SINGAPORE: A spate of meetings between ruling party parliamentarians and People’s Action Party (PAP) activists across constituencies and party divisions have sparked speculation that the exercise could be a precursor to a looming election that may be held as soon as this year.

The Refresh PAP meetings appear to be a series of conversations between MPs and the activists in their ward. Party member Shabirin Ariffin called the initiative an “exercise of ideation to push the boundaries and possibilities” and said that the conversations discuss how cadres can “engage wider, communicate better, organise stronger.”

Mr Shabirin, a marketing expert and adjunct lecturer at Nanyang Polytechnic, added in another post that party activists are “ultimately the ambassadors and mouthpieces to listen and spread” the PAP message and that the series of dialogues are “an open and frank exchange of where we should be heading to engage and connect better.”

ShaB is Here FB

Meetings have so far been held at Tampines GRC and Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, as well as the ruling party’s Malay Affairs Bureau. Social media posts by some of the parliamentarians and their related pages suggest that the MPs split up in smaller groups with activists in their own divisions, as part of the exercise.

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Tampines MPs Masagos Zulkifli, Koh Poh Koon, Desmond Choo and Baey Yam Keng anchored the discussion at their ward while Marsiling-Yew Tee MPs Zaqy Mohamad, Alex Yam and Hany Soh were spotted at their own PAP Refresh gathering.

PM-designate Lawrence Wong was notably absent from the Marsiling-Yew Tee event, despite serving as the anchor minister for the ward.

Unelected PAP branch chairman Victor Lye, who unsuccessfully contested the Workers’ Party-held Aljunied GRC in both the 2015 and 2020 general elections, also held his own Refresh PAP exercise with what appears to be a smaller group of activists.

Victor Lye FB

These gatherings have fueled speculation among Singaporeans on social media, regarding the timing of the next election.

Some anticipate an election within the next six to 18 months, while a number of citizens are hedging their bets on an earlier election – perhaps as early as the third quarter of 2024 – especially since the Elections Department (ELD) announced last week that it will begin training election officials next month.

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The ELD said on Friday (8 Mar) that about 50,000 public servants will be appointed as election officials. A spokesman said: “Training for election officials will commence in April 2024. All public officers who are appointed as election officials will be required to undergo training to ensure they are equipped to perform their duties effectively.”

Public servants from various ministries and statutory boards have disclosed that they have been informed about forthcoming election responsibilities, with some receiving notifications as early as 29 Feb.

The Elections Department (ELD) emphasized that public officers are continually appointed and trained to fulfill election duties, ensuring the readiness of the public service for conducting elections in Singapore.

While some reacting to the upcoming ELD training anticipate that the election may be called this year, others online argue that this does not necessarily indicate an imminent election, citing the significant gaps observed between past elections.

Election official training occurred 31 months prior to the 2011 polls, 11 months before the 2015 polls, and approximately two years preceding the 2020 election.

On top of this gap, some Singaporeans expect that the next election may only be called in mid-2025 since the bells and whistles typically associated with an election budget was perceived to be missing from this year’s budget.

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The next general election must be held by November 2025 but the exact date is the prerogative of PAP leader, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Despite operating blindfolded on an uneven playing field, opposition political parties have intensified outreach efforts since the start of the year, with numerous potential new figures being seen participating in party walkabouts.

As to whether the PAP activists have any clue as to when the election will be held, Mr Shabirin said in another Facebook post on Saturday (9 Mar): “Your guess is as good as mine. But for certain, the ELD is getting themselves prepped in advance on anticipation for it. Definitely know some of my civil service connections have been alerted ala NS recall exercise.”

He added, “Don’t get too excited ya. The effort needs to be a continuous on going one to build up momentum. It’s a long distance not a short sprint one.”