The year was 1986. Singapore was gearing up to celebrate its 21st birthday. A new era in the life of the nation had begun; many of the old guard had withdrawn from the front-line following long years of relentless hard work and tremendous sacrifice in building the nation. The torch was in the process of being passed to a younger generation of carefully groomed leaders. A vision for the turn of the century – Vision 1999 – had recently been conceived and put to the nation as a series of lofty goals reflecting the aspirations of many Singaporeans. Despite an economic recession that had begun to set in the year before, the overall picture for the long term augured well, and Vision’99 sounded realistic and within reach.
At the same time, however, some serious thought was needed on the subject of continued rejuvenation. Although the transition period of the 1980’s was proceeding smoothly, would this necessarily be the case in years to come? Would today’s youth in fact turn out to be tomorrow’s leaders? Would they still be able to muster up that fighting spirit and experience that feeling of, as Mr. Lee Kuan Yew put it, ‘fire in the belly’? Indeed, aside from the question of future leadership, would today’s youth even exhibit enough interest to involve themselves with the nation’s well-being? Or would they, in the face of growing affluence and stability, allow themselves to become engulfed in a tidal wave of apathy and let ‘others’ concern themselves with the fate of Singapore?
And what of the future of the Party itself? Would the People’s Action Party, which from its origins as a political party quickly evolved into a fiery grassroots movement capable of stirring the masses, be able to sustain such national support and fervour? Or would it, over time, simply run out of steam and fizzle out, as a result of national disinterest?
Such was the nature of these serious questions among the nation’s leaders, young and old alike. And in grappling with these questions, so crucial to the nation’s very survival let alone its continued prosperity, they conceived the notion of setting up a Youth Wing within the People’s Action Party.
The momentous news of the conception of the Youth Wing broke in March 1986. At that time Mr. Goh Chok Tong, then First Deputy Prime Minister, first addressed himself to the question of how more Singaporeans generally could be convinced to join the Party. His answer was as revealing as it was inspiring:
We should never use material rewards to attract new members. That will be attracting the wrong kind of members. But we can get them to understand that if they do not actively support and improve on the system, it must collapse through metal fatigue or corrosion. In other words, give them a mission and a sense of purpose. We can find a mechanism to give them access to the political leadership, and influence over national policies. Give them the satisfaction that they are playing a part in shaping the destiny of the country.’
Mr. Goh certainly had young Singaporeans in mind when he spoke of the need to give them a ‘mission’ and a ’sense of purpose’, as well as a ‘mechanism’ to give them access to the leadership. For he went on to reveal the following:
‘I have discussed the idea of setting up a PAP Youth Wing with the other members of the HQ Executive Committee. They have agreed that we should set one up. All members of the Party who are 35 years of age and under will be regrouped … into the Youth Wing … Youths generally have different interests, and perhaps, even different aspirations from those of older Party members. Regrouping them under a Youth Wing will allow us to cater to their separate interests.’
Indeed, Mr. Goh was not speaking in the abstract. He had already asked BG Lee Hsien Loong to chair a new Youth Committee, which would immediately look into the setting up of the proposed Youth Wing and draft its objectives. Mr. Wong Kang Seng, Mr Yeo Cheow Tong and Mr Lee Boon Yang were included on the panel.
|The Chairman of the new Youth Committee, BG Lee, pointed out that the overall objective of forming the Youth Wing was to bring some of the new generation of voters into the Party. The Youth Wing would not be looking merely for a large number of people, but rather for individuals who would be interested and willing to commit themselves to participation. The Party wanted young people involved in grassroots as well as Party activities, and to be openly identified with the PAP. BG Lee put it very concisely:|
‘The idea is to let them have a better feel of the political issues at stake, to know what it really means to govern a country.’
