‘I am ready for my next assignment’: DPM Lawrence Wong at PAP conference
Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Sunday said he has been working hard to get ready to receive the baton from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
“I will not be in this alone. I will have a team of 4G leaders whom I have worked closely with over the years. We are ready to lead,” he said, adding that he is ready for his next assignment.
He called on the party’s activists to broaden their outreach to grow the diversity of people they bring into the party and engage Singaporeans on different platforms.
DPM Wong, who is the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) deputy secretary-general, also urged the party to improve how it communicates and make clear what it stands for, what its long-term plans are and what it is doing across the board.
Speaking to more than 1,000 cadre members at the PAP’s Awards and Convention held at the Singapore Expo, DPM Wong said he and his fellow 4G leaders will engage the activists.
“Collectively we must renew, refresh and strengthen our party,” he said.
Commenting on his leadership approach, Mr Wong said he does not start with the assumption that he knows everything or has all the answers.
Instead, he prefers to begin by listening to a diverse range of perspectives and views and staying open to different ideas.
“As a leader, I will have to judge the balance and do what I assess to be in the best interest of all Singaporeans,” he said, noting that there will always be some who will disagree or not be satisfied with his decisions.
“I’ve been in Government long enough to know that I cannot please everyone. But I will do my best to explain my decision, to be upfront about the problems and trade-offs, and win the support of the broad majority of Singaporeans,” added DPM Wong.
He said his approach to leadership would be to find common ground among Singaporeans and the things that bind them together, he said: “Not separating and dividing, but keeping us together as one united people.”
DPM Wong said that Singapore must always find ways to forge consensus in light of its diversity.
“If our instinct is to disconnect from and dismiss those who disagree with us or are different from us, then we all stand to lose,” he noted.
“We must resist the urge to draw lines, and instead focus on our commonalities, and find ways to make space for one another,” he added, noting that this is how the Government has dealt with sensitive issues including allowing nurses to wear the tudung and repealing Section 377A.
Mr Wong also spoke of the consensus generated by the Forward Singapore exercise, which was led by the PAP’s fourth-generation leadership team and culminated in a report released in October. This report is more than a policy document and represents a shared vision and roadmap for Singapore’s future, Mr Wong said.
Mr Wong reiterated that he did not assume that the PAP would win the next general election convincingly, or even win it outright.
“Adopting difficult policies, doing big things in Singapore – they require not only political gumption on our part but also political support from Singaporeans,” he said.
He noted that long-term policies require political durability and consistency to follow through.
“If a political party is hanging on to office by its fingernails –do you think its leaders will be thinking and planning long-term?
“I certainly doubt so, because all they will think about is survival and that’s what we are seeing now across the great democracies of the world.”
But Singapore has avoided this fate because it has a strong PAP government, added DPM Wong.
On broadening their outreach, Mr Wong said the party needs to go beyond engaging residents through its branches and specific segments through functional groups.
“We must engage a wider range of groups, and grow the diversity of people we bring into our PAP,” he said.
While not everyone the party reaches out to will agree or join the party, Mr Wong said that as long as they are open to making a common cause with the party, it would welcome them as friends.
He urged the party to sharpen its messages to not only focus on action and rely on Government communications.
“If we only focus on actions, and we fail to get our messages I think we will have a big problem,” said Mr Wong.
The party will need to engage Singaporeans on different platforms, including through social media, to get its message across to the right audience.
The need to communicate better extends to communicating how PAP’s policies differ from the opposition’s.
DPM Wong said that in most areas, the opposition’s proposed policies are shades of PAP’s policies but in some areas, their positions are fundamentally different. The PAP must explain why its approach is better for Singapore and Singaporeans.
He also called on the party to review and strengthen how it is organised.
DPM Wong said the party started with a single branch office in Tanjong Pagar in 1955 and continues to have tremendous strength in party branches, each doing significant work serving residents in every constituency.
He acknowledged that activists across the branches are passionate about many causes and the party has many young members brimming with new ideas, and eager to step up.
“All of you represent our greatest strength. You are the key to building a stronger relationship of trust with our people,” he said.
DPM Wong said that he wishes to provide activists with more resources to drive their causes and ideas into action and support them in engaging and mobilising Singaporeans.
“Together, we will demonstrate our resolve and dedication as a party, fully committed to the mission of uniting Singaporeans and building our shared future together,” he said.