Our Singapore Happenings
26th December 2013
PAP Party Convention: The Roadmap for the Future
On 8th December 2013, the PAP Party Convention took place. It was a key event where the party leadership announced the party’s direction leading up to the next general election. It was also apt that this party convention is taking place midway through the government’s 5-year term in office. The party also adopted a significant resolution that will define its cause in a new phrase of Singapore’s development.
Overall, the key focus of the government in the following years (e.g. Healthcare, Transport, and Housing) and the ways to solve these problems remains unchanged from what PM Lee spoke about during his National Day Rally Speech. There were three main points which I thought was good to point-out.
Firstly, it was Mr Chan Chun Sing’s speech where he mentioned one of the three priorities at a national level was “Communications”. To quote:
“This is why we must continuously and strenuously defend the common space for people to speak up. If we do not stand up for what we believe, others will occupy that space and cast us into irrelevance. We must not concede the space - physical or cyber. We will have to learn from the 1960 generation of PAP pioneers - to fight to get our message across at every corner - every street corner, cyberspace corner be it in the mass media, and social media. We will have to do battle everywhere as necessary.”
The first thing that came into my mind was that of a military general giving order to a battalion of soldiers. Tone aside, who was he referring to when he said “for people to speak up”? And who are the “others” that will occupy that space? Anti-government and extremists views on the net? Or simply those that do not toe to the line of the government? The statement is pretty vague I feel; I just hope that this is not a call for more government hands in the online and offline media scene.
If we simply look at the underlying message of what he is trying to say, it should be a simple message of asking party members to stand up for what the party is doing and allowing Singaporeans to know that whatever the PAP government is doing is for the eventual good of Singaporeans. This I do agree should be done. Many of times, when the government releases a new programme/scheme, the main headline gets sensationalised without the mass public truly understanding what the programme/scheme seeks to achieve. The headline then gets blown out of proportion with many anti-government sentiments attacking just the headline alone. An evident example would be the population white population released earlier this year. The figure of “6.9 million” was immediately picked up and sensationalised by the media which sent many Singaporeans into a furry. But if you look and read deeper, the core idea was about forecasting Singapore’s future growth and planning the infrastructure and social system to meet the demands come 2030. The 6.9 million was merely used as an estimate for planning purpose. If the issue is framed in such a way, then people may start to understand the purpose behind the white paper; it’s simply what every good government seeks to do.
Like what Mr Chan said, the party needs to re-examine the way it explain its policy to the masses and it needs to “simplify and customise our messages to the diverse target audiences.” This is an area that the party can work on. Understanding how and where different groups in society consume information is the key to effective information dissemination. For example to reach out to younger Singaporeans, info graphics about key policies changes can be done up and uploaded onto social media for consumption. On the other hand, to reach out to older Singaporeans, TV commercials or newspaper adverts may be the way to go. It is all about displaying information effectively through the correct channel to get the point across.
Secondly, PM Lee announced the formation of the PAP Seniors Group (PAP.SG) interest group to champion elderly causes. The EXCO will consist of a cross-section of members reflecting our social make-up, needs and aspirations. Hopefully this make-up will consist of people who know the sentiments on the ground and bring up important issues to be addressed on the national level. It is said that the committee will consist of the elderly and those who are younger but are interested in ageing issues. I think this a wonderful partnership as it encourages the elderly to step forward to share their wisdom as to how to solve problems that their generation are currently facing whilst working hand in hand with the younger generation. I think this announcement is also timely for party activist and elderly Singaporeans in general, the youths have been a key focus for many government policies recently, with the establishment of PAP.SG, it is a clear signal to the elderly that they are not forgotten and neglected and that their concerns are well taken care of. Politically, it is also a smart move as the elderly group has traditionally been supportive of the party. This initiative shall seek to secure this voting base and hopefully be a lobbying voice for the party.
Lastly, there were multiple calls from the government to continuously engage the public on the way forward. This can be seen from the newly adopted resolution where under the theme of “A Democracy of Deeds”, it explains that “We welcome diverse views and robust discussion from all Singaporeans to devise solutions for the good of all.” and under the theme of “Engage and Empower our People”, it explains that “We must improve the way we communicate our intentions and actions to the people, and involve citizens in decisions that shape our nation and our shared future.” This demonstrates that the government understands the importance of civic engagement on policies and that people’s opinions matters. Head bashing through with an unpopular policy is a no go. Devadas Krishnadas, a risk consultant at Future-Moves, describes this as just Singapore “normalising as a democracy” where every issue has to be debated and discussed whether formally or informally. Of course, this is ideal, but the government knows that this takes extra time – time to consult with different groups with sometimes opposing views, time to understand concerns from stakeholders and time to refine and tweak policies. Efficiency will be sacrificed in the process, so the government has to decide if it is a worthy sacrifice.
Overall, the main crux of the convention was one of clarifying goals and redefining its cause in a new socio-political landscape. Whatever was stated in the resolution definitely reflects what the general public wants in any democratic government. Now that the government got their goals and cause sorted out, time will tell if their actions embody the key guiding principles laid out in the resolution.
Will the PAP be a “sexier” party come 2015?
It will take effort from every level but I believe it can be done.