SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech at the People’s Action Party (PAP) 2023 convention on Sunday (5 Nov) has won mixed reactions. A significant group of Singaporeans online have thanked the PM and PAP secretary-general for his decades-long service as he announced a clear leadership succession timeline. Still, others have expressed doubts that the PM’s emotional speech may have been a show to couch votes ahead of a critical election.

Visibly emotional, the PM said: “It has been my great fortune and honour to have served the country, first in the SAF, and then in Party and government, for all of my adult life. I have been PM for almost 20 years. Singapore and the PAP have been thoroughly transformed, shaped by our many trials and tribulations. But some things never change. We still wear whites, and we still formally address one another as comrades. We remain dedicated to Singapore, and we still feel the call of duty to serve the people; we still have the duty to future generations to keep this island safe and secure. These things have not changed under my watch, and they will not change under the 4G team. I ask each of you to give Lawrence and his team your full support. Help them win a strong mandate and work with them to take Singapore to greater heights.”

In a speech in which he brought up his father, PAP founding secretary-general Lee Kuan Yew’s name repeatedly, Mr Lee said: “The next GE is going to coincide with the leadership transition to the 4G team.”

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He revealed, “I intend to hand over to DPM Lawrence before the next general election. After that, I will be at the new PM’s disposal. I will go wherever he thinks I can be useful. I will do my best to help him and his team to fight and win the next GE. I want to help him to fulfil his responsibilities leading the country so that Singapore can continue to succeed beyond me and my 3G colleagues, for many years to come.

“I am already 71 years old. Because of COVID-19, I missed my previous target, which was to hand over and step down before I was 70 years old. But next year is the PAP’s 70th anniversary. So if all goes well, I will hand over by the PAP’s 70th birthday next year – it’s not my birthday, but I will borrow it for this purpose.”

Many Singaporeans expressed gratitude towards PM Lee for his decades of service to the nation. Many commended the Prime Minister for his dedication to Singapore and his promise to support the upcoming 4G team in their efforts to lead the nation forward.

However, there were also skeptical voices in the aftermath of the speech. Some Singaporeans voiced doubts about the timing and authenticity of the Prime Minister’s emotional address. They questioned whether the emotionally charged speech was a political move to garner support and votes ahead of the next election.

This skepticism may be due to the proximity of the leadership transition to the next general election, which may be held as soon as the end of 2024, raising concerns about the possible electoral impact of the announcement.

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Sections of Mr Lee’s speech that illuminated how he felt about the opposition in Singapore also did not sit well with some Singaporeans.

Seemingly making the point that having more opposition voices and greater scrutiny may detract the Government’s time and energy to tackle national issues. Mr Lee said: “Now, with more Opposition MPs in Parliament, we spend more time debating issues big and small.

“Constructive and responsible political debate is good and necessary. Through debate we answer questions, we clarify trade-offs, we explain policies, and we sharpen our ideas. This is the ideal, but actual debate in Parliament doesn’t always reach this level. Not infrequently, it becomes a political brawl.

“The opposition tries to score political points. The government does its best to explain its considerations and the constraints and why the opposition’s proposals may not work. And so it goes, in a repeated cycle. It becomes a political game. Some of this is to be expected. That is the way parliamentary democracies are meant to work.

“But if goes too far, and we expend more energies debating one another, manoeuvring for political advantage, rather than tackling national issues. Then problems will go unsolved; society may well become divided, Singapore and Singaporeans will suffer. Therefore, I say having more Opposition MPs does not necessarily make for a better government. ”

He added: “The opposition parties tell voters: Don’t worry, we don’t aim to form the next government, so you can vote for the Opposition, you don’t have to fear, I won’t be in charge, vote for me. Don’t worry; even if the PAP has a majority of just one seat, it will continue to think for you, look after your future even if it is hanging on by its fingernails, in fact, may think harder. Don’t worry; our neighbours won’t think that we are weak, and they won’t be tempted to push Singapore around. And don’t worry, just give us a few more seats in Parliament so that more opposition MPs can check, weaken and hem in the Government, even though we can’t form it; never mind, just give us a few more.

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“But with lives and futures at stake, voters must worry. Think of your children, think of your grandchildren, think of how Singapore got to where we are today. Take your vote very seriously and give it to the party you trust to keep us together, to build a Singapore that is fit for your kids and that would be there for their kids.”

Mr Lee also made special mention of the activists and branch chairmen in the Workers’ Party held wards in Hougang, Aljunied, and Sengkang. He said: “They have a tough job, showing the party’s presence, fighting against the current. They do good work, making sure the Opposition doesn’t get a free pass. They are doing their best to win the constituencies back for the PAP. And sooner or later, they will. We owe a big thanks to all of them.”