Fresh blood for the survival of the party


Partyforumseasia: The recruitment and selection of politicians is widely unregulated in political parties. Charisma and leadership potential can only partially be learned and developed, but the first litmus test is the socialization in the local branches. The possible motivations to first join a party are manifold, from family history or concern about local issues to attention seeking and the urge of being important. Within a branch and the interaction with fellow members, the most widespread patterns may be eloquence and perseverance, in any case, availability and attendance whenever there is an event. And not to forget, supporting a superior is nearly always helpful for advancement, as long as the superior is not challenged.  If the party is in government, networks similar to roped mountain climbing or skiing partiesSeilschaft play an important role in filling all sorts of positions with trusted comrades. Generally, the necessary rejuvenation of a party is left to chance, sometimes to recruitment drives among suitable persons among friends and aquaintances of the party activists.

A systematic approach is rare, but there is one interesting example in Southeast Asia, namely Singapore’s long-term ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP). It can be traced back to founding father Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) who decided without political or popular pressure to step down after ruling the new city state as prime minister from 1959 till 1990. His obsession with leadership recruitment and selection is legendary. Candidates for parliament were screened in different rounds of discussions from the local branch to ministerial level and finally by LKY himself in increasingly grueling interviews.  His special focus was the character, a criterion not really common in most parties world-wide. The prevailing perception and the image of party politicians are so negative that positive connotations linked to the character are rare.

Lee KYThis LKY-heritage is obviously living on. The Straits Times, on 3 December, published a glimpse into this part of PAP internal procedures under the headline: “PAP identifies 200 hopefuls for the next GE” (LINK), due by April 2021. Overseen by the PAP’s organizing secretary, the rounds of “tea sessions” with ministers and MPs have started, later on, the candidates will be interviewed individually by a panel of ministers. The paper mentions that in the past candidates have been asked to undergo psychological profiling. In Darwinian terms, the selection process looks like the survival of the fittest. Normally, the party brings in replacements for about a quarter of its members of parliament with every general election. PAP

Similar to his father, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who is also the uncontested leader of the PAP, has made public his intention to step down by 2022. He carefully tries to organize the transition and announced several times that his successor is very probably already a member of the cabinet, but the next batch of candidates might have a chance as well.

The quasi-hegemonic long-term rule of the PAP is unique in many ways, but seeing political leaders everywhere like glued to their positions, it might be interesting to search for any other party similarly engaged in its own renewal and rejuvenation like Singapore’s PAP.

 

