SINGAPORE, Nov 10 — The People’s Action Party (PAP) must never be afraid to do what is right for Singapore, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong today, noting that not all Singaporeans agreed with the need for a reserved Presidential Election to ensure minority races in the Republic’s highest office.
“If you ask me, overall from a short-term perspective, this issue is probably a political minus for the Government, for the PAP. But this is part of governing. I am convinced that we did the right thing. We must never, ever be afraid to do what is right for Singapore,” said Lee to around 2,500 party activists at the PAP65 Awards and Convention at the Singapore Expo. The conference was held to mark the 65th anniversary of the PAP’s founding on Nov 21, 1954.
The reserved Presidential Election in 2017 saw Halimah Yacob elected unopposed, and Lee also said then that he recognised the move was unpopular and could cause the ruling party to lose votes.
Reiterating these views, Lee, who is also PAP’s secretary-general, said today that not all Singaporeans agreed with it, and he had discussed it with his ministers and had carefully weighed the decision to “make this fundamental change for the long-term good for Singapore”.
Said Lee: “How would the minorities feel if, year after year, the President of Singapore were almost always Chinese? In the long term, such a scenario will foment deep unhappiness and erode the founding values of our nation.”
Dangerous split between people and elites
He then warned about how the PAP Government must guard against the “dangerous split” between the people and the elite, noting how the masses in other countries no longer trust the elite in their society.
In these nations, Lee said their people no longer feel that their interests are being looked after, and lost their respect and support for the entire political class, even among socialist parties which were supposed to champion the interests of the common man.
Populist movements – which want to “upend the system while not necessarily offering anything better” – have arisen in their place as a result, added Lee.
“We must not let this disconnect between the masses and the elite happen in Singapore. The PAP must always remain a party of the people,” he said.
“We must make sure that our system always works for ordinary Singaporeans, so that they will embrace it as their system.”
To this end, every PAP member must identify and serve the people, and government policies must also deliver results for the people and emphasise their needs, such as through strengthening social safety nets and giving the elderly peace of mind on their healthcare needs, said Lee.
Workers’ interests, too, are always represented by the PAP, he stressed, citing his speech in last month’s National Trades Union Congress Delegates’ Conference 2019 where he said the unions and the PAP shared “a symbiotic relationship”.
“We have never forgotten that the whole purpose of economic and social development is to improve the lives of our workers and their families. This is who the PAP are, and must always be,” he said.
Thankfully, unlike other countries, Singapore’s domestic politics “has been quite different”, Lee said. But Singapore must work even harder to keep this faith in the PAP since the country is not immune to the pressures affecting others, he added.
Lee said this depended on three values that the PAP had built over the years: Trust, hope and unity.
On trust, Lee said the PAP is frank with Singaporeans by not glossing over difficulties, explaining unpopular decisions such as raising the Goods and Services Tax.
The PAP also delivers what it promises, said Lee. “Unlike other political parties, we cannot afford to woo voters with empty words. So we are very careful what we put into our manifesto,” he said.
Beyond that, Lee said the PAP upholds “high standards of honesty and integrity”.
Alluding to a Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s parliamentary motion last week on the integrity of parliamentarians amid the fiasco over the Workers’ Party-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, Lee said the PAP practises honesty and integrity, “whether we are putting together the Government’s budget, awarding town council contracts, or looking after branch funds”.
The PAP must also give people hope for the future, so that Singaporeans feel confident that there is a bright future for themselves and later generations, he said.
Citing Singapore’s plans to tackle climate change, as well as new MRT train lines and Housing and Development Board towns like Punggol, Bidadari and Tengah, Lee said the PAP must also conceive and deliver bold plans for the future.
He added that confidence and hope can be raised through a quality education that would give opportunities to Singaporeans “whichever path they take”, which is why the PAP has heavily invested in a good education system, including preschools. Expanding and upgrading the economy will also create good jobs for young people as they enter the workforce.
Speaking in Mandarin, Lee said the Government has also put in place measures to help Singaporeans manage the cost of living and ease the burden of the “sandwiched middle” as they care for their young children and elderly parents.
Lee then spoke about how founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew ran for election in Tanjong Pagar in the 1950s because that was where poor people had lived at the time.
Under the PAP banner, the late Mr Lee wanted to fight for them and improve their lives, eventually doing so not just for the voters then, but for all Singaporeans.
“But we must continue to pay special attention to the people who most need help, the poor and the vulnerable, ensure that they are well taken care of, and that they feel cared for,” said Lee in Mandarin.
The Prime Minister highlighted the efforts of NTUC FairPrice to keep more than 100 items under its house brand affordable to people, as well as the Merdeka and Pioneer Generation packages to help manage healthcare costs for these generations.
“All these enable every Singaporean to participate fully in our growth and success, and leave no one behind to walk alone,” said Lee.
The annual PAP convention is likely to be the last one before the next General Election, which must be called by April 2021, he said. — TODAY