The Straits Times ran two reports on Saturday about how Young PAP is expanding its recruitment drive to woo new citizens and overseas Singaporeans. It also featured an interview with the YP chairman, which gave some insights into the dynamics of the organisation.
Young PAP (YP) chairman Vivian Balakrishnan fielded questions about the political aspirations of the young. Some excerpts:
On whether some YP members may feel ‘bypassed” as most candidates in previous elections did not come from their fold.
Dr Balakrishnan: I think the way to phrase the question would be, ‘Will joining the YP mean you’re excluded from consideration as a candidate?” The answer obviously is no. We will not discriminate against someone as a candidate… simply because it doesn’t make sense for us to do so… But whether or not you’re a candidate is not a matter of ambition but a matter of whether the party needs you with your particular set of skills, experience and whether you help build that slate of candidates that the party wants to offer.
On how those who are in the YP just to further their own ambitions will be exposed over time.
To be blunt, and I don’t want to name names… go and look at the last batch of candidates who, in a sense, jumped ship in order to get a shortcut to appearing on the ballot box. Now look at what they are doing, or have they jumped ship again, and you’ll find that there’s a certain behaviour pattern. From where I stand, good luck to them, I’m quite glad we made the right decision in not fielding them and in happily letting them go elsewhere and try their luck.
But what it also means is that I’m prepared to continue to be open and prepared to continue to take that risk, that some of the people who join us may have other agendas and may subsequently even stand against us. To me, it’s a risk worth taking, because if I were to go to the other extreme of being very selective and very tight, I run the risk of missing out opportunities to meet many, many more people.
So it doesn’t matter if there are a few opportunists who come in because in the PAP, time is the real test. And opportunists will not have the patience… the energy to survive the obligations and the duties which membership imposes on the PAP members.
I’m quite amused at the way Dr Vivian (as his YP “comrades” call him) just rephrased the first question to avoid alienating many of his party faithful who will probably never become MPs, despite their noble aspirations.
The second answer was a political snipe directed at a few opposition candidates in the last election who started out in the PAP then switched to opposition parties. However, the Minister skirted over the bigger issue which often dogs YP, which is the perception that there are many opportunists still within the YP ranks.
Those who jumped ship would probably have accepted that their chances of getting elected under the Opposition banner were very slim. It would be unfair to exclude the possibility that some of them genuinely felt that the PAP was not the party they could support, and therefore joined the Opposition. However, the opportunists who didn’t jump ship know that their best chance of getting into Parliament is to get selected as a PAP candidate. Fortunately the PAP leadership is known to be “allergic” to people with political ambitions but little substance.
Looking at the slate of new PAP MPs from the 2006 General Election:
- No more than half of them were YP members (I just made some assumptions, based on their resumes).
- 5 of the new candidates were appointed office holders (i.e., parliamentary secretaries or ministers of state) soon after the elections, but only 1 of them was (possibly) a YP member.
- Of the other 4 office holders, all were either senior government officials or top executives in Singapore government linked companies (GLCs).
- Of the remaining YP members who remained backbenchers, the vast majority of them are “grassroots MPs”. These are individuals who are deemed to be able to connect well with the ground, mainly because of their proficiency in their mother tongue, and their extensive grassroots experience through Meet-the-People sessions, Citizens Consultative Committees (CCCs) and Community Centre Management Committees (CCMCs).
- All the other non-YP candidates have stellar professional careers to boast of.
According to the ST, some 100 people join the YP every month. That’s 1,200 people in a year — quite a sizeable pool of people to pick from. Yet half (possibly more) of the 2006 candidates were recruited from outside the party. This is probably another uniquely Singapore aspect about our government.
For those who aspire to get invited for tea sessions with the PAP, it is worth bearing these points in mind:
- Joining the YP might get you noticed, but don’t expect to get picked as a candidate unless you can connect very well with heartlanders. This applies especially if you are Chinese.
- If you are really keen on making a difference to government policy by becoming a Minister, you’re better off focusing your talents and energies in building up your credentials in the Civil Service, where Ministers can observe close up how you implement government policies. Being a scholar helps a lot but is not a requirement.
- If you don’t join YP but still want to be a backbencher PAP MP, then focus on building your career and becoming a senior manager in a well-known company. The PAP leaders love recruiting people who fit their definition of success. A passion for politics is desirable, but optional.