Comment: The PAP convention on Nov. 28 turned out to be the calm before the political storm

The PAP party convention didn't turn out to be the biggest political story in the closing months of 2021.

Sulaiman Daud | December 06, 2021, 05:40 PM

Follow us on Telegram for the latest updates:

What's your idea of a perfect Sunday? A healthy workout, maybe brunch, then a nice movie?

I spent mine in the company of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, and a bunch of people dressed in white.

The People's Action Party (PAP) held its annual party convention on Nov. 28, last Sunday, at Suntec City. For some reason, I chose to become a political writer, so it fell upon me to wake up at 6am to arrive at the venue good and early.

Bleary-eyed and dressed in black (I wasn't trying to make a statement or anything, it's what I usually wear), I passed through the extensive security checks, passed through the strict Covid-19 checks, and took my assigned seat in a space reserved for the media with all the appropriate safe management measures.

It reminded me of attending a wedding, where you're expected to stay in your spot and everyone focuses on a stage at the front where some speeches are being made. Except there wasn't even any free food, so it was worse than an actual wedding.

A certain ex-Minister checking in. Photo by Sulaiman Daud.

Confidence when talking about Sengkang

Before the main event, as it were, there were a number of warm-up acts.

One guy who had his turn at the mic was Sengkang Central activist Ling Wei Hong.

"The theme today is emerging stronger as one. The question is how can we be the one that emerges?" he began.

In case you've been stranded on a desert island for the past few years, (a global pandemic broke out by the way) you probably should know that the PAP lost a second GRC during the momentous general election of 2020.

The Workers' Party added four more Members of Parliament to their ranks, inflicting a stinging defeat on a party relatively not used to losing.

But Ling struck a defiant note in his speech.

"Some have said the opposition does not lose a ward once it wins it. We know that's not true. Look at Potong Pasir," he said, to general applause.

He also talked about the work of activists on the ground, and in general, seemed pretty confident about possibly winning back Sengkang.

Polling science is at its embryonic stage in Singapore, as compared to somewhere like the U.S., but perhaps the PAP had some internal polling done that gives them confidence about taking back Sengkang.

Bukit Timah branch secretary Goh Sze Kee had her say about what she feels the PAP opposes.

Speaking rather intensely, she said she joined the PAP because (among other reasons), "I could not face the prospect of another political party that spews out populist sentiments just to garner votes to govern Singapore."

PAP on "rebutting wrong views"

There's a set formula to local political speeches these days. You've got to mention Covid-19, talk about how it's devastated something near and dear to the heart of your audience.

Then talk about how things have changed, and mention something your audience is good at that will help them adapt to the post-Covid world. Whether it's in tech, agriculture, education, just rinse and repeat.

To be fair to PM Lee, he has more reason than most to mention Covid, considering the breadth and depth of his responsibilities.

During his speech, he talked about the impact of Covid, but mentioned how the PAP government had been able to tackle the pandemic. Its measures, PM Lee said, could not have worked as well without the high level of trust that Singaporeans had in the government.

And while PM Lee spoke of the importance of maintaining trust, and engaging in political discourse even with those who don't agree, he also spoke of the importance of "rebutting wrong views", firmly if necessary.

He even name-checked the CECA and work pass holder debates in Parliament, where Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai debated PAP members at length.

Numerous MPs and ministers laid into Leong's arguments, including Manpower Minister Tan See Leng, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Home Affairs & Law Minister K Shanmugam.

PM Lee talks about integrity

The PSP wasn't the only opposition party alluded to in PM Lee's speech.

At one point, he spoke on the importance of integrity and honesty.

He said that if politicians are dishonest, and voters cannot trust their motives, they will ultimately lose faith in the whole political class and the political system itself.

If trust goes down the drain, the country will be in a bad state, PM Lee said.

If that wasn't enough of a clue, PM Lee then specifically said:

"In Singapore, people expect MPs and political leaders to be clean, to be above reproach in their personal conduct, to be scrupulously truthful in what they say, inside Parliament, or outside Parliament.

The PAP has upheld these stringent standards ever since it came into power more than 60 years ago in 1959."

I would hazard a guess and speculate that this was a reference to former WP MP Raeesah Khan, who admitted to lying in Parliament in an Aug. 3 speech.

Just two days later, Raeesah Khan resigned from the party and as an MP.

Two days after that, the Workers' Party held its press conference with some revelations of their own.

And a day after that, the Committee of Privileges dropped its bombshell with its special report to Parliament.

In the immortal words of Harold Wilson, UK Labour Prime Minister, "A week is a long time in politics."

No clue on successor

I was also under orders to glean any insight into the identity of PM Lee's successor. In this mission, I failed spectacularly.

I tried to listen out for gossip but didn't hear any. Of course, it was a big hall and I couldn't really move around.

None of the potentials gave any indications in their speeches that hinted at a coronation.

But I did spot a few of the potential candidates, speaking to members and posing for photos with awestruck fans.

And of course, PM Lee straight up said that the 4G leaders needed a "little longer" to answer the longest-running question in Singapore politics today.

He admonished nosy people (like me), saying that it is not a "race" or "reality show", but rather choosing someone who has to make life and death decisions.

Which is true, but at the same time, he didn't exactly elaborate on why the 4G leadership still needed more time. Realistically, what are they waiting for that could tell them something they don't already know?

After all, Chan Chun Sing and Lawrence Wong have worked with each other for more than 10 years after GE2011.

Ong Ye Kung and Lawrence Wong were Principal Private Secretaries to PM Lee, and Chan and Ong have known each other since their days in Raffles Junior College.

Anyway, I came away with zero clue as to who our next PM will be. And I thought it would be a somewhat quiet week in politics.

Man, was I wrong.

Top image by Sulaiman Daud.

Follow and listen to our podcast here