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This exam-smart PAP may pass the test

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By Cherian George

source: Yahoo SingaporeThis was probably Lee Hsien Loong’s best National Day Rally speech ever, because he played to his government’s strengths – and sidestepped its main weakness.

Compared with most states, the PAP government has traditionally scored an A* in tinkering with policies to remain responsive to the needs of the majority. That subject has been harder to excel in of late, because Singaporeans’ needs are more diverse and complex than in earlier decades.

But the PM showed the PAP at its technocratic best, ready to tackle key concerns over housing, healthcare and schooling. Importantly, he recognised that with trust in the PAP’s capacity to deliver at all time low, the battery of acronyms old and new would not be enough to win the public over. Neither would it suffice to recite past accomplishments, for that might signal complacency on the PAP’s part.

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Instead, he reached out with simple and powerful words: “I promise,” he said at the start; and “Don’t worry” he said more than once. They might have fallen flat if they had come from some of his colleagues, but most Singaporeans probably still believe in Lee’s sincerity and dedication, even if they feel his government has shown signs of losing its way.

The second T-score-boosting strength of the PAP has been its breathtaking ability to dream big. And it hardly gets bigger than its plans for Changi Airport, Paya Lebar Air Base, the new port at Tuas and the old one at Tanjong Pagar. Of course, when full details are revealed, an increasingly critical Singaporean public will find plenty to quibble over.

But, compared with countries where megaprojects are more discussed about than delivered, I don’t think anyone doubts that this government will get the job done. And it was a smart choice to focus on these particular infrastructural projects in the Rally speech.

Most Singaporeans are uneasy about their country becoming the region’s playground – which is what the integrated resorts are making it – but few question the ambition to remain Asia’s air and sea transport hub, which is far more a part of Singapore’s traditional identity.

If his speech goes down well, it will also be because of what he didn’t add to the mix. He made passing reference to the need to “get the politics right” – a line that has featured in most of his major speeches in recent years. But, this time, he’d clearly decided against developing on it.

This guest contribution is edited from a blog originally posted at airconditionednation.com

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