SINGAPORE - The annual People's Action Party (PAP) rally, traditionally held in November or December, has been an occasion for the party secretary-general, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, to set the direction for the year ahead before thousands of its core members.
The rally has also served as an indicator of the political, economic and social emphasis that the ruling party is likely to take.
It was particularly telling that Mr Lee's speech dwelled at some length on the PAP's vision for Singapore as a nation of opportunity, a fair and just society and a democracy of deeds - fleshed out in the updates to the party Constitutionted yesterday.
He also called on members to be clear about what the PAP is: A national movement, and a responsible party with courage and conviction. These points may very well form a key part of the party's manifesto and strategy at the next General Election, which could be some time away, but which members are gearing up for.
Yesterday's event marked the close of the PAP's 60th anniversary celebrations and came ahead of Singapore celebrating 50 years of nationhood next year.
Underpinning Mr Lee's remarks was a clear message, even though he did not say it in as many words. It was that Singapore has come this far because of the PAP Government. And for the foreseeable future, the country can make further progress only under the party's leadership.
One reason for this view is that the party has adapted to the times and changed the way it has governed over the last decade: From engaging citizens to having stronger social safety nets for the elderly and lower-income workers.
It has also stuck by its goal of a fair and just society at a time when income inequality is widening here and elsewhere.
This was "the reason why in the last 55 years the PAP has been in government, the PAP has never ceased to strive for good housing, health care and education for every Singaporean, and especially the poor and the middle income".
He also assured minority communities that they will have a full share in the nation's progress. The party, he said, was a national movement for all Singaporeans, which was responsible about managing the Budget and publicly acknowledging problems.
If these are indicators of the messages the party could use at the next election, what then of the method? Expect the PAP to fight, and fight fiercely to win.
As Mr Lee said: "If the other side fights and we sit down, and we are good guys and nice and friendly to everybody, I think we deserve to lose."
The battle will also go online, where voices and sentiment against the PAP have been louder.
He said some voices mean well, and have to be engaged and persuaded to make common cause with the PAP: "Others will try to mislead voters, they will lead Singapore into trouble, and those we must counter, expose and defeat."
Even as the party changes its approach in some areas, do not expect it to ease up on its electoral opponents. Mr Lee laid down a marker yesterday: "It is our responsibility to set the standard that other political parties in Singapore should be measured by and should aim for. That is how you should measure who is up to the mark and who falls short."
It was an early signal to voters that the PAP wants them to assess the opposition by the same yardstick that they would the PAP.
This article was first published on December 8, 2014.
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