Our Party must win the political battle for Singapore. And we do so in three ways: getting our political message across, countering opposition moves and working the ground.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong laid out this mission plan during his speech at our Party conference Sunday morning (Nov 6).
“The PAP has delivered on its policies and promises election after election through the decades and it puts us on strong ground in the next election. It’s not enough. We need to convert the people’s approval of our performance and support for policies into strong votes for the PAP in order to continue standing out as a clear choice for votes. And that means we need to do the political work. We must win the political battle,” said PM Lee.
He also highlighted a simple truth regarding this battle’s importance: Things can go wrong for Singapore without a strong mandate for our Party.
Political messaging in-person and across media
The Party enacts its policies and programmes because these are for the long-term interests of Singapore and Singaporeans.
But more work needs doing to convince Singaporeans exactly why and how these policies align with their needs and aspirations.
“Progressive wages are not just about extra income for lower-wage workers,” gave the PM as an example.
“They are the product of our determination to uplift those of us doing less well, and build a more equal society, where everyone is respected for what he or she does.”
Similarly, pre-school education is not just about more resources and places as well as better facilities — it is about giving all our children a better start and a brighter future.
Healthier SG, too, is about enabling and empowering Singaporeans to take responsibility for his or her own health and to live a healthier, happier life especially while aging.
And public housing is not just about providing affordable HDB flats.
“This most fundamental of PAP commitments is to create a cohesive and inclusive society, a home-owning democracy where everyone can call a piece of the country their own,” said the Prime Minister.
This messaging needs to resonate with Singaporeans.
“We must do this in person, when you interact with residents and work the ground, as well as via all available platforms and channels,” said PM Lee.
“Newspapers, TV, radio, Facebook, Telegram, even TikTok!”
“Help people understand these good things will not happen by themselves.”
Countering the Opposition and divisive rhetoric
Second, we in the Party must counter Opposition moves, pointing out to voters where they fall short.
“It is the Opposition’s job to scrutinise what the Government does, and highlight any mistakes it makes,” explained PM Lee.
“That is their role, and we accept that is how a parliamentary democracy works.”
But equally, when the Opposition does not measure up, or acts against Singapore’s interests, the PAP has to point this out too, PM Lee added.
Like when it comes to tougher, unavoidable moves like revising the GST rate: the Opposition’s sums must add up.
“They say: ‘Must we do it? Can’t we postpone it? Surely you’re very clever. You can think of some other painless solution? How about taxing the rich or raiding the reserves?’,” noted PM Lee.
But the Government often has to make hard choices, “sensitively and sensibly” because of limited resources, he explained.
“How to pay for a good programme, like affordable healthcare for our growing population of elderly? Which underused services can we trim back, like certain bus routes, like certain bus routes. So we can spend or subsidise more in other more urgent areas?” the Prime Minister asked.
“Which group among us can carry a little bit more of the burden to relieve the load on others?”
And the Opposition goes missing in action during certain difficult issues, like the repeal of 377A.
“Our ministers — Comrades Masagos and Shanmugam, Edwin Tong and Desmond Lee — have spent weeks and months meeting the contending groups, all with very strong, passionately held views,” highlighted PM Lee.
“They listened carefully, explained patiently. We got all sides to accept that on such an issue, everybody has to give and take, no group can have everything it wants.”
Meanwhile, the Opposition went AWOL.
“They have said nothing, so far. They have declined all comment,” noted the Prime Minister.
“They refuse even to say if they have a party position, or if they will lift the whip on their MPs when Parliament votes on the amendments.”
And countering the Opposition is especially important when they stir up resentment to gain political advantage; when they “tear relentlessly at fault lines — e.g. residents vs foreigners, citizens vs PRs, even old citizens vs new, sometimes veering into racist territory,” noted the Prime Minister.
“They talk about a certain trade agreement. In fact, they are talking about a certain race.”
“They are not trying to obtain information, or to solve any problem. In fact, they are not interested in solutions,” PM Lee warned.
“Instead, what they want to do is deliberately work up passions and exacerbate tensions; create unhappiness, divide society, and thereby win votes.”
“The PAP will never give way to such politics,” said PM Lee. “We will never compromise on the values embedded in The Pledge. We will never hesitate to fight rabble rousers and charlatans.”
So, as part of the Party, we must stand up for our beliefs and values.
“Make the logical arguments — appealing to the mind,” said PM Lee. “Articulate clearly the values and principles that impel us to serve — appealing to the heart.”
“And never fear to engage tactically on the ground — to deny the Opposition a free pass.”
Working the ground, persevering
So, MPs and branch activists must work the ground, wearing Party whites, showing Singaporeans that the Party is here for them, regardless whether the times are good or bad.
This bonds the Party with ward residents, winning hearts and minds.
Here, those who step forward to serve in Opposition wards show “a certain gumption”, said PM Lee.
“They have the hardest jobs, whether in Aljunied, Hougang or Sengkang,” he elaborated. “On house visits, not every door opens when they knock.”
“Sometimes opposition supporters can be openly hostile,” he added.
But these Party members on the frontlines persevere. They keep going.
They engage residents, help needy households and support bereaved families — they cannot hold Meet-the-People Sessions, but help residents whereever they can.
Comrade Raymond Lye, a Party veteran for the last 30 years, for example, fought and helped the Party win back Punggol East during GE2015, after losing it in the 2013 by-election. He kept the Party flag flying in Sengkang East, and helped induct new activists to carry on our fight.
“We have many other comrades who, like Raymond, are doing the hard work – day after day, year after year, in the opposition wards,” said PM Lee.
“We will give them our full support,” he promised.
Our Party works for the long-term good
These three battle strategies are important for keeping Singapore working well.
“If Singapore’s politics goes wrong, our governance will also go wrong, and so will all our lives,” said PM Lee.
“We have seen this happen in other countries. Politics turns contentious and volatile; government gets distracted and paralysed; society becomes divided.”
The result is a government unable to push through difficult decisions. Or to see beyond immediate challenges.
“The politically expedient overrides the longer-term good of the people and country. Then the country is in deep trouble,” warned PM Lee.
And so, enacting these strategies for a strong mandate will ultimately help protect Singapore from “the same passions and pressures we see elsewhere”.
“We can end up with the same messy politics and disunity,” emphasised PM Lee. “To prevent this, and keep things working well for Singaporeans, the PAP must stay true to its founding mission.”
“Continue not only to deliver results, but to keep on convincing minds and appealing to hearts, and keep on winning the political battles.”