Trust, pragmatism, renewal: The e book Lee Kuan Yew requested for however didn’t get to learn, Singapore News & Top Stories


SINGAPORE – The mic drop got here one minute into the interview: It was founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew who, in mid-2011, requested Dr Shashi Jayakumar to write down a e book on the historical past of Singapore’s ruling get together.

Given how elementary Mr Lee was to the e book, Dr Jayakumar – who’s a senior fellow and head of the Centre of Excellence for National Security on the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies – felt the correct technique to credit score him was to state in his speech on Tuesday (Dec 14) Mr Lee’s key function, reasonably than merely a short acknowledgement within the introductory matter.

Indeed, there’s little point out of Mr Lee within the acknowledgements part of A History Of The PAP: 1985-2021. Only close to the underside of Page 717, amongst an inventory of interviews with politicians, is there a short entry: “Lee Kuan Yew, 28 Dec 2011”.

Mr Lee was in a reflective temper after the watershed 2011 General Election, and had made it clear he wished two issues: First, a tutorial method to the historical past of the People’s Action Party (PAP) in contrast with an earlier 2009 e book Men In White: The Untold Story Of Singapore’s Ruling Political Party – briefly, a remedy of the PAP not solely as a political get together, but additionally the PAP in authorities.

Second, one thing younger individuals might learn. He feared they have been dropping their grasp on the basics of what made Singapore particular, and what should be performed for it to proceed to thrive and prosper. “He was concerned with the overall survival of Singapore, and said several times that young people may well want something else and say: ‘Let’s try the other side’,” mentioned Dr Jayakumar.

He added that Mr Lee didn’t dictate what he ought to write, and urged him to talk to as many individuals as doable, together with these from the opposition. “It was very much Mr Lee’s view that no view should be consciously shut out.”

With its intensive bibliography of interviews, oral histories, parliamentary and get together speeches, and private correspondences with politicians and authorities officers – not together with over 130 pages’ value of appendices and much more footnotes on the finish of every chapter – the e book would take one other 10 years to finish.

But in 2011, Mr Lee was already turning into frail, and he wouldn’t stay to learn it.

A ten-year labour of affection

The e book provides a dispassionate account of the get together’s methods – from the usage of the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) to convey individuals into contact with the get together socially; emphasising the duty of working city councils in order that residents would assume twice about voting in weak opposition candidates; to a system of “markers” in Parliament who have been assigned to rebut opposition members.

Some will keep in mind the cuts within the variety of PCF kindergarten locations in opposition wards, or the votes-for-upgrading technique within the Nineteen Nineties – which the e book notes have been merchandise of inner considering on the time that those that voted for the PAP ought to be privileged in a roundabout way over those that didn’t.

Dr Jayakumar spoke of the fallibility of individuals’s reminiscences, the fragmentary nature of surviving paperwork from the archives, and the occasional problem of reconciling them with the main points of occasions.

He cited an inner caucus that Mr Lee held after opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam gained the 1981 Anson by-election – the place Mr Lee had requested these MPs who agreed handy over the neighborhood centres and residents’ committees (RCs) to Mr Jeyaretnam, to lift their palms.

“I talked to various people who were at this meeting, looked at what available documents there were, and I was able to identify more or less who had raised their hand. But when I asked them, some could not remember,” mentioned Dr Jayakumar.

In truth, Mr Lee and others among the many high management had already thought issues by means of. They had made the choice to not hand over the neighborhood centres and RCs, on condition that these have been a part of what the PAP had fought so exhausting for. But MPs have been requested to lift their palms so Mr Lee might “test” them, particularly the newer MPs.

Dr Shashi Jayakumar, who wrote the e book, mentioned that former Singapore PM Lee Kuan Yew wished the e book to be a tutorial method to the historical past, and an account that younger individuals would learn. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

There was additionally a gaggle of older MPs who, having retired throughout the PAP’s main renewals within the Nineteen Eighties, felt exhausting performed by the get together.

“Some who had been with the party since the 1960s did not have educational qualifications at a higher, especially tertiary, level. Several were relatively young, and amongst some there was this feeling of being cast aside while still having something to offer. So this renewal, which is core to the DNA of the party – and it has to do that – actually cuts in another very painful way.”

He added that whereas they intellectually understood the necessity for renewal, they felt as if that they had performed one thing mistaken whereas nonetheless vigorous, and feeling that they nonetheless had a lot to supply. “Today it’s different – two terms, three terms, step down – you do not get judged in terms of public perception as having done something wrong.”


