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No surprise that PAP did not achieve a landslide in GE2020: PM Lee

WHILE the People's Action Party's (PAP) performance in July's General Election fell short of expectations, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had not expected a landslide victory on the back of a "flight to safety", he said at the PAP's party conference on Sunday morning.

Reflecting on the election four months ago, Mr Lee, who is the PAP secretary-general, said the ruling party had won the mandate it hoped for: to focus on dealing with Covid-19 and the economic crisis, coping with the shifting and uncertain external environment, and setting the long-term direction for Singapore.

He noted "important wins" in tough-fought constituencies: West Coast GRC, East Coast GRC, and Bukit Batok SMC. But the party is also disappointed to not have done better in the opposition-held wards of Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC, and has suffered the "painful loss" of Sengkang GRC to the Workers' Party.

"The PAP will not give up in these opposition constituencies. We will maintain our presence. We will strive to win back voters there. And one day, we will succeed," he said.

While the election results fell short of expectations, Mr Lee said he "was not surprised", and had never believed that the PAP might achieve an opposition "wipeout".

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He was confident that Singaporeans supported the government's efforts against Covid-19, but knew that public health was not the only thing on voters' minds. By July, safe distancing restrictions and the economic downturn were already taking their toll on workers and businesses.

"Because of all this, the mood was not upbeat. It was apprehensive. The anxiety was palpable, and it cost us votes," said Mr Lee.

He also acknowledged the desire for more alternative voices, which has grown over the past few elections. Still, even many of those who voted for the opposition did so with the expectation that the PAP would be returned to power, he said.

Looking forward, the ruling party must focus on the priorities which prompted the election: tackling Covid-19 and getting the economy back on track, he said. Both of these tasks are major political challenges, and maintaining the trust of citizens will be crucial in achieving them, he said.

At the conference, first assistant secretary-general Heng Swee Keat also reflected on the GE result and the future of politics in Singapore. The desire for diversity is here to say, and subsequent elections will only get tougher, he said.

The PAP must stay alert to ensure that sharper contestation does not spiral into unstable and divided politics, he added. It must also reach out more on the ground and online.

A post-GE review - with feedback gathered from party activists - has been completed, and the Central Executive Committee will be discussing the findings, he said.

Due to the pandemic, not all the party cadres and activists were able to attend this year's party conference in person at the NTUC Centre, with many participating virtually instead.

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