SINGAPORE: As society becomes more diverse in their needs, the fourth-generation (4G) leaders of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) must forge a "renewed bond of trust" with voters, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Wednesday (Jul 24).
"We know that trust between the people and their leaders cannot be inherited. And the 4G team will have to do so at a time when our politics has become increasingly more contested," Mr Heng said.
"We must evolve our style of leadership with the times, and forge a renewed bond of trust with the electorate."
Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister and the PAP's first assistant secretary-general, was giving the keynote address at the 15th anniversary dinner of the PAP Policy Forum, the party's arm that engages Government leaders on policy issues.
His remarks come against a backdrop of political uncertainty abroad, as he noted that the British are still locked in discussions over their future, three years after the Brexit referendum, while tensions in Hong Kong "remain rife" even after the contentious extradition Bill was withdrawn.
"This bond of trust (between the PAP government and Singaporeans) can easily be lost if we ever become careless or complacent," Mr Heng said, adding that the party's founding leaders won Singaporeans' trust by improving their lives, while successive leaders did it their own way in accordance with the times.
"This is especially so in today’s uncertain and volatile world, where a wave of disillusionment is sweeping across many mature societies."
Closer to home, Mr Heng said Singaporeans are now more diverse than in previous generations, noting that they "expect their Government to best represent their diverse needs and aspirations".
"Our society has become more diverse in needs because our population is ageing and different segments are facing different life circumstances," he said.
"As a maturing society, our views and values have also become more diverse. Singaporeans are passionate about a wider range of causes. And we must expect a greater diversity of views and more robust debates in the years to come."
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In some countries, Mr Heng said political parties have exploited such differences in society to stoke tensions and fears, and drive a wedge between people for political gain.
"Trust is shattered and society fractures, sometimes over single issues. We must never let this happen in Singapore," he added.
"Trusting one another and staying united even as we become more diverse is all the more critical, given the complex challenges ahead of us."
Mr Heng said the PAP’s approach to leadership must continue to be anchored on "trust, unity and constructive politics".
"We keep and grow the people’s trust by always implementing policies with the longer-term interests of Singaporeans at heart," he continued. "Even in tough times, we do the right thing, not the convenient thing.
"We must be prepared to take difficult decisions today, so that our future generations can have a better tomorrow."
Mr Heng said the PAP must also resist a "downward spiral towards populism, and not hesitate to call out those who make empty promises and shallow slogans".
"We must not go down the road of divisive politics, along racial or religious lines, or pander to narrow interests," he urged. "Instead, let us hold ourselves to the highest levels of integrity - clean, honest, incorruptible."
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In the next phase of nation building, Mr Heng said the 4G leadership wants to harness Singaporeans' "diverse strengths" to take the country forward.
"We strive to represent Singaporeans from all walks of life - with support from the broad middle," he said.