A Closer Look: Changes for the PAP

Will 70% vote for them again?

Hello! Welcome to another edition of GE20Watch, I’m your GEWatcher.

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Also, for the sake of transparency, I’ll go a bit into my political leanings: I’m not affiliated to any of the political parties in Singapore, although I do have my own partisan preferences. These preferences may show in my analysis but I will strive to keep this newsletter as objective as possible, and I won’t be endorsing any particular party. After all, the purpose of this newsletter is to help you make a more informed choice during the elections, and to hopefully educate people who don’t have the time to keep up with politics on a regular basis.

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Short plug for another election-related project: Class Notes is a new project by NUS FASS students in conjunction with former Straits Times editor Bertha Henson, doing some great stuff on features about our electoral system and reporting on political parties. They’ve just done an interesting piece on political advertising on Facebook, do check it out!

I’ve been busy with work recently and have deadlines to meet, so this post will be a bit shorter than usual, and focused on the ruling party’s prospects going into the GE. But first, a news update:

Parties focus on the climate

Over the weekend, two political parties held climate change-related events. The Young PAP hosted Sustainability Roundtable Discussions, while the SDP launched their Climate Change Policy. While I can’t find any details about the discussions (apparently they were more preliminary in nature), SDP’s policy paper delves into specific issues such as Singapore’s status as a petrochemical hub, electric vehicle policies, the prospects for renewable energy, and carbon taxes. Give it a quick read if you can!

Both of these events were attended by Singapore Youth for Climate Action (SYCA), a network of youth climate advocates. Climate change is expected to be a hot topic for many youth and first-time voters, especially in the wake of the global climate change movement led by Greta Thunberg. Local youth climate movements SG Climate Rally and Speak for Climate have launched Greenwatch, an initiative aimed at assessing and ranking political parties based on their climate policies.

Personally, I’m just happy political parties are finally focusing on climate change. It may not be a hot election issue yet, but it’s absolutely vital to start discussing climate change policies, especially since we are not doing enough.

A new era for the PAP?

A new era of leadership transition is upon the PAP: this election is widely expected to be the last under PM Lee’s tenure, with DPM Heng Swee Keat expected to take over soon after the elections. He was appointed first assistant secretary-general of the PAP, pipping Chan Chun Sing and Ong Ye Kung to the role. While Lee will continue to lead the PAP in the elections, he has said that the 4G leaders will be ‘in the thick of things’ and are ‘ready for the elections’.

The PAP looking very ready/Photo: PAP’s 35th Central Executive Committee

Renewal is a constant process for the PAP, and as of last May, they had identified around 50 potential candidates for the GE. Some ‘party activists’ were put on show during the PAP’s party convention in November last year, perhaps hinting that the new slate of candidates may feature more from the grassroots.

A look at Lee’s speech during the party convention provides a good hint of what issues the PAP will focus on: their achievements in increasing pre-school and tertiary education subsidies, the Merdeka Generation package, improving the public transport network, as well as having to justify controversial policies such as the GST tax increase from 7 to 9 percent and the reserved presidency. Heng has already mentioned that a GST support package will be unveiled during the Budget on Feb 18, so keep a look out for that.

What are their chances? In a recent speech at a conference by the Institute of Policy Studies, Heng made what sounded like an election pitch: the 4G team would ‘make every effort to build a future of progress’ (in particular highlighting helping the lower and middle-income), and struck a more collaborative tone, saying his team would not just work ‘for’ Singaporeans, they would work ‘with’ Singaporeans, citing the new Singapore Together citizen consultation movement as an example. It remains to be seen if Singaporeans think this consultative tone is genuine or just political rhetoric, but expect this to be stressed even more in the run-up to the GE.

As for the 4G leadership, the verdict is still out on their capabilities, and the GE will be regarded as a barometer of Singaporeans’ trust in them. With Heng’s recent gaffes in Parliament during the debate on the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council issue garnering some criticism and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung’s singling out of playwright Alfian Sa’at on the scrapped Yale-NUS dissent module controversy earning a rare rebuke by public figures such as Tommy Koh and in an op-ed by Straits Times journalist Chua Mui Hoong, such errors may prove disastrous in an election context. All eyes then will be on how they handle the hustings of an election.

Another spanner in the works is former PAP MP Tan Cheng Bock, who has formed his own political party, the Progress Singapore Party. More on him and other opposition parties in the next issue.

That’s it from me this week, stay healthy and safe and remember not to hoard necessities, see you next week!


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