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.

 

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

Singapore: The PAP in the Next 50 Years??


Partyforumseasia: It is very hard to predict, especially the future” is a Danish saying or a quotation of Danish scientist Niels Bohr. Extrapolating political trends or the fate of a political party like Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) over half a century seems to be somewhat daring, even if the party is already in power for 56 years. HoThe daring speaker in a recent event of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) was Ho Kwon Ping, one of Singapore’s most prominent businessmen (The Banyan Tree chain of luxury resorts among other ventures) with a string of important director- and chairmanships under his belt. Ho was suspected of communist ideas in his younger days, even imprisoned in Singapore under the Internal Security Act for two months.His wife, who has been a nominated member of parliament, described him as “a capitalist in his pocket and a socialist in his heart.”
The three possible scenarios described by Ho Kwon Ping are as follows: 1. Status quo, the PAP retains its 85 to 90 % of seats in parliament. 2. PAP loses some support but retains a two-thirds or at least absolute majority. 3. An opposition party or coalition wins power and takes over the government.
The third scenario could happen in the second half of the next 50 years says Ho. Given the success of continuous PAP rule, that is cautious enough a guess, especially in view of the imbalance between the ruling PAP and the few relevant opposition parties. There are sizable amounts of protest votes in Singapore and undercurrents of disagreement with government and PAP,  the social media showing the extent of dissent.
The main opposition Workers’ Party managed to win a group representation constituency with six mandates in the 2011 election and a seventh seat in a by-election in 2013. All the other parties are far from a realistic chance to make it into parliament because of internal problems, lack of funds and organization or credibility.
Mr. Ho’s presentation and the the public debate triggered by it may also be interpreted as a start to the election campaign 2016. There is no doubt that the PAP is determined to win again and continue to rule Singapore.
The underlying reasons and mechanism of the hegemonic imbalance have been analyzed in detail by Prof. Netina Tan: Institutional Sources of Hegemonic Party Stability in Singapore. This country chapter on Singapore is available in our book “Party Politics in Southeast Asia – Organization Money Influence” (2014) at the following links: Amazon or   Barnes and Noble and other internet book retailers.
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Nine New Faces: Singapore’s Nominated Members of Parliament


Partyforumseasia: Singapore is not short of political parties, no less than 28 are registered, but during 49 years of independent statehood the overwhelming dominance of the People’s Action Party (PAP) has not changed much. Though its share of the popular vote has shrunk to an unprecedented 60.14 percent in the last general election in 2011, and two cabinet ministers were voted out, the ruling party won 81 out of 87 seats due to the (British heritage) first-past-the-post majoritarian election system. But for the first time in 2011, the opposition Worker’s Party managed to win a group constituency with six seats. The Group Representation Constituency (GRC) was one of the tweaks to the election system introduced since 1984 and not really seen as making it easier for the opposition.  Parliament
In order to balance the overpowering hegemony of the PAP, however, the constitution allows for a number of unelected members to join Parliament. These are Non-Constituency MPs (NCMP) or “the best opposition losers”, if they can win at least 15 percent in a single member constituency, and Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP). These are nominated by the President for two and a half years after recommendation by a parliamentary select committee under the speaker. This year’s committee included two ministers and five other MP’s including the chairman of the opposition Worker’s Party. According to the defense minister, who was part of the select committee, the NMP’s are expected to enrich the debates on issues like “ageing, economic restructuring and productivity, sporting excellence, a better living environment, retaining Singapore’s heritage and appreciation of its history, challenges of working mothers, youth aspirations, and entrepreneurism.” (Straits Times, 12 August 2011, p.1) On sensitive issues like amendments to the constitution or public finances the NMP’s can contribute to the debate but are not allowed to vote.
Among the newly appointed NMP’s are a lawyer, a social entrepreneur, an architect, a medical doctor, a unionist, a historian, an economist, and a banker. The somewhat naughty application of a social blogger who is being sued by the Prime Minister for alleging inconsistencies in how the government is handling the compulsory Central Provident Fund, has been rejected.

To put the NMP scheme into a proper perspective, it is fair to say that Singapore has only a part-time Parliament with MP’s following their professional careers as normal. Apart from the seasonal sittings of Parliament they are involved in intense grass roots work in their constituencies. So it makes a lot more sense to co-opt specialists than in classical full-time parliaments with professional politicians.

More information on Singapore’s political system can be found here:
Tan, Netina, Institutional Sources of Hegemonic Party Stability in Singapore, in: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed.), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Organization-Money-Influence, Partyforumseasia, Singapore 2014.
The new book is available at Amazon under the following link: Party Politics

 

An Internet Revolt Against Singapore’s PAP?


Partyforumseasia: Singapore is one of the most successful small countries world-wide, if not the most successful anyway, and much of its success is due to the foresight of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). PAPNearly five decades of practically unassailable rule have allowed the political and administrative elite to plan and implement with a long term view and according to priorities of necessity. One striking example is the water supply for more than five million people plus industry on the island. From the beginning in 1965 fresh water had to be imported from Malaysia which gave the latter a dangerous blackmail capacity, fortunately always avoided. Now efforts of water catchment,  recycling and treatment have made Singapore autonomous and independent, as Malaysia is facing water shortages herself.
The younger generation, mostly grown up in affluence, may take for granted many of the advantages of living in such a well managed country. While the splintered opposition has made it into parliament in sizable numbers since 2011 (eight MP’s from the Worker’s Party – out of 87 ), the relative result for the dominant PAP has gone down to 60 percent.
Among the older generation, the heavy-handed style of founding father Lee Kuan Yew had created a lot of fear and hatred. But as long as the government provided the goods the party could cement its grip on power. Now the fear has faded under the more relaxed and accommodating political style of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, but the hatred seems to resurface among the young. In April, very visible anti-PAP graffiti on housing blocks were fast removed, but the blogosphere reveals more than resentment. A 30-year-old blogger has accused the government of mishandling the billions of dollars in the compulsory retirement fund CPF. Obviously touching a nerve, he collected more than 70,000 S$ in donations for his legal cost when the Prime Minister sued him for defamation, an instrument very efficient under his father. The young man was also sacked by his employer, a hospital.
The social media attacks, called already “internet revolt” by a paper outside Singapore, go on. The newest incident happened on 12 May, when the Wikipedia site of the PAP was massively and rather viciously re-edited, changing the name into “Party Against People”. Parts of the pampered youth of Singapore, used to more freedom than any other generation in Southeast Asia, are obviously allergic against state interference in the blogosphere. But the lightning in the PAP’s logo  mPAPay not be the right answer to address the problem.