The PAP: Whither internal dynamism

The PAP: Whither internal dynamism

A KEY question facing the PAP is whether it can avoid the fate of all dominant parties and stay in power for the next 30 years, never mind another 60.

Some say it is impossible. Even one of its own founders, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, has said it is an irrelevant question because it is about whether Singapore - not the PAP - survives. Yet, the two are so tethered, people find it hard to imagine one without the other.

One possibility that could unravel the PAP's dominance is any emergence of corruption and nepotism. The PAP has long prided itself on its zero tolerance for corruption - its first landslide victory in 1959 came on the promise of clean government, with Mr Lee asking his comrades to come dressed in the now signature all-white to represent cleanliness.

Just last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated his father's high standards at an annual planning seminar for public servants: "The Government must have a culture that doesn't tolerate any wrongdoing or dishonesty." That's because one major factor that will determine whether the Government succeeds in rolling out its policies is whether it has the trust of the citizens, he said.

But while it may demand the highest standards of its ranks, it has not been spared slip-ups. The case of the late national development minister Teh Cheang Wan who was found to have been corrupt, is one dark example. More recently, former Speaker Michael Palmer's peccadilloes forced him to resign from office. In both instances, the party had to go out of its way to show opprobrium.

Another potential weak spot: If the PAP is unable to adjust to changing times and the ever- evolving demands of the electorate - such as being able to connect with voters at a more empathetic level.

Noting its previous perception of being paternalistic, Moulmein- Kallang GRC MP Denise Phua says "the party's DNA has slowly but surely been modified", and points to the year-long Our Singapore Conversations and increasingly frequent public consultations as evidence of a more communicative style.

But this might not be enough.

"The middle class will become more vocal: they don't get as much help as their lower-class colleagues, but they are also feeling the pinch of rising costs of living," argues National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist and former Nominated MP Paulin Straughan. And while their needs are more aspirational, such as owning a car rather than, say, just having enough food, "the party cannot dismiss them and say, 'Live with it, go take public transportation'."

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