he said, urging party members to give their full support to the new CEC and 4G leaders.

Party chairman Khaw Boon Wan announced the CEC election results at around 12.30pm on Sunday.

The top 12 vote getters, not in order of popularity, are: Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Mr K Shanmugam, Mr Chan Chun Sing, Ms Grace Fu, Mr Gan Kim Yong, Mr Heng Swee Keat, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Ms Indranee Rajah, Mr Ng Chee Meng, Mr Ong Ye Kung, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin and Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo were co-opted into the CEC as the next two highest vote-getters.

In his speech to several thousand party members, Mr Lee stressed the importance of understanding Singaporeans' concerns well and working with them to address their specific worries.

Many government policies are aimed at solving people's concerns, he noted, from improving preschool education to improving healthcare financing through CareShield Life and the Merdeka Generation Package.

But beyond these individual policies, he highlighted the need to paint the overall picture for Singaporeans.

"The broader message is that the government understands your concerns, that the PAP is working with you to tackle problems together," he said. "And that whatever your difficulties, in Singapore you will never walk alone."

To do so, good policies must be complemented with a human touch - and that is where every party activist plays a part, Mr Lee said.

The party must also imbue Singaporeans with hope about the future, he said.

Referencing how Mr Tharman used escalators as a metaphor at a recent dialogue for how society must keep moving up so everyone has the chance to do better, Mr Lee said Singapore must keep its economy growing and press on with economic transformation.

There have been some early successes, he said, with high-tech industries like aerospace engineering sprouting up and unexpected investments like that by electronics company Dyson, which recently announced it will manufacture electric cars in Singapore.

Mr Lee also spoke of the need to think and plan ahead for the long term, citing investments in mega infrastructure projects such as Changi Airport Terminal 5 and long-term housing policies announced at this year's National Day Rally as examples of how the Government is doing so.

One important aspect of hope, Mr Lee said, is social mobility - a hot-button issue that has generated much discussion over the past few months.

People must believe that they have every chance to improve their own lives and especially that of their children, he said. That is why so much emphasis is placed on education, starting with pre-school, to bring every child to a good starting point.

Singapore's meritocracy must be about helping each other reach the best of their ability, not holding back those who have the potential to do better, he added.

Noting that cohesion does not come easily and naturally to any society, Mr Lee said the PAP must keep Singaporeans together and encourage inclusive politics.

The party aims to represent all Singaporeans, regardless of race, religion or income, he said.

PAP members do hold different views across the spectrum, he noted. Some are conservative, others are liberal. Some want to retain Section 377A, the law which criminalises gay sex, while others want to repeal it.

Regardless of their positions, all can be good members of the PAP, and it is important that the party continues to bring these different groups and opinions together, Mr Lee said.

The party aims to be a broad tent, and should always try to find common ground and maintain a common space where different views can be aired in a way that does not erode trust and social cohesion, he added.

He warned of the consequences should the PAP deviate from its centrist approach and champion the interests of a particular race, religion, class or interest group.

This sort of politics would only sharpen fault lines by forcing people to take one side or another, and cause the middle ground to wither away, he said. And once society gets into such a divided state, it will be practically impossible to rebuild a centrist political party and bring Singaporeans together again.

This has happened in many countries, and can happen in Singapore too, he cautioned.

Mr Lee held up the country's tripartite system as an example of bringing people together.

Maintaining cohesion and centrist politics is very rare in the world, but it is a key reason why Singapore has done better than most, he added.

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