Joining Young PAP as your stepping stone to Parliament?

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.


    Author: Gerald Giam

    Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

    7 thoughts on “Joining Young PAP as your stepping stone to Parliament?”

    1. the way i see it, there is virtually no way up for fast-tracking onto a mp path for MOST yp members.

      if you compare the military rank-and-file model with the yp, you will find similarity in that “once a specialist, forever a specialist”.

      if one does exceptionally well at the grassroots level, chances are the yp will want to keep the person at that level (as a “specialist”) to continue to communicate with residents and act as that delicate bridge between the govt and the masses. how else is the govt going to keep control of this island if they promote the “specialist” into an “officer” (i.e. mp) and there are no suitable/capable fellas to take over from this hardworking “specialist”?

      it can also be viewed that the most yp members are good in their current capacity (or “job” scope) but are not seen to be people with the “potential” to be put in-charge since they are practically the men-in-the-middle who merely takes instructions from their bosses and disseminate it to the ground.

      as the saying goes, if one works like a dog, the boss will treat one like a dog.

      i agree with your final point that one will actually need to focus his/her energies in building up a strong résumé (as opposed to spending/wasting time working & walking the ground as part of yp) in order to get invited for tea.

    2. yes! So let new citizens do the dirty work! They need to put in some time and effort to contribute to this safe and green society after getting the red passport (one, which is indeed v useful internationally)

    3. Hi Gerald,

      Interesting post and I think that I should add one point to your discussion.

      Not all people who joined YP are opportunists. I have friends who are in YP just for the sake of helping out with the community, and they have admitted on many occasions that it would be impossible to become a MP. To be selected for a MP job, you must either have a top notched job or a good family background.

      To some of them who dedicated their time to help, they work around the opportunists and try to do something to resolve the income gap and problem of old age. It’s just that the YP offers them a bigger platform for reaching out to people. The estate I used to live in now has 4 in 10 people who are living in old age. One of the YP members I know, don’t get to meet his MP on the days which he worked to help old folks on several community service.

      There will always be opportunists in any political party. PAP will have to solve their own problems to weed those guys out.

      But I think that we should be fair to people who spent hours of their time just wanting to help.

      My two cents worth,

    4. A few points:

      1) Traditional source of PAP candidates for succession have always been outside the party. This is for fear of inbreeding of ideas. Internal selection is possible – but must be one with a certain quality they are looking for.

      The truth is that the YP, on the whole, is quite impotent as an engine for political change and policy influence. Its been pretty much reduced to social engagements – shying away from real hard politics. Why would the party leadership need impotent team players?

      2) They want technocrats in government. Those they select for political positions are born and bred for the job – either having a history of civil service work or have the administrative aptitude for government work (ie. policy making). Charisma and brains are a bonus.

      3) Perpetuate weak leadership beyond the Sec-Gen / CEC.

      The PAP survives as long as the party machinery (the grassroots and the party’s mobilisation mechanisms – the local branch committees & branch secretaries) remains loyal to one leadership – the Sec-Gen and the CEC.

      Its is a deliberate tactic that the party makes in “helicoptering” fresh faces into the GE war zone – the candidate has no power base to tap on – thus the party line and the party mechanism remains intact to run the elections campaign. Although, this ensures the constituency can run the election with any candidate, it also perpetuates weak MP leadership.

      Here’s the “Archille’s heel”, YP Members with vast grassroots involvements (on top of their YP portfolios) have a tendency of drawing a fan base (ie. a power base). When they are called to serve as a candidate, they will not run in the same constituency where they served as grassroots. As such, in a new environment, they will want to surround themselves with trustworthy people – including pulling people from their old branch (possibly key branch members & supporters). This could potentially weaken the old branch’s ability to fight a GE.

      Post-GE, the YP candidate / MP could draw in more people from his old power base to fill positions in the new constituency. This will upset the grassroots, branch members & supporters of the new branch. The strife and division is something the PAP can’t afford to

    5. BL,

      If community service is one’s goal, perhaps a political party is the least effective arena to achieve that goal. You’ll prob be more effective in some VWO.


    6. BL – I didn’t say ALL YP members were opportunists. I happen to have many good friends who are YP members. But I have to agree with miccheng that if one really wants to serve the community, it’s better done through a VWO than a political party.

      poor guy – your specialist/officer analogy is probably accurate for the PAP. :)

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