At the PAP65 Awards and Convention at the Singapore Expo last Sun (10 Nov), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed some 2,500 People’s Action Party (PAP) activists as being among the “elite” in Singapore.
PM Lee, who is also the ruling party’s secretary-general, warned party activists against allowing the seeds of discord to be planted between itself and the people of Singapore, in the midst of global sociopolitical and socioeconomic rifts between the people and their leaders.
“I was supposed to go to Chile next week for the APEC meeting … but APEC had to be cancelled because there were mass demonstrations in Chile, triggered by public anger over social issues like public transport fares, healthcare, education and pensions.
“The Chileans have lost faith in their political institutions. According to one survey, among the four institutions least trusted by their people, three were their political parties, senate and chamber of deputies,” said Lee.
He also cited the examples of Hong Kong and Taiwan, where the young generation have become increasingly angry and pessimistic towards their governments.
“Their young people feel that no matter how hard they study or work, there is no path to a better future … One young demonstrator summed up this sentiment in a banner which said, “没有未来， 何必上学” (“There is no future, why go to school?”)” said Lee.
The breakdown of trust, said Lee, has led to the germination of populist movements that “explicitly want to upend the system, turn things upside down”, while not necessarily being able to offer anything better.
He said, however, that Singapore’s domestic politics “has been quite different” where the PAP is “humbled to enjoy the people’s trust”.
According to PM Lee, the “anger and frustration that have divided societies elsewhere have not taken root here”, as “Singaporeans believe that the PAP will improve their lives and take the country forward”.
Despite that, he reminded his party activists to not be complacent, as Singapore “is not immune to these global pressures”, which may “overwhelm us too, if we are not careful”.
The repercussions, he warned, will be worse for Singapore than other countries “because we are so small and vulnerable”.
“Therefore, we must work even harder than any other political party, whether in Singapore or elsewhere, to keep this faith in the PAP.
“Every party member – you may be a leader, you may be an ordinary member – you must identify with the people, we must serve the people,” he added.
PM Lee previously raised the concept of “natural aristocracy” in Singapore
Previously in 2015, PM Lee similarly told the “Singapore at 50: What Lies Ahead?” conference that a certain form of hierarchy is vital to a functioning society, and that anarchy “doesn’t mean that you’ll be delivered with brilliance”.
Lee’s statement was made in response to CNN host and The Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria’s observation that a culture that questions or challenges authority is ingrained in countries such as the US, Sweden and Israel, which are commonly deemed to be among the leading nations in innovation, science and technology.
Zakaria asked PM Lee: “You spent six hours yesterday in a court trying to do this, to instil a culture of respect. And isn’t it exactly the opposite of what you need for your economic future?”
The Prime Minister replied:” You want people to stand up, not scrape and bow. But if you don’t have a certain natural aristocracy in the system, people who are respected because they have earned that and we level everything down to the lowest common denominator, then I think society will lose out.”