Lee Kuan Yew And His PAP: A Party Like No Other


With eulogies from all over the world pouring in and Singaporeans queuing by the tens of thousands every day for hours to pay their last respect to the island nation’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew was already a legend greater than life before he died on 23 March at the age of 91. Lee KYAs he is being described as “mellowed a lot” during the last few years, nearly all comments are positive and remind only discreetly of the former iron fist of the outstanding leader, the aristotelien “zoon politikon” (or political animal) par excellence. His vision and foresight as political leader and motivator have made Singapore’s transformation miracle possible. Nevertheless, the universal recognition for this life achievement is remarkable after decades of international criticism of his leadership as heavy-handed, authoritarian, and undemocratic.
Partyforumseasia will not add another eulogy but a short reflection on the party leadership Lee Kuan Yew style: Political power is a prerequisite for the implementation of policies, but in most democracies it is limited by regular elections, thus limiting the time for implementation. Fast changes of political personnel have a positive side, of course, bad leaders disappear sooner, but in most democratic systems the survival rates tend to be rather low. Governments with different concepts follow each other, institutions are being changed and laws reversed. Some leaders survive somewhat longer with changing coalitions, but the “reign” of Lee Kuan Yew is beating democratic and autocratic systems by far. Being re-elected and keeping his constituency for 60 (sixty!!!) years is a world record, even on the background of uncontested “walkovers” due to his advantages as incumbent, prime minister and party leader. Similarly unique is his tenure of 31 years as prime minister (1959 – 1990), ending with a voluntary resignation after carefully organizing his succession, and his handover as party leader after 38 years in 1992 without giving up his influence in the party’s policy formulation. There was also a strong fear factor in this dominant role, often dubbed as “no-nonsense-style”, but Lee Kuan Yew and his team managed to avoid outright condemnation as dictatorial by delivering the economic goods domestically and finding smart ways to sell limitations to political rights and press freedom as necessary for stability and progress.
Controlling a political party and keeping it dominant with more than absolute majorities like Lee did with the PAP over five decades is an exception many party leaders world-wide would probably dream of. Descriptions of the PAP with its estimated membership of no more than 20.000 as a Leninist-style cadre party are certainly outdated. The roughly 2000 cadres have only a minor role in decision making. But screening office holders and election candidates the rigorous way LKY practiced it, would certainly do many parties in the region good. Another remarkable feature is the weekly meet the people sessions, compulsory for members of parliament. The MPs are forced to be closer to the ground and the problems of the common people. That is easier to organize in a city state but maybe a useful example to MPs in bigger countries and their widespread aloofness.
Lee Kuan Yew once said that it cannot be his role as prime minister to make it easier for the opposition, and he really made it difficult with all legal means. This created a lot of latent resentment against the PAP and increasing numbers of protest votes recently. His son Lee Hsien Loong, successful as prime minister with a more relaxed leadership style since 2004, will most probably manage to maintain the dominant role of the party. He says the next election due latest by early 2017 will be tight, but the opposition is splintered and weak. In this party political perspective the Lee Kuan Yew era does not seem to be over yet.
Singaporeans queuing for up to eight hours in the tropical heat to pay their last respect.
Queue 1

The Future of Singapore’s PAP – Part II


Partyforumseasia:  In most countries with a liberal democratic system anywhere in the world any political party would be more than happy with the comfortable absolute majority the People’s Action Party is enjoying since sixty years. PAP 50But there are also few parties world-wide which have ruled as successfully as the PAP (though there are few city states for comparison). The authoritarian style of founding father and patriarch Lee Kuan Yew, now 91, has been gradually softened under successor Goh Chok Tong and more so under son Lee Hsien Loong. So the debate about future dangers to the PAP looks somewhat overly fearful in comparison to the narrow majorities and shaky coalitions in other countries. As already quoted in part I, Netina Tan has described the mechanisms in the Singapore system which favor the ruling party. Link here:
Parliament SGRocking a big boat like Singapore and the PAP is certainly difficult. Nevertheless, losing one six-member group constituency which looked unassailable in 2011 and a by-election 2013 is painful for a party spoiled by decades of success. And one can expect differences within the party, maybe with a faction that does not fully support the softened style of the Prime Minister.
With the 60th anniversary of the PAP, the 50th of independent Singapore and general elections coming up in 2015, the crystal ball is being kept rather busy. The latest contribution by Han Fook Kwang, senior editor at large at the Straits Times (9.11.2014, the question mark cartoon above also in this article), is correctly adjusting the question to what the PAP will have to do to stay in power. For there are no real threats in the party scene with the runner up Workers’ Party far behind with 7 elected and 2 non constituency (or consolation prize) MPs against 80 PAP parliamentarians.
What is conspicuously missing in the public debate so far is the possibility of a coalition government. At least in the next few decades the election law will not make a coalition government necessary if the PAP can win majorities in Parliament even with less than 50% of the popular vote. Neighboring Malaysia has that already since last year and many other countries with majoritarian or first-past-the-post systems as well.
So the PAP may just be nervous about more signs of protest votes in various forms and some activists being more fearless than anyone since the crackdown on Communists in the 1950s and 1960s. Obviously there is a ant-establishment subculture among younger Singaporeans who take all the material achievements for granted and see social injustices from a subjective, if not parochial perspective. The debate about the supposed shortcomings of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) seems to be a point in case. Social security for everybody is difficult to achieve, and increasing life expectancy threatens all pension schemes in rich countries. But in terms of distribution justice Singapore’s CPF system can match most other schemes.

PAP 1PAP 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See the Singapore chapter by Netina Tan in
B&N book

 

 

 

available at Amzon, Barnes & Noble and other e-book retailers.