Within the next few months things were really moving, as the idea of setting up the Youth Wing was transformed into a reality. BG Lee addressed an audience of PAP Suburban Central District activists on 24 May 1986, at which he said that all branches had been urged to recruit 40 to 50 youth members over the course of the coming year. He also discussed the three main reasons for the Youth Wing’s formation.
First of all, young people formed an important segment of the voters. Each year more and more Singaporeans were turning 21 and thus becoming part of the electorate. He made this clear when he said:
‘If the PAP is going to represent the population of Singapore, not just a part of it but all of it, then we must have a reasonable number of the PAP membership who are young. We have to bring them in, identify with them, and represent them.’
BG Lee also made it clear that it had always been the policy of the PAP to attract into the Party anyone who wanted to work for the good of Singapore. Youth naturally had different experiences and aspirations from those of older citizens, so it was desirable to make ‘common cause’ with them:
‘Among the youth, we think , there are a lot of people idealistic, patriotic, nationalistic, keen to work for the nation. We should give them an opportunity, a way in which they can serve the nation. And the way is to join the Youth Wing, be with the Party, to work from within.’
The third reason BG Lee gave was to ensure continuity of government policies:
‘By bringing in people of common mind, we can keep the PAP as the sole, the only main political party in Singapore. So when the people think about the government of Singapore, if they think about the future of Singapore, then they will think about the PAP.’
Indeed, BG Lee reflected the concerns of the leadership generally by pointing out the dangers that might lie in store if the Party did not work actively to involve the nation’s youth. Young people recruited into the new Youth Wing would find they had a tailor-made mechanism through which to voice dissenting opinions and be heard. Without such a mechanism, young citizens might grow frustrated with individual policies over the course of time; rather than working with the PAP to let their views be heard, they might be tempted to vote for opposition candidates instead, even though they might actually agree with the PAP fundamentals. And if enough young people felt that way, the PAP government could ultimately be brought down.
In concrete terms, the Youth Wing would be encouraged to meet to discuss issues and consider resolutions, to come up with ideas and put up persuasive cases. Resolutions and recommendations made by Youth Wing groups would in turn be put to the Party leaders, and in so doing, Youth Wing members would in fact be able to influence policies. The Party, as a result, would grow stronger, and most importantly, be fully representative of the people of Singapore.
By July 1986, the Youth Wing was fast taking shape. Party activists, consisting of professionals and blue-collar workers alike, had already been made chairmen of Branch Youth Wings all over Singapore. Many of these chairmen came equipped with years of experience in leadership positions both within the Party and in outside organisations.
Seven Youth District Committees had also been formed, initially with an MP as Chairman for each committee. The intention was that the chairing. MP’s would help the Party identify potential youth leaders, who would subsequently take over as chairmen themselves.
By then it was also clear that the Youth Wing’s purpose and scope of activity would be multi-faceted. Naturally, as a political organisation, its first priority would be political work, specifically in the form of political discussions and education. It would not however be limiting itself to the political realm, but to other areas of human activity. It would carry out community service projects, both to attract more young people, and to present the Party as having not only rational policies but also humane sentiments. It would also involve itself in social, recreational and cultural events such as mass functions and week-end camps. Such activities would he geared to draw members more closely together and project the Youth Wing’s image as lively and active.
A milestone in the Youth Wing occurred when it held its first National Convention at the Singapore Conference Hall on 19-20 September 1987. City East District Youth Wing was given the massive job of organising the Convention under the chairmanship of Mr Othman Haron Eusofe, the MP for Geylang Serai. Youth Wing chairmen, were assembled to think through subjects to be discussed, and busily held meetings late on into the night in the days and weeks before the Convention. Five workshops were conducted to discuss topics of national importance and delegates actively participated in the deliberations.
In 1993, the seven-year old PAP Youth Wing underwent a major transformation. Renamed the Young PAP, it would have a logo of its own. The age-limit for members will be raised from 35 to 40. The Young PAP organisation and programmes was revamped to enhance its appeal to a new generation of young Singaporeans.
