SINGAPORE - The general election may be two to three years away but on Sunday (Nov 19) Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called on activists of his People's Action Party (PAP) to start working hard immediately to get a strong mandate.
PM Lee also told them them not to take the people's trust in the party for granted.
In a wide-ranging speech that had the tenor of a mid-term report card, he recapped the Government's work since beginning its term in January last year and told the 2,000 people at the PAP's year-end convention of the work to come.
Improving Singapore's train reliability is a priority, he said, weighing in for the first time on the recent train collision at Joo Koon station and the flooded MRT tunnel.
"These incidents should not have happened. But they have, and we must learn the right lessons from them, get to the root of the problems and put things right," said PM Lee, who is the PAP's secretary-general.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel as delays should go away once the resignalling upgrade is completed, hopefully in a year's time, he added.
The Government is upgrading the economy as well, creating jobs and maintaining Singapore's place in the world.
PM Lee also said Parliament will take a mid-term break after the national Budget is passed next year (2018), usually by end-March.
When it reopens a month later, the President will address Parliament, outlining the Government's agenda for the second half of its term.
Noting the brightening economy, he said productivity has picked up and economic growth is beating expectations.
It may exceed 3 per cent this year, he added.
Social spending, however, is on the rise and will rise even more, particularly in healthcare as the population ages.
"(Finance Minister) Heng Swee Keat was right when he said raising taxes is not a matter of whether, but when," he said.
Trust between PAP and the people
"To implement these policies, we must get our politics right. The people must support the PAP. Most of all, they must trust the PAP.
"They must know the party cares for them and is working to improve their lives," said PM Lee, whose speech was broadcast live on the party's Facebook.
He said his Government makes hard choices from time to time and must be upfront with Singaporeans when it does. "Even if people may not like a specific policy, we must convince them that we are doing it with good intentions and for good reasons."
The "strong trust" between the PAP and the people was painstakingly built up over more than 60 years, he said.
This was done not only by working with Singaporeans and delivering results, but also by working through difficult policies such as National Service and the Goods and Services Tax.
"The PAP earned the people's trust the hard way, and we must never take it for granted or fritter it away", he said.
PM Lee drew cautionary tales from British and American politics, where mainstream parties are no longer seen to represent the common man's interests, and the elite is disconnected from the population.
In the United States, the white working class whose lives were not improving voted for-President Donald Trump, he noted, saying they had lost faith in the whole system of politics and government.
The PAP must never let this happen in Singapore, he said.
"The PAP must always pursue policies that benefit the broad majority of Singaporeans.
"We must always hold the ground, stay close to Singaporeans, and maintain their trust and confidence," he added, urging his party members to keep their ears close to the ground.
In the coming years, this trust will be tested by economic and social disruptions, and will be more important than ever, he said.
"We must hold together, not pull apart," he said.
PM Lee also told the activists they represent the PAP and exhorted them to be upright individuals: "If you push your weight around, behave arrogantly, or take advantage of your position, you bring disrepute to yourself and do harm to the party.
"But if you uphold the party's ideals ... you will strengthen the trust between the party and the people, consolidate the party's support base and help keep Singapore successful."
"People must know the PAP not as a remote and impersonal government...but as their team," he added.