Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that People’s Action Party (PAP) performance in the recent General Election was not up to the party’s expectations, but noted that he is “not surprised”.
Prior to GE2020, observers predicted that it would be a landslide victory for the ruling party as they believed that citizens would make a “flight to safety” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, PM Lee said while delivering his speech at the party’s central executive committee (CEC) elections on Sunday (8 November).
“I never believed this. On Nomination Day, I said I didn’t think this was a realistic outcome. I was confident that Singapore firmly supported the government and its efforts against COVID-19… but I also knew that public health was not the only thing on voters’ minds,” he said.
The PAP, which has been in power since 1965, won 83 of 93 parliamentary seats, which translates to 61.2 percent, in GE2020. Despite the “clear mandate”, this figure is down from nearly 70 percent it had in GE2015.
Speaking of the party’s performance, the PAP’s secretary-general pointed out that citizens were already facing difficulties due to safe distancing measures and the bleak economy, losing their jobs and source of income, or have major concerns about their future. On the other hand, businesses were also frustrated by the restrictions imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“The anxiety was palpable, and it cost us votes,” PM Lee noted.
Besides that, the want for a stronger opposition has also increased over the last several elections and resurfaced during the last round, he added.
Despite all of these, Mr Lee stated that the unequivocal sign from the voters was that they wanted a PAP government and see Singapore through the challenges ahead.
“Even many who voted for the opposition, did so fully expecting that the PAP Government would be returned to power, and Singapore would continue to be in good hands,” he suggested.
He added, “The outcome is already certain, so no need to make extra sure of it. It’s a strange dilemma that we face, but that’s how it is.”
PAP will look into lessons it can learn from election results
PM Lee also went on to note that PAP will review the election results and study the lessons from it, adding that National Development Minister Desmond Lee has been gathering views from its activists and branches.
As a reply, activists offered feedback in areas like which voter groups PAP needs to pay more attention to, as well as how they can pitch their message in a much better manner.
PM Lee added that the party must also not neglect political contest.
“We must work harder to translate programmes and policies that benefit Singaporeans, into messages that people will identify with and embrace (and) stand ready to face closer scrutiny, both in and out of Parliament,” Mr Lee said.
If that’s not, the party’s secretary-general also stressed that PAP should listen to fair criticism and improve its performance. However, he noted that the party should also take the fight to the opposition and defend itself “vigorously” on matters that it feels strongly about.
“If we are not prepared to fight hard for what we believe in, people will soon sense it,” he said.
He continued, “All these years, people have been with us because they knew we had backbone: we will fight even with our backs to the wall, and we will never let them down. That’s how we’ve been able to win support for our ideas and plans, and show Singaporeans that we remain the best team to secure their future.”
PAP must adapt to what people want in politics
Additionally, PAP should also adapt to what the people of Singapore want in their politics, PM Lee noted.
He went on to state that Singapore is changing and the ruling party must not stand still.
“They still want stability and progress, job security and opportunities for themselves and their children,” he said.
He continued, “But increasingly, Singaporeans want other things too.”
Some of the things they want include having the ability to be actively part in the shaping of the society, have more checks and balance, have more alternative opinions, as well as scrutiny of government policies.
“These expectations and desires will only grow with every generation of Singaporeans,” he said, adding that the ruling party must continue to represent all Singaporeans and not just a segment of the population.
He added that the party is able to stay in power for decades by constantly “rejuvenating ourselves and keeping our policies fresh”.
Mr Lee also explained that trying to stay relevant is also the reason why PAP has been introducing new leaders at every GEs. He added that some of them have joined the cabinet to “help the PAP to provide Singapore with the leadership it needs”.
Separately, PM Lee stressed that the country’s political stability has allowed PAP to deliver progress. However, he warned that the presence of “more exciting politics” and “fiercely contested democratic systems” can have harmful results as those in power are inclined towards short-term political survival.
“As a result … the country cannot maintain a consistent, long-term direction to steer its way forward.”
“Do we want such excitement in Singapore? Is it good for Singapore to have this ups and downs, the hurly-burly, the unpredictability, the bitterness, the division, the rancour, the splits, which will take many, many years to heal?” he asked.
He added, “Or do we want to keep want to keep on building on what we have, treasuring what we have achieved, remedying the flaws, the shortcomings – which there will always be – making it less imperfect … year by year, election by election. So that by the time you handover to your successors (and) children, you can say, ‘we made Singapore better for you. Please do the same for your successors and your children.'”