The search for new members were intensified, with a two-prong strategy aimed at the Branch and national level. Each Branch redoubled its efforts to recruit at the grassroots level. At the national level, Young PAP reached out and recruited from every batch of graduates from the universities and polytechnics. HQ Branch was set up to induct new members who have yet to decide which constituency Branches they wish to be in.
These changes were timely. We must move with the times and meet the higher expectations and aspirations of Young Singaporeans. If the PAP is to remain relevant as the mainstream political party and continue to play the vanguard of our nation, self-renewal at all levels is imperative. In particular, the Party needs to draw in younger members. It must remain fashionable for the young to join the Party. This is the mission of Young PAP.
On April 25 1993, BG (NS) George Yeo, Chairman, Young PAP, addressed Party Activities on the mission of the Young PAP. The following is the excerpts of his speech.
|Chairman of Young PAP|
The Youth Wing has been renamed Young PAP (YP) and its membership age limit is now raised from 35 to 40 years. This has to be because many of our Youth Wing leaders are at their most productive in their mid-30s. If we do not raise the age limit, a lot of our members, Mr Lim Hng Kiang and myself included, would have to step aside.
For the PAP, which consists of people like you and me, to take that lead, there must be among us a sense of what the issues are and how to present them in a simple and acceptable way to the population so that they will support us.
It will have two prongs. One prong is directed at the Party Branches. We need to bring in more young members. To increase their sense of involvement, elections will be held to elect Branch and District YP representatives. Details of election procedures will be worked out over the next few months and will be implemented next year.
The other prong is directed at graduates from the universities and polytechnics. It is very that important while we get the Branches energised, we should also try to bring in as many graduates from the polytechnics and universities as possible because eventually they will be 40 per cent of our population. Out of every 100 Primary One students, 40 will make it to university or polytechnic, and if among the YP members, we do not have a high proportion of graduates, we will be in trouble as we will not be throwing up enough leaders for the next generation.
Every year, big corporations like Shell or DBS take care to recruit from each graduating class. So too should the Young PAP. We will reach out to all professions so that all segments of our society are represented. In sharpening our appeal to graduates and professionals, we should not become monolingual and just English-speaking. We should never lose touch with the Chinese, Malay and Indian-speaking, or with young Singaporeans who may not be proficient in English. We must never lose touch with them because they must be part of our broad consensus and base of support.
A greater range of activities will be organised. Under the HQ, a Policy Studies Group (PSC) has been formed under Mr Sin Boon Ann to analyse policy alternatives and to make recommendations to the main Party.
The PSC will be free to take its own position in policy matters. It should study both domestic issues and external affairs. The two are not separate but closely connected. Our domestic policies must always take into account the external challenges which confront US. It is important that the PSC bridges the gap between domestic and foreign policies. Singapore cannot succeed unless we tie the two together and to do that we must explain the connection to the population.
For example, we need GST because of external competition but the man in the street does not understand this. What he understands is that when he goes into a shop, he pays three per cent more.
How this is connected to the world outside and our economy must be explained to him patiently and simply. But to do that, we ourselves must understand the connections. The PSC must help clarify these issues. We need to increase our own awareness of external affairs and to promote friendly links with political parties in other countries, an International Relations Section will be formed.
Although we are not part of an international network of fraternal political parties – not since the PAP left the Socialist International – we still maintain links with them.
As our external economy develops, then naturally our political links must also fan out. Young people from different countries must talk to each other and understand each other. The International Relations Section should organise visits to countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Vietnam. The more of us who are familiar with the world outside, the better we will be to explain domestic policies to our own population.
Last year, the Young PAP established a HQ Branch under Mr Christopher Goh for new members who have not yet decided in which constituency they would like to work.
A constituency branch is like a family. You cannot just walk in and say, you want to be part of that family. It takes time. So it is good that initially when they are interested to join, we put them in the HQ Branch and when they have decided, we will introduce them to the MP and then they can get involved with the Branch. It is very important that we have a HQ Branch, particularly if we want to attract more tertiary institution graduates.
