Singapore needs to keep up the virtuous circle of good governance that results in political stability and enables long-term planning, even as the People's Action Party (PAP) responds to the country's changing politics, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.
The PAP gained strong political support by delivering on aspects such as housing, education, healthcare and security, he said.
This resulted in political stability, and allowed the party to think long-term and bring good people into politics.
Taking a long-term view, in turn, allowed it to deliver better lives for all Singaporeans and further retain voters' confidence, he added.
Singapore must keep this cycle going for as long as possible, PM Lee told 3,000 party activists at the PAP conference. "Once we break it, it will be impossible for any party to restore it, not even the PAP."
The hybrid event - with cadres gathered at branches to elect the party's central executive committee, and party leaders and MPs at NTUC Centre - was the party's first major gathering after the July general election, where the PAP won 61 per cent of the votes and 83 out of 93 seats.
PM Lee, the PAP's secretary-general, noted that this outcome reflected a broader desire for more alternative voices and a stronger opposition to check the PAP Government.
Many countries have fiercely contested democratic systems and more exciting politics, but these do not always deliver good government, he said.
Instead, contestation often makes politics unstable and divided, with those in power focusing only on their own short-term political survival, and those out of power offering remedies without being upfront about the costs and consequences, he added.
Governments cannot make long-term commitments or set a consistent long-term direction as a result.
Singapore is not like that, PM Lee said. But to sustain the Singapore model, the PAP cannot stand still as the country and its politics change, and has to adapt to what people want to see in their politics.
Singaporeans still want stability and progress, job security and opportunities. But increasingly, they want to take part in shaping society, re-examine basic assumptions and look beyond the tried-and-tested way of doing things, said PM Lee. They also want greater checks and balances, more robust public debates and closer scrutiny of government policies.
"These expectations and desires will only grow with every generation of Singaporeans," PM Lee said.
The PAP has to respond to them.
But, he added: "We must continue representing all Singaporeans, and not just a particular sliver or segment of the population."
PM Lee also touched on the task of keeping Singapore safe from the virus and getting the economy back on track, stressing the need for the PAP to provide strong leadership and give citizens confidence to overcome their most serious crisis since independence.
The Government will also pay special attention to lower-income groups, and work on balancing the competition Singaporean workers face from foreigners in the labour market with the need for the economy to remain open, he added.
PM Lee also said leadership renewal remains one of his top priorities but, as he had previously explained, it was his duty to see the country through the crisis before handing it over in good shape to the next team.
"The PAP has kept itself vigorous and stayed in power by constantly evolving and rejuvenating ourselves, and keeping our policies fresh and relevant to the times," he said. "We have to keep on doing this, even as we forge fresh bonds between the PAP and successive generations of Singaporeans."
Speaking before PM Lee, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, the PAP's first assistant secretary-general, said the party has to retain its core strength of taking action, to get the right things done, and continue to win hearts and minds.
"To do this more effectively, we have to evolve how we engage a changing electorate," he said.
"In a more turbulent and uncertain future, the PAP will need to work even harder to build consensus and create the political space for us to do the right thing for Singapore and Singaporeans," he added.
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