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PAP all set for battle to win hearts of voters

Bread and butter, immigration issues, and leaders' integrity to feature in hustings

PM Lee at the Cheng San Market at Ang Mo Kio Ave 10 as he leads the Ang Mo Kio GRC candidates in three market visits. On his left is Dr Koh Poh Koon.


WITH the troops in place and the battle cry sounded with the release of its manifesto, the People's Action Party (PAP) is all set to take on the opposition in the next nine days and win the voters' backing to form the next government.

But the ruling party, which will be fighting on the slogan "With you, for you, for Singapore", has not only the next five years in mind in this general election - Singapore's 12th since independence.

As Singapore celebrates it's 50th birthday this year, the PAP is also looking at the next 50 years.

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"I called this general election to seek your mandate to take Singapore beyond SG50, into its next half century," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is PAP's party boss, said in a Facebook post last Tuesday.

"You will be deciding who will govern Singapore for the next five years," the PAP's secretary-general said in a message to voters. "More than that, you will be choosing the team to work with you for the next 15-20 years, and setting the direction for Singapore for the next 50 years."

Leadership and succession is not a new rallying cry for PAP, but it has acquired a new sense of urgency in the 2015 general election because many of the senior ministers in the Cabinet are near, have reached or passed the retirement age.

Some 22 PAP Members of Parliament (MPs) have said they are not seeking re-election. They include current and former ministers such as Wong Kan Seng, Raymond Lim, Mah Bow Tan and Lui Tuck Yew.

"Whoever is the next prime minister will most likely be one of the MPs who will be elected into the next Parliament because if it's a new face after that, there's no time already," Mr Lee told PAP activists last Saturday. He said time is running out to assemble the next team, which he has been gradually bringing into Parliament over the course of the 2006, 2011 and 2015 general elections.

Several of the new candidates have the potential to be office-holders, according to him.

PAP is fielding candidates in all the 13 single-member and 16 group representation constituencies (GRCs) which are up for grabs in this general election, making a total of 89 seats - up from 87 in the 2011 election.

This time around, the PAP is tipped to be challenged in all wards - the first time since 1963.

The party has unveiled its candidates and revealed where they will be standing. And PAP organising secretary Ng Eng Hen, who is the Minister for Defence, said there's unlikely to be any last-minute changes - though there were whispers of "surprises" come Nomination Day on Tuesday.

Among the PAP candidates, 21 are first-time contestants. They include former second permanent secretary Chee Hong Tat and ex-defence force chief Ng Chee Meng.

Mr Chee, 41, will be part of the team defending the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC and Mr Ng, 47, is deployed to stand with the team at the Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

Compared to the 2011 general election, the latest batch of new faces comes from a more diverse background, and older and more experienced.

Their median age is 43 years, against 39.5 in the previous election. Nearly two-thirds of them are from the private sector and six from the public sector. Only a third of the 24 first-time candidates in the last general election came from the private sector, while 16, including five from the labour movement, hailed from the public sector.

Three of the PAP candidates in the 2015 general election are standing again after losing in previous elections: Ong Ye Kung (scheduled to be contesting in Sembawang GRC), Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) and Koh Poh Koon (Ang Mo Kio GRC).

Mr Ong, a senior corporate executive at Keppel Corporation, was part of the team which lost Aljunied. Mr Choo, a union leader, failed twice in the PAP's attempt to recapture Hougang.

Dr Koh, a surgeon, was defeated in the 2013 Punggol East by-election.

Perennial bread and butter issues as well as those on immigration policies and the kind of politics Singaporeans want are likely to continue to be raised in this election.

A key theme will be integrity - and the PAP is expected to hammer on this, especially in the Workers' Party-controlled Aljunied GRC which the government claims has been overpaying the managing agent of its town council.

Dr Ng is already talking about "high standards of honesty, integrity, accountability that our founding fathers put into place" - though he stressed that his call for higher standards was not targeted specifically at the Workers' Party.

While the hustings in Aljunied GRC will be closely watched to see if the PAP candidates can recapture it, some have dubbed the PAP team, comprising veteran labour MP Yeo Guat Kwang and four first-timers, a "suicide squad". PAP second assistant secretary-general Tharman Shanmugaratnam said they had a "fighting chance" to win back Aljunied.

"They really want to prove their worth and serve the residents better in Aljunied," said Mr Tharman, who is Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.