The e book additionally touches on the themes of pragmatism, belief and renewal that undergird a celebration which sees itself not simply as a serious political participant, however probably the one nationwide establishment able to taking Singapore to the following degree.

Freed from the shackles of ideology, successive PAP governments tackled perennial ache factors corresponding to housing, transport and schooling. Sometimes, the strikes have been spurred by the sting of election losses – from shelving unpopular insurance policies such because the Graduate Mothers’ Scheme within the Nineteen Eighties, to extra assist for lower-income teams following the 1991 General Election, and constructing extra HDB flats after 2011.

There was a philosophical shift over time. Take, for instance, the 1989-1990 train to provide you with shared nationwide values. Then PM Lee Kuan Yew objected to proposed values corresponding to “social justice” and “fairness and compassion” on the grounds that it will lead individuals to consider there was an absolute commonplace of justice.

But fast-forward to 2003 when “a fair and just society” turned a part of the PAP’s refreshed values; and at the moment, the Government’s mantra of equity and inclusion.

Dr Jayakumar observes that following the 1984 General Election, a key a part of the PAP’s autopsy was the commentary that, if left unchecked, Western-style values and the rising tide of individualism would make additional inroads into society.

“So when the younger leaders enunciated (national values) then, there was always a coda or series of caveats saying they had no intention to proceed along this trajectory where the country would adopt Western mores,” he mentioned.

Initiatives corresponding to Agenda for Action (1988) and Singapore 21 (1997 to 1999) to some extent have been nonetheless top-down, and extra within the vein of constructing certain Singaporeans understood what was at stake and had the identical cultural ballast. But later iterations corresponding to Our Singapore Conversation, he famous, have been extra diffuse, devolved and recognising of variations inside society.

“There has been a genuine appreciation in the last 10 years of the diversity of views among the people who will take Singapore forward. If these are not understood and managed well, then identities can splinter, fray and cause deep divisions in the social fabric.”


When he spoke to Dr Jayakumar in 2011, Mr Lee mentioned if there was one issue above all of the others behind the PAP’s success, it was “trust in the ability of the PAP to deliver what it promises”.

It was additionally his conviction, expressed elsewhere, that this was one thing that would not be wasted: “The next generation of PAP leaders will inherit this trust. They must not betray it. They cannot afford to squander it.”

Building a “reservoir” of belief was a phrase that got here up usually in Dr Jayakumar’s conversations with the 4G leaders. He articulated a number of dimensions to this: The probity and integrity of the get together’s rank and file and management; coverage modifications made in session with Singaporeans, corresponding to these referring to overseas staff, value of residing, healthcare and retirement adequacy; and floor engagement, whose scale, tempo and depth, particularly from 2011 to 2015, was “unprecedented”.

Guiding that is the concept of servant management, he mentioned. “The way we carry out retail politics has fundamentally changed. When people come across as humble and personable, it’s not just much more amenable to surfacing real pressure points, but it also feeds into this reservoir of trust. People feel that the MP is actually working for them.”

In good occasions and unhealthy, the get together can financial institution on this reservoir of belief to hold the bottom – a key distinction in contrast with some Western societies, he added. “You might disagree with the get together, however you are ready to be introduced in beneath a reasonably broad umbrella – among the nationwide session workouts served this goal.

“The party is prepared to reach out to anyone, even to those who fundamentally disagree. Not necessarily in an attempt to convert them, but to say: ‘We come to you as Singaporeans.'”


Much has been written of Mr Lee’s desire for Dr Tony Tan to be his successor as an alternative of Mr Goh Chok Tong, and the collection of criticisms he manufactured from Mr Goh in 1988.

Mr Goh advised Dr Jakayumar it was doable that Mr Lee was testing the waters on the problem of political succession.

Mr Goh mentioned: “If you have been to place it to the bottom, Tony and myself, he might need in an election overwhelmed me. In the get together, in fact, I might have a bonus as a result of I frolicked with the department secretaries, visiting individuals, dialogue classes.

“So I think (PM) was trying to change things. In other words, this is my public assessment, if there is a rejection of me by the party members, by the MPs, then well, Tony would have to serve.”

But no matter his private preferences, Mr Lee had particularly directed that his successor be chosen by friends. He accepted the selection and stepped apart.

