PAP slate finalised ‘very late in the process’ while government handling Covid-19 crisis, says Singapore PM Lee

From left: Masagos Zulkifli, Heng Swee Keat, Lee Hsien Loong, Teo Chee Hean and Chan Chun Sing at a virtual People's Action Party press conference June 30, 2020. — PAP pic via TODAY
From left: Masagos Zulkifli, Heng Swee Keat, Lee Hsien Loong, Teo Chee Hean and Chan Chun Sing at a virtual People's Action Party press conference June 30, 2020. — PAP pic via TODAY

SINGAPORE, July 1 — The People’s Action Party (PAP) managed to finalise its slate for the coming polls “very late in the process,” the party’s secretary-general Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday in response to a question on why the ruling party kept its cards close to its chest this time.

The full slate for the July 10 General Election (GE) was made known only after nomination papers had been filed. This was unlike in GE2015, when the PAP’s full line-up of candidates and the wards in which they would be contesting was announced before Nomination Day.

PAP said at the time that it announced its slate early in a bid to be upfront with voters and encourage a “better type of politics.”

Explaining the change in the party’s approach this year, Lee said that the ruling party “would like to be able to identify the candidates early, deploy them early, let them be known early.”

However, there were several constraints this time. Among other things, he noted that the PAP government has “been busy with Covid-19” in the last few months.

“If we had gone ahead and announced candidates formally in the middle of Covid-19 while we were doing a circuit breaker... people will misunderstand and will accuse us of politicking away and not keeping our eyes on the ball.”

The circuit breaker was what the government termed the period of strict containment measures and stay-home curbs that it imposed during April and May to arrest the spread of Covid-19.

Lee, who is also the prime minister, was speaking at a virtual press conference held after candidates filed their nomination papers.

‘Tactical deployment'

Lee also explained first assistant secretary-general Heng Swee Keat’s move to East Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC) from Tampines GRC, where he had been a Member of Parliament (MP) for two terms.

It was one of the biggest surprises on Nomination Day, the first time a PAP candidate earmarked to take over as the country’s prime minister had left his home turf.

Heng on Monday arrived at the nomination centre in Bedok North half an hour before the 12pm deadline to submit his nomination papers for East Coast GRC.

“These are tactical deployments that we do have to keep to ourselves, until we judge the moment is right,” Lee said.

“It does not make it more difficult for people to assess our team because the team members are all known, it is just which piece goes where.”

Heng will face a WP team comprising former National Solidarity Party (NSP) member Nicole Seah, 33, former researcher Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim, 54, lawyer Terence Tan, 48, wealth advisory firm director Dylan Ng, 45 and Mr Kenneth Foo, 42, deputy director of Singapore Cancer Society. 

In the 2011 elections, Seah was part of an NSP outfit that secured 43.36 per cent of the vote against a PAP team led by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in the contest for Marine Parade GRC.

The PAP stronghold — the incumbents won 72.94 per cent of the vote in the 1992 by-election — became the second worst performing GRC that year.

Asked whether Heng was moved from Tampines GRC to prove himself as a leader, Lee said: “I don't think this is a manhood thing. He doesn't have to go there and prove that he's in the fiercest battle.

“It helps to have won a good fight, but he goes where he makes the most contribution to the overall campaign.”

Heng said he had earlier told Lee that he was prepared to go anywhere he could be of value.

“I want to be able to mobilise all Singaporeans, wherever they may be, to work together,” he said, adding that rallying the country is all the more important now, given the pandemic.

Since Heng is a key figure among the fourth-generation leaders, PAP was asked whether it was prepared for all outcomes.

Lee’s reply: “In an election you fight to win, but you are never absolutely certain that you will win.”

He added: “But we are not taking it for granted at all. He will do his best and we will back him to win the support of the voters in East Coast.” — TODAY

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