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PAP 2021 MP hopefuls look like PAP candidates of 2011 & 2015

The party leadership can take some risks in choosing a more diverse group of PAP MPs.

Martino Tan | December 4, 2017 @ 12:02 pm

It was a scoop by The Straits Times.

ST learnt that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has already found some 200 potential candidates for the next general election (GE).

In fact, ST even identified a few potential PAP MPs — Charles Lim from sovereign wealth fund GIC; Alvin Tan at Facebook; and Jaclyn Seow from Raffles Medical Group.

Another three — Fang Eu-Lin, a partner at consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers; Jagathishwaran Rajo, an NTUC industrial relations officer; and Asyifah Rashid, an A*Star biomedical research administrator — were highlighted as potential MPs because they spoke at the PAP convention two weeks ago.

One can also include another PAP party convention speaker, David Tay, a union leader and a Singapore Press Holdings employee.

Interestingly, Tay was profiled quite extensively in an article carried by Yahoo News. We didn’t know that Tay is so newsworthy.

What does this sneak preview “7” say about the future PAP MPs?

Granted, seven out of 200 PAP MP hopefuls is not exactly the best sample size for any meaningful analysis of PAP’s 2021 crop.

So what can we make of ST’s sneak preview?

First, one ought not to be surprised that the PAP, as the ruling party of one of the most efficient and well-prepared governments, has started looking for new candidates at the mid-point of their five-year term.

Neither should one be astonished that there were quite a number of young competent Singaporeans who are willing to join a party which has been in power since Singapore’s independence.

Same same not different?

But what do the backgrounds and experiences of the seven potential candidates tell us about the 2021 crop of PAP candidates?

Among the seven, four are currently in the private sector, while two are involved in the union. Four worked in the public sector — one is still a public servant while the other three have joined the private sector.

Half of them have studied in the Ivy League and Oxbridge universities.

In other words, they are high achievers who spent their formative years studying in a local university, spent their postgraduate years in the United States or the United Kingdom, and excelled in a good job in the public sector or an MNC.

Just like many current PAP MPs.

The best and the brightest, without the wisdom of hard-won, bitter experience.

A year ago, UK liberal political magazine New Statesman analysed the fall of Labour Party’s golden generation. They failed to govern following the departures of Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Blair and Brown’s young advisors, educated at Oxford or Cambridge, were intelligent, metropolitan, and appeared destined for power.

So what went wrong for the party’s best and brightest?

The conclusion was that this homogeneous group of intelligent politicians, who came from a narrow career field of advising and supporting important politicians, lacked a vision of the future when it was their turn to govern the country.

They did not really understand the burden and responsibility of elected office, or the struggles and aspirations of the people they wanted to represent.

They were bright, decent, public-spirited — but they lacked fight. And early successes — quite a few became ministers under Blair and Brown — was no preparation for winning and holding on to power.

Diversity in political leadership

With the current uncertain global political and economic climate, should the PAP leadership increase the diversity of its candidates to strengthen the resilience of Singapore’s political leadership?

Afterall, the ruling PAP is likely to be the governing party for a while.

Take diversity in work experience.

Where is the candidate who spent years working and living in the rising Asian powers such as China or India?

Many candidates have instead spent much time in Singapore getting involved on the ground.

According to ST, Tan has been a volunteer at Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng since 2005, while Fang is now helping out at Bukit Timah. Lim has been a district councillor at the Central Community Development Council for the past decade.

However, this is a trade-off in addressing the rank and file’s concerns about candidates being “parachuted” in. Being so involved on the ground so early and for so long meant that some of the candidates lack the global experience of living and working overseas.

These trade-offs are of course not mutually exclusive. But are trade-offs being made to focus on developing better political nous over global experience?

Also, where is the candidate who chose to study in the prominent Chinese universities such as Tsinghua, Peking or Fudan?

None of the seven featured spent their formative years studying in an Asian country outside Singapore.

And how about the diversity in interests?

Will we see the first tech entreprenuer MP? Or the first environment MP? Or how about a former sportsman or sportswomen?

Again, research from their Linkedin profiles suggest that many of the seven volunteered in mainly grassroots and government organisations.

Still early days of PAP tea session, but leaders can take more risks

With the fourth generation of leaders already in place, the PAP leadership should consider taking some risk in choosing unconventional back-benchers and a fifth generation of leaders with diverse experiences and interests.

A PAP MP, who asked not to be named, said in the ST article:

“There are always leadership opportunities for some in the next batch. Now is the time to look out for new layers of leadership as well.”

It’s interesting that a PAP MP chose to be anonymous for saying something constructive.

If one were to interpret what he or she meant, he/ she may be implying that the party leadership can adopt the “different peaks of excellence” education concept for PAP MPs too.

Yes, MPs can aspire to be Minister Josephine Teo (Class of 2006) who rose from the backbenches to be a full minister and a fourth generation leader.

But MPs can also aspire to be outspoken former MP Inderjit Singh (Class of 1996), who contributed ideas to help the Small and Medium Enterprises.

They can be Lily Neo (Class of 1997), who is well-known for her speeches on public assistance, or Denise Phua (Class of 2006) who received praise from PM Lee Hsien Loong in her role with special needs education.

Not all MPs need to aspire to be ministers.

Because every MP is a good MP.

Top photo from Lee Hsien Loong Facebook

About Martino Tan

Martino’s parents named him after an Italian priest, Vatican's 1st ambassador to S’pore. He's inspired by the lives of Robert Kennedy & Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the words of George Orwell & William F. Buckley Jr., & the music of the Beatles.

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