The People's Action Party team in East Coast GRC has learnt lessons from the 9-percentage-point drop in vote share it saw in the 2011 General Election, anchor minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday, and is heading to the coming polls "fighting to win".
Speaking at the unveiling of a PAP slate that many political watchers see as its most politically vulnerable, the Manpower Minister made pitches at the national, local and personal level for voters' support.
At the local level, he said the PAP team has learnt that "people don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care".
"It's not good enough just to know how to solve problems, how to improve situations," he said. "More importantly, you must make sure people on the ground understand we know what they care about, and we care about what they care about."
Besides Mr Lim, the other three in East Coast GRC are Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Lee Yi Shyan, 53; Minister of State for National Development and Defence Maliki Osman, 50; and two-term backbencher Jessica Tan, 49.
All are standing for re-election.
The Fengshan division, carved out as a single seat, will be contested by newcomer and long-time grassroots volunteer Cheryl Chan, 38. She replaces retiring MP Raymond Lim.
All five candidates have spent the past four years in "deep engagement" with small groups of residents, explaining new policies and hearing ground concerns, they said.
With this approach, they have seen breakthrough connections with residents, declared Mr Lim, saying that after four years, he feels a bond with his Bedok residents as deep as what he had with Buona Vista residents after 15 years there.
Mr Lim moved from Buona Vista to East Coast GRC in 2011. In that election, the PAP won 54.8 per cent of the vote against a Workers' Party team - its narrowest win for a GRC.
On whether the improvements the team made give credence to the WP's argument that its 2011 showing helped keep the ruling party on its toes, Mr Lim said it has already learnt its lessons. "We make our changes, we make our improvements. We do not need another drop of 5 percentage points for us to continue to improve. In fact, if there's another drop of 9 percentage points, we won't be their MP any more."
Mr Gerald Giam is likely to mount a return challenge in the polls as leader of the WP's slate.
Yesterday, Mr Lim would not speculate on what increased voteshare the slate hopes their deep engagement strategy would yield.
Mr Lim also emphasised this GE's significance at the national level.
Singapore is undergoing a transition, nearing "three peaks" of workforce growth, population growth and ageing, he said.
These would all put pressure on opportunities for economic growth and required adept leadership to steer Singapore through, he said.
Thus, beyond local issues, he said, it is even more important that the PAP be allowed to "put together a team to ensure that we can lead, we can serve Singapore at the national level for the next 10, 20, 50 years".
Looking back, he said that Singapore has succeeded in the last 50 years because of a combination of "good policies and good politics".
The PAP government's policies have not stayed static, but evolved to meet the changing needs of people, he said, citing changes in social policies over the years.
This was made possible by "good politics" - unmired in confrontation between political parties.
Mr Lim, 61, turned personal as he spoke about wanting to complete the work he has started in the Manpower Ministry, which he took over only in May, and to groom a younger successor in Cabinet.
"I believe I still have a lot of energy, a lot of ideas to contribute," he said, adding his decades in the labour movement attuned him to workers' anxieties and aspirations.
"I think there's a lot more that we can do and want to do, especially (in) strengthening the Singaporean core (in the workforce)," he said. "And I really hope the voters of East Coast will give me the privilege."
The PAP now has just one more round of introductions to go - its team for the WP-held Aljunied GRC will be revealed today.