Regaining public trust

 As the PAP prepares for 2016 election and beyond, its representatives appear to have increasingly accepted the new reality that future polls will
be different from those of the past.
  Star, Malaysia
November 23, 2013

INSIGHT: BY SEAH CHIANG NEE

AWARENESS seems to be growing among People’s Action Party members that
standing under the PAP banner in 2016 election and beyond will not guarantee victory.

This is unlike the past when being named a PAP candidate was like being given a free admission ticket into Parliament.

With the PAP votes dropping to only 60% in 2011 (opposition: 40%), the impact on politics is significant.

This does not spell an imminent end of the party, which has ruled Singapore for nearly 50 years. It will likely continue to govern – albeit with reduced majority – for a couple more elections.

However, PAP representatives appear to have increasingly accepted the new reality that future elections will be very different from those of the past.

It may result in the following:

> Large-scale walkovers will be a thing of the past; so will easy victories just because candidates stand under the PAP flag;

> PAP candidates will have to rely more on their own vote-winning capabilities to win hearts and minds instead of depending on the pull of the party;

> Unlike in the past, the career of a PAP politician will depend more on his own ability rather than decided by the PAP leadership; and

> Even the idea of “a strong anchor” (usually a minister) propelling a team of candidates to win a group constituency will appear unreliable.

For most battle-hardened parties, with the resources and history of the PAP, this may not be a major problem. But for the top-down party here, it could be tough for the following reasons.

First, many of its MPs have little real political campaigning experience having won by being “helicoptered” into Parliament with little opposition.

Expecting them to develop a taste or talent to campaign with humility can be a tough proposition. Some have found it disdainful moving around the marketplaces or knocking on doors to appeal for votes.

In any society, not just Singapore, it is hard to find scholars who understand the common-folks and service their needs.

In recent months a few PAP politicians were perceived to have been trying to strike out individually to win the public relations battle on their own, half way to the next election.

In their quest they have the help of the pro-government press which the opposition does not often get.

Recently, two PAP backbenchers trotted up apartment blocks floor-by-floor to look for litterbugs who threw down a used diaper and a sanitary pad from their windows.

The MP sleuths went on their personal hunts at different parts of the city, trying to ferret out a growing menace in over-crowded Singapore.

As a result the government is considering tougher littering laws.

Then Singapore’s Law Minister stepped into an unlikely dispute in which a woman put to sleep Tammy, a seven-month-old puppy, against the wishes of its former owner.

K. Shanmugam, who is also Foreign Minister, suggested that the re-homer get
a lawyer to pursue the matter.

The adoption contract between the two women apparently stipulated that if there was any future problem, Tammy would be returned to the original owner.

Shanmugam, an animal lover, then recommended a lawyer who would do the work pro bono.

So why are these politicians acting more like social activists than hard-nosed members of a party whose founding leader was known to challenge foes to put on knuckle-dusters and meet him in a backstreet?

The actions may be an answer to the question: How are PAP representatives
doing in preparation for the tough 2016 election that will likely also herald in the post-Lee era?

The biggest hurdle is regaining public trust.

Among the majority I have detected no special efforts at preparation.

However, the born politicians have apparently begun to do what comes naturally – implementing their personal election strategy without over depending on the party.

Some are now trying to project a softer personal image to offset the PAP’s
harder side. The hope is, of course, to convince voters they are approachable, not arrogant or elitist.

With a high tide of online criticism, however, something is easily overlooked by critics, and that is the ruling party is a historic organisation with vast resources.

Going into the future, it may have more inexperienced people lacking in articulating skills, but the party also retains a number of capable, dedicated politicians as well.

MPs like Amy Khor, a quiet champion of the poor, or Interjit Singh, who sometimes speaks bluntly even challenging party norms have built their base of admirers.

Given their difficulties, the works of several ministers are also beginning to gain recognition among fence-sitters.

They include Finance Minister, Tharman Shamugaratnam, Acting Manpower Minister, Tan Thuan Jin and National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

For the next battle may well be the PAP’s toughest.

Apart from the normal replacements, a large number of older politicians (who are now more or less passive Parliamentarians) are due for retirement.

Replacing so many experienced hands adds to the political uncertainty in the coming years.

Seah Chiang Nee, an international journalist of 40 years, many of them
reporting on Asia. The views expressed are entirely his own. He is also editor of the information website littlespeck.com

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