Partyforumseasia: Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) has elected its Central Executive Committee (CEC) last Sunday, 7th December. About 2000 cadres in the white party dress came together in this biannual ritual. They are supposed to be the most reliable party members but apart from electing the CEC they have no other privileges.
The results were no surprise. Among the twelve elected members there is only one newcomer, manpower minister Tan Chuan-Jin. He replaced defense minister Ng Eng Hen, who came out as number thirteen and was automatically co-opted together with speaker of Parliament Madam Halimah, number fourteen.
Secretary-general Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong used the opportunity to introduce changes to the party constitution with updated objectives. Upholding the multiracial and multi-religious, fair and just society and the vibrant economy are not that new to Singaporeans. “Serving all Singaporeans responsively and responsibly, attentive to immediate concerns” is certainly a good objective for any party, but the “focus on long-term challenges and opportunities” is a strong point for the PAP, which other parties in the region ruling as long as the PAP cannot claim.
“To strengthen an open and compassionate meritocracy” and “To develop a democracy of deeds” sound somewhat vague and will have to be clarified in practice.
The Real Surprise of the Rally:
The idea that the opposition could win the next election, due by January 2017 at the latest, or that the country is heading toward a two party system with PAP and Workers’Party (WP), may sound rather unrealistic for most Singaporeans, the “men in white” included. But the election could be called earlier as well, maybe closer to the 50th anniversary of the Republic, and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) announced already that it is starting its preparations. So the Prime Minister’s battle cry can be understood as a signal to the party and the opposition at the same time. Ruling since 1959 and entrenched in all sorts of administrations and organizations, the party could take too many things for granted. The 2011 loss of a group representation constituency with six mandates to the Workers’ Party and the following by-election loss
(one seat) in 2013 were alarming enough for the leadership. And in 2014 Roy Ngerng, a young blogger, attacked the Prime Minister on alleged mismanagement of the compulsory retirement fund CPF. Lee reacted by suing Ngerng, but donations from the public for his fine and legal fees revealed the surprising extent of support for the issue and the latent mistrust in the CPF scheme at large. As all long ruling parties the PAP has to face adverse undercurrents among the voters and their extent is not easy to assess. The 60.1% in 2011 are still a dream result for most parties in the world but a reason for concern in a party used to super-majorities.
The message to the opposition, of course, is clear: Don’t feel safe in your supposed strongholds in the East of the island, we will go all out to win back these constituencies.