The Opposition is likely to make a bigger impact in the next Parliament – in the battle for the hearts and minds of young Singaporeans. The ruling PAP will be seriously on the defensive. It is caught in a bind: It cannot afford to let its largely ineffective 4G leaders (as cruelly shown up by GE2020) stumble any further in the public debates ahead and yet it cannot also push them so obviously aside and let the proven 3Gers retake centre stage. That may be a slowburn political suicide for the 4Gers and will be bad for the party’s medium-term future.
So what can the PAP do?
First, the party should bite the bullet. It should not over-protect and over-manage Heng Swee Keat, Chan Chun Sing, Lawrence Wong and Ong Ye Kung, if indeed these are the anointed top four. There is already some murmuring that Tan Chuan-jin ought to be re-considered. He seems to be sounding more articulate lately than the aforementioned fab four. They should be exposed thoroughly and in real-time and real life – not in artificial group-thinkers’ conversations, closed door chit chats or controlled mainstream forums featuring planted questions and friendly participants.
Put simply: you cannot continue to send the Vivian Balakrishnans, K.Shanmugams and Edwin Tongs to the rescue or to speak on your behalf in real debates, whether in Parliament or outside. Look, Singaporeans are, as SM Tharman Shanmugaratnam once said, not idiots. They have already started wondering about the 4G’s ability or lack of.
Sink or swim. If the 4G leaders truly cannot make it, then that’s life. They have to make way for others. It’s not rocket science. The best survive.
Second, the party had better start looking for younger Zoomer or near-Zoomer candidates for the next election. Or risk getting increasingly out of touch with Singapore youth.
Just look at its slate for GE2020. These are its handful of new candidates who are anywhere near Zoomer age: Nadia Samdin, 30, Xie Yao Quan, 35, Edward Chia, 35, Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim, 39. Second-termer Tin Pei Ling, 36, was a top performer – which reinforces the paucity of young candidates since GE2015.
What happened to the party’s renewal process? What kind of nonsense feedback had it been getting from its cosy group-think eco system? Who are the outdated Jurassic people the PAP has been hiring or relying on to project its image – all these well-paid closed-circle sycophants and old party hacks who have absolutely no idea what the real world is outside their nice office and are still clinging on to their past glory?
Third, the PAP has to completely revamp its PR machinery. Take the risk (like what the first-generation leaders have done when forced to act). Sack the current people doing the job. Having mainstream media do the job on its behalf is also looking increasingly untenable and unfair to Singaporeans who wish for greater diversity of voices to help move the country forward.
The main Opposition parties have demonstrated very clearly that they have the talents, the skills and the support to reach out to young Singaporeans. They have the momentum and are on the upswing.
I will talk at length about this in a future column.
Meanwhile, the battle for the cockles of young Singaporeans’ hearts is truly on.
Tan Bah Bah, editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.