Voters at the next general election should focus on deciding which team they want to lead the country well beyond the next five to 10 years, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.
Setting out the key message that the People's Action Party (PAP) will put to voters at the polls, which are expected to be keenly contested, he argued that what is really at stake is Singapore's future.
Speaking in the week when the PAP started introducing its slate of candidates and opposition parties beefed up their presence on the ground in constituencies, he said that amid such excitement, it was useful to step back and "look at what really this election is about, what is at stake, and the kind of issues which we ought to be thinking about for the long-term".
This is important as a good number of Cabinet ministers are into their early 60s, said DPM Teo, 60. They include Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is 63.
"The PAP has seen it always as their responsibility to try and build this team. But it's not just a responsibility of the PM or the PAP. It's our collective desire and our collective wish to want to build a strong leadership team for the future," he said at a press conference.
"This is one of the things that has kept Singapore stable and strong - a team which has got stability, a team which has got integrity, a team which has the ability to be able to look ahead into the future and to execute for the present.
"It's not about how many opposition members there will be. The Constitution guarantees there will be at least nine opposition members in Parliament. So the key issue at hand is that team for the future."
Even on the policy front, the PAP has always planned long-term. Many initiatives that are bearing fruit today had their foundations laid before 2011 - the year the PAP lost a GRC to the Workers' Party, which had six elected MPs in Parliament. These included policies on housing, affordable healthcare and retirement adequacy.
"So these were things beneficial to Singaporeans which were in our programme, which we have been doing for many years and didn't depend on how many opposition members there were in Parliament. So long as we were elected, we would do that," he said. "There are a couple of difficult issues which take a little bit longer to resolve. Transport is one of them... I think plans... have been put in place. Over a period of time, they will resolve the issues."
Mr Teo's point on long-term policy and planning was reinforced last night by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. In remarks to the Economic Society of Singapore, he dismissed an often-held view that policy changes have been the result of the electoral losses in 2011 and a larger presence of opposition MPs in Parliament.
Mr Tharman said policy shifts have, in fact, been part of long-term plans to raise real incomes for all, temper income inequality and keep social mobility alive.
Mr Teo yesterday also told reporters it was important for Singaporeans to strengthen the current leadership team - not weaken it. "If you reduce the number of people who can be on that team, you're going to have a weaker team (and) the next prime minister, whoever he is, will have fewer people to choose from. It is not the PAP or the Government who will have a weaker team. Singapore will have a weaker team to advance Singapore's interests on the international stage."
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