For PAP new faces, a great chance for some bold talk

Source: Todayonline  Mar 15, 2011

The next significant signpost on the road to the General Election should appear any time now – the new faces of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) being introduced to the media and the electorate.

If past introductions are any indication, these new candidates are likely to share how challenged their lives once were, how they were given opportunities to make good and how they feel so indebted to the system that they now want to give back to society.

As with many things in Singapore, nobody in his right mind will dispute these statements. Remember this group would have gone through many rigorous rounds of checks and counter-checks diving deep into their character, motivation and helicopter quality – the ability to assess situations through analysis, sense of reality and imagination.

But as with many things in Singapore, voters are not going to be satisfied with just these pronouncements. In the Singapore of 2011 and beyond, they have become passe.

So what else do these potential politicians – from among whom the next Prime Minister and the fourth generation of Singapore’s leaders are expected to emerge – need to tell the voters to enthuse them, to excite them?

They need to look at three broad areas:


The biggest issue facing many Singaporeans today is the prospect of having to spend the rest of their lives on a fast-moving, never-stopping and increasingly over-crowded treadmill.

With wild swings in economic growth – a recession one year, a double-digit recovery the next and modest single-digit growth the year after – is this going to be Singapore’s karma in the new century? Is there a way out?

Adding to the strain of this treadmill existence is the changing face of Singapore society.

More old people, more foreigners and more singles can only mean a new Singapore that is tentative about its social future.

To simply delve into the island’s often-told history and serve up statements about Singapore’s vulnerabilities, peppered with pronouncements about the vagaries of the global economy, may not be enough.

Maybe there is a middle path: A path of modest and consistent growth where shared values become as important, if not more important, than financial returns.

For this to happen, the new candidates will have to start thinking and talking about a new chapter in Singapore’s economic story and start sowing the seeds of a new social contract with their fellow citizens.

The new candidates can paint bold, broad strokes that might shape this landscape and there is no better time or place to start than when they are formally introduced.


Anything and everything happens at the constituency level.

A country that can boast a first world economy can also show, once that surface is scratched, an astonishingly large segment of society that is not equipped to deal with the swirling changes which a small country plugged into the world’s capitalist system experiences, every time another economic miracle emerges or one goes bust. Various measures, Workfare being the boldest of the lot, have been implemented.

Recently, a commentary writer in the Business Times suggested taking S$200 billion from the reserves and putting that sum into a citizens’ pension fund managed by the Government Investment Corporation to give each citizen a basic pension at 65, no strings attached. Will these new PAP faces, widely regarded as some of the best new brains available, be able to talk the bold talk and suggest ideas that go against the grain of established thinking?


Politics is also about showing the inner self of the candidate.

So far, aspiring PAP politicians have talked about moving from a humble to a noble existence, being awarded a scholarship, going overseas and coming back a proud Singaporean.

The time has come to change that storyline somewhat and talk about things that will give voters a much better peek into their lives.

The one mistake I regret, the day I changed my mind, the one thing that irritates me about the Singapore system, a rule I would like to change … these baring-of-the-soul stories, when told with honesty and humility, can reveal more about an aspiring politician than a list of achievements and accolades from his or her university or workplace.

A new Singapore needs a new set of leaders. Each of the last three generations came with slightly different approaches to policy-making.

The next generation of leaders will not only have to show different styles and approaches, but will also have to reveal a new daring to push through a new and brave path.

There is no better starting point than when they are introduced in the coming days or weeks.

P N Balji is the director of the Asia Journalism Fellowship, a joint initiative of Temasek Foundation and NTU.