Citing Plato’s The Republic, Dr Jayakumar famous the thinker Socrates’ commentary that the correct motive for ruling is that one is compelled to rule, lest somebody worse finally ends up the ruler. “Plato is not saying that the ruler who thinks he can do the job is necessarily a bad ruler,” he mentioned. “But he is saying that the best reason for wanting to be a ruler is necessity, and not because one is grasping for it.”

PM Lee Hsien Loong (centre) greeting company, together with ministers from the PAP previous guard, on the launch of A History Of The People’s Action Party: 1985-2021 on Dec 14, 2021. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

He was struck by this level when analyzing the 1984 succession. No one was greedy for the job. Mr Goh obtained the job by means of consensus by his friends, and he agreed to do the job as a result of he knew he would have his friends’ assist.

But what does this imply for the 4G management? Dr Jayakumar declined to be drawn right into a dialogue on who would be the subsequent PM.

A significant component contributing to the get together’s longevity, he mentioned, is its “obsessive” seek for one of the best individuals and the battery of assessments it places them by means of – from tea classes and background checks, to psychological assessments and private statements, after which one can nonetheless fail to make the ultimate reduce.

“I don’t think any other party in Singapore is like this. And this is somewhat tied to the late Mr Lee’s belief that once you start to get mediocre people, you start a slow slide down from which Singapore can never recover.”

But the seek for expertise, by no means thoughts a frontrunner, began to grow to be harder by the Nineteen Nineties. At least one former minister advised him that if he needed to undergo the “circus” that youthful candidates undergo now, he might need thought twice about becoming a member of.

Dr Jayakumar cites the instance of Ms Tin Pei Ling, who was an object of mirth and mockery early in her profession however went on to grow to be a well-loved MP. “Your life, your family, what you’ve done – and for men, what you did in national service – it’s picked apart ruthlessly.”

“In terms of recruitment, the needle that the party has to thread is probably narrowing, but it is not necessarily an impossible task,” he mentioned, noting the get together’s strenuous outreach efforts and makes an attempt to forged the web wider.

Challenges forward

The PAP’s inner our bodies coping with new media have gone by means of periodic rejuvenations. But to some extent it has needed to play catch-up – as a result of there’s something deeply embedded within the nature of social media which aids the counter-establishment, the sensational, and the sorts of forces which wish to overturn orthodoxy, he mentioned.

There can be the query of whether or not the pro-PAP Internet brigades (IBs) have actually helped the get together’s trigger, one thing which he left to the consultants to determine.

The get together, he famous, has mentioned that these pro-PAP IBs should not from the get together – and so they need to be forged as individuals who selected their very own to rebut falsehoods concerning the PAP. But it might be true that some Singaporeans see them as being related to the get together.

Then there’s the necessity for the PAP to name out falsehoods and inconsistencies by the opposition, each out and in of elections. But it comes up towards the problem that some voters have, which is that they assume the get together must be “fair” on a regular basis – exacerbated not simply by the truth that the PAP is the incumbent, but additionally that it’s seen to be “above the fray” in relation to politicking.

Will the PAP face the inevitable second-act hassle that plagues many others around the globe?

PM Lee Hsien Loong (left) being offered with a duplicate of A History Of The PAP: 1985-2021 by writer Shashi Jayakumar on the e book launch on Dec 14, 2021. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The e book notes that the get together management, in its GE2020 autopsy, has not come to a fatalistic appraisal in regards to the irreversible tide of PAP decline. Nor do most PAP leaders assume that the duty has fallen on the get together to ease Singapore right into a two-party system that includes a powerful opposition. Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, who was interviewed in 2016, mentioned “it is for the PAP to lose rather than opposition to win”.

Dr Jayakumar identified that the get together’s response to emphasize and even election setbacks, particularly in 1984 and 2011, has not been to show inward and grow to be insular however to speed up renewal.

He thinks the get together will pace up its candidate seek for the following election. “(It will) look for people who are willing to serve in this febrile climate, rejuvenate the various party internal bodies, make sure that they are in shape and, at the branch level, get a sense of the grievances on the ground.”

“We’ve lost those days where there were halcyon periods when GRCs and old wards were not contested for years at a time,” he mentioned.

He added: “And when these elections did occur, you truly had the posh of redistributing assets and property – not simply from get together headquarters itself, but additionally on the a part of candidates who weren’t contesting, to go round and assist others.

“From here on, it’s all hands on deck.”

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