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PAP must always work closely with Singaporeans to take the country forward: PM Lee

SINGAPORE: The People's Action Party (PAP) must always work closely with Singaporeans to take the country forward, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Dec 14). 

"Most fundamentally, our task is not to foretell the future, but to create it. The PAP continues to carry a heavy responsibility for Singapore's security, stability and success." 

Mr Lee was speaking at the launch of the book A History of the People's Action Party: 1985-2021 by Dr Shashi Jayakumar. 

Dr Jayakumar heads the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Nanyang Technological University.


1985 was "a turning point in our political development", said Mr Lee, as it marked the final stages of the transition from the founding generation of PAP leaders to a successor team.

"A pivotal general election had just taken place in December 1984. In that election, many of the PAP old guards either retired from politics or stepped down from leadership roles," he added.

In the new cabinet, only Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr S Rajaratnam and Mr Edmund W Barker remained from the founding generation of PAP, Mr Lee added. 

"After the election, the younger ministers chose Mr Goh Chok Tong to be their leader and he became the First Deputy Prime Minister." 

Mr Lee said a "record number" of fresh faces were also brought in. There were 24 new Members of Parliament (MPs), including a few who eventually formed the 3G leadership team. Mr Lee was one of them.


Back in 1985, many were "anxious" about leadership succession, more "fractious politics" and significant changes to leadership direction and government, said Mr Lee. 

"After all, this had happened in many countries which came into being after the War, a decade or two earlier than us, like in India, Israel, and Korea, beyond their founding generations," said Mr Lee.

"Others even predicted the failure of the Singapore model."

While the PAP leadership "quietly resolved to build on our solid foundations, renew themselves, and take the country forward", even they could not "confidently predict" the party would earn "strong support and trust from new generations of Singaporeans" for another 35 years after 1985.

Neither could they predict the PAP would "keep itself vigorous and effective, dominate Singapore politics, provide Singapore with good and effective government, and take Singapore from third world to first and beyond".

"This has been a story of stability and progress. Of evolution, not revolution. Of patient building and improving. Of ensuring that tomorrow will be better than yesterday," said Mr Lee. 

This "astonishing" stability, progress and success were "hardly predicted" and it did not happen by itself. 

"How did Singapore manage to achieve this? The PAP is an important part of the explanation," added Mr Lee. 


"(The) book explains how the PAP sought to build a cohesive society in Singapore, build understanding and consensus across different groups, and improve the lives of Singaporeans across the board," said Mr Lee. 

Published by NUS Press, the book analyses several points: How the PAP government engaged and listened to the people; adapted policies to address Singaporeans' changing needs and to fulfil their rising expectations; worked to deliver high standards of living, healthcare, education and housing; created well-paying jobs and better futures; and sustained this performance. 

Mr Lee also noted that the book "recounts how the PAP continuously transformed and renewed itself" over the years. 

This involved reorganising the party to "strengthen its close ties to the people", as well as scouting, inducting and grooming potential leaders with the "right skills and values, and with diverse experiences and perspectives", while "staying true to its core values of honesty, incorruptibility and competence". 

The book "brings us behind the scenes where decisions were made", added Mr Lee. 

"It covers the internal debates within the party, the difficult choices and trade-offs, the reflections from our successes and failures," said the Prime Minister.


This is now "another turning point" in PAP's history, said Mr Lee, noting that the book ends just after the 2020 General Election.

"Just like in 1985, we are again in the midst of a leadership transition, this time from the 3G to the 4G team.

"The PAP MPs who were first elected in 1984 have all retired, except for me," said Mr Lee.

Similarly, the pioneer generation of voters, who were "just beginning to leave the scene" in 1985, have "by now mostly faded away". 

Mr Lee acknowledged that about 60 per cent of today's voters were born after independence. 

Having grown up in a stable Singapore, they experienced "steady progress" year after year, and have benefitted from "our collective efforts to develop our economy and to build our Singaporean identity". 

"Their aspirations, hopes and expectations are different from those of the young voters of yesteryear in the 1984 General Election, who are their parents," he said. 

"At the 2020 General Election, the PAP again won a strong mandate from voters, but our vote share fell by 8.6 percentage points. We also lost two GRCs (Group Representation Constituencies) to the opposition for the first time." 


And like in 1985, people have many questions about the future, added Mr Lee. 

"How will the PAP deal with new challenges? How will the 4G team respond? Do they have what it takes to overcome adversity and take Singapore forward? Will the new generation have the same survival instincts to bond together with their leaders and gel together as one people?" 

Mr Lee said he hoped the book would "provide a sense of history and perspective to the journey" that the PAP has travelled in the past decades. 

He also hoped it would help readers appreciate how Singapore achieved what it has. 

"But most importantly, inspire the next generation - party activists, party leaders and Singaporeans alike, to be equally committed, resourceful and resolute in pursuing a brighter future for Singapore," he said. 

Source: CNA/gy(mi)


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