Singapore’s PAP needs to address its image problem

The following is an excerpt from China Post.

SINGAPORE — They seem a breed apart, dwelling in a pristine bubble far from the madding crowd.

That, at least, is the stereotypical view of a politician from Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). He or she is likely to cruise around in a luxury car, never having to take public transport.

When he goes to the ground, the PAP MP tends to arrive after everyone else, speaks mainly to grassroots leaders and then makes a quick exit.

Undergraduate Elly Mohamad, 24, says these politicians are “atas,” a Malay word to describe people who think they are above everyone else. That image is at odds with the PAP ethos of being “servants of the people” — as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reminded party members at a Young PAP event last month.

“Never forget we’re servants of the people, not their masters,” he said then. “Always maintain a sense of humility and service. Never lord it over the people we’re looking after and serving.”

The May 7 elections saw the PAP’s historic loss of six seats, its worst performance since Singapore’s independence.

Among other things, the 6.5 percentage point vote swing — from 66.6 percent in 2006 to 60.1 percent this year — has been blamed on a widespread perception that the ruling party, in power for 52 years, has become arrogant.

It was first surfaced during the hustings by former foreign minister George Yeo, who said the PAP has to take a “very hard look” at itself and review the way it governs. He identified the problem on two levels: It has to listen harder; and it should not dismiss people’s unease over the pace of change driven by globalization.

“We need a transformed PAP,” he concluded.

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