The YP HQ Branch organises regular luncheon talks on a wide range of political and non-political subjects for all YP members and invited guests. The format of these luncheon talks is similar to those organised by associations like the Rotary Club. We have to adopt a marketing approach and create different products for different market segments. To attract different groups, we must have different activities to win them over. The popular taste has changed. Compare our CCs today with those of yesteryear. In the past, ping pong tables and TV sets were a draw. Today, they are not worth a second look. Those of us who run community clubs or CCs have to up-date all the time, from squash to basketball to karaoke lounges to fast food, because the population’s needs are changing as people become more sophisticated and better educated.
If you look at the way younger Singaporeans are spending their money, you will realise that the demand pattern has changed radically from their parents’ generation. If we want to attract them, we have to adjust accordingly and not hope that the market will adjust to us. No political party can say that. We can help shape the market but we must also respond to the market.
There is also a category of Singaporeans who are interested in the YP, and its activities, but who are not prepared for the time being to become card-carrying members of our Party. Partly, because there is a certain historical image of the Party that may not find favour with them, or partly because it is too big a commitment.
If we want to attract younger Singaporeans, we have to adjust accordingly and not hope that the market will adjust to us. No political party can say that. We can help shape the market but we must also respond to the market.
Affiliate members of YP are not PAP members. They are our friends. They occupy a different market segment. We must reach out to both young men and young women. To co-ordinate and combine the activities of YP and the Women’s Wing, a representative from the Women’s Wing now sits on the HQ Committee of the Young PAP. The present Women’s Wing representative is Ms Ying Wai Lin.
To market the Young PAP more effectively, to members of the public, a Public Affairs Section was established last year under Ms Peggy Chua. We will use Petir to communicate to our members in all the four official languages. If necessary, we will have our own circular as well.
We have also defined more clearly the mission of the Young PAP and a new logo to be used in conjunction with the Party logo.
The mission of the Young PAP is to help the PAP maintain its position as the mainstream political party of Singapore, by expressing the aspirations of young Singaporeans; and by recruiting supporters, members and leaders for the Party from among young Singaporeans.
The YP exists as a supplement to the main party and our job is to help the Party remain the mainstream party of Singapore in the next lap. We can do this by keeping our ears close to the ground and taking note of how views, aspirations and tastes have changed. We must adjust our position and give feedback to the main Party so that the main policies can be better presented. We must also help the Party renew itself at all levels by recruiting supporters, affiliate members, members and leaders. Because every generation is different, the mainstream position of the Party must change with the times. By bringing in each new generation, we will keep the PAP well centred in the political life of Singapore.
The logo has both formal and informal elements. The colours are our Party colours. The capital letters, YP, are in red and the base is a calligraphic YP in blue. From another perspective, the YP is riding on waves of support looking a little windswept. The YP logo should be used in conjunction with our Party logo. Having a separate logo for the YP reflects our identity as a distinct group within the PAP.
As the mainstream political party, the PAP covers a broad range. It is natural that within this broad range there will be many points of views, and that the YP should occasionally take positions which do not coincide with the central tendency.
We are distinct within the party and we do not want the YP to always take the central position of the Party. It should be half in and half out, within the broad Party framework. And if we are right in our views and correctly express the unforeseeable.
The mission of the Young PAP is to help the PAP maintain its position by expressing the aspirations of young Singaporeans; and by recruiting supporters as we must always prepare ourselves mentally for the unexpected. For the next one or two GE, the YP will not be very critical to the Party. But the YP will become very important in the next century because by that time, the Party must become fully rejuvenated. A new generation must be in place to shoulder the burden of responsibility.
We must plan long-term for the Party because without the Party, everything else is not possible. Of course, politics is full of surprises and no amount of planning can anticipate the unforeseen.