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GE2020: What analysts glean from PAP's slate of new candidates

SINGAPORE — One thing that stood out among the slate of 27 new candidates introduced by the People’s Action Party (PAP) this week is the higher-than-usual proportion of women, a fact that a former PAP Member of Parliament (MP) said is a “good sign”.

PAP second assistant secretary-general Chan Chun Sing (centre) introducing new candidates (from left) Ms Chan Hui Yuh, Ms Carrie Tan, Mr Shawn Huang Wei Zhong and Ms Mariam Jaafar on June 26, 2020.

PAP second assistant secretary-general Chan Chun Sing (centre) introducing new candidates (from left) Ms Chan Hui Yuh, Ms Carrie Tan, Mr Shawn Huang Wei Zhong and Ms Mariam Jaafar on June 26, 2020.

  • Ten of the 27 new faces introduced by the ruling party are women
  • Median age of candidates increased to 43, from 42.3 in 2015 and 38.5 in 2011
  • 66.67 per cent of the new candidates are from the private sector, compared to 62.50 per cent in 2015
  • Backgrounds of potential office holders similar no surprise, former PAP MP Inderjit Singh said

 

SINGAPORE — One thing that stood out among the slate of 27 new candidates introduced by the People’s Action Party (PAP) this week is the higher-than-usual proportion of women, a fact that a former PAP Member of Parliament (MP) said is a “good sign”.

The new candidates also have a slightly more mature median age.

However, many of the new candidates are still former military officers and former civil servants, especially the high-flyers who could be set for bigger things. This is even though there is a slight increase in the number of new candidates with previous private-sector experience, political analysts interviewed by TODAY noted.

PAP is fielding a total of 93 candidates this year, with the 27 new ones making up 29 per cent of the slate. 

This is slightly higher than the 28 per cent (24 out of 87) in 2011 and 27 per cent (24 out of 89) in 2015.  

SUCCESSFUL WOMEN

During the 2011 and 2015 elections, only five of the new candidates in each year were women. This year, the number is doubled, a point noted by party secretary-general Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday (June 27), in a speech during the launch of PAP’s manifesto for the upcoming General Election (GE).

At the second session earlier on Thursday to introduce the new candidates, party organising secretary Grace Fu said that PAP is “always looking for promising candidates, and if they are women, then all the better”.

“And once we identify them, I think the women MPs will encourage them. And when there are specific issues that they are very keen to champion on the women's angle, we encourage them to participate. And that's how I think we have been able to keep in very close dialogue with many of the promising women out there.”

Some of the PAP female candidates in this year’s slate are also trailblazers, such as Ms Gan Siow Huang, the first female brigadier-general from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). 

Former PAP MP Inderjit Singh said that the increase in women candidates is a “good sign” and indicates that Singapore has “many more successful women who are willing to come forward to serve”. 

“The diversity will be good for Singapore,” he said.

The question of diversity was put to PAP second assistant secretary-general Chan Chun Sing by a reporter after the final session to present new candidates on Friday.

Mr Chan was asked to comment on there being no Indians among the new cohort, which was what some observers have noticed.

He said: “We look at the entire slate, not just at the 27 new candidates. Today in Parliament, we have nine Indian MPs, of which six are office holders. So the quality of our Indian candidates are very high, both numerically and proportionately.

“We are confident that our representation of the Indian community is above the national average as a slate.”

In 2015, there was only one new Indian candidate, lawyer K Muralidharan Pillai, while former TV personality Darryl David is of Indian and Chinese parentage. There were two new Indian candidates in 2011.

MEDIAN AGE UP A BIT

The median age of the 27 new candidates is 43 years old, up from 42.3 years old in 2015. In 2011, the median age of new candidates was 38.5 years old.

This year, the candidates' ages range from 30 to 55. The youngest is lawyer Nadia Ahmad Samdin, 30, and the oldest is Dr Tan See Leng, former group chief executive officer of private healthcare provider Parkway Holdings.

In 2015, the ages of the new candidates ranged from 35 to 52, while in 2011, their ages were between 27 and 50. 

Addressing the mature median age, Associate Professor Eugene Tan, law lecturer at the Singapore Management University (SMU), said that the slate of candidates could contribute with their wealth of experience and ability to empathise.

He added that the median age of 43 was close to Singapore’s national median age, which is about 42. “It puts them in a nice position to relate to Singaporeans of all age.”

PUBLIC VS PRIVATE SECTOR

In terms of their professions, 18 of the new candidates (66.7 per cent) are from the private sector, with five being lawyers and others from the corporate, finance and medical fields.

This is a slight increase from 2015, when 15 of the 24 newcomers (62.5 per cent) were from the private sector. 

Among the 18, four have previous experience in the public sector. One such candidate is LinkedIn director Alvin Tan Sheng Hui, who used to work in SAF.

One concern raised by observers was that candidates seem to have similar types of backgrounds, with many being lawyers, civil servants and military personnel. 

Asked about this on Friday, Mr Chan said that PAP’s entire slate of 93 candidates come from a range of backgrounds.

“We should avoid pigeonholing people just because of their profession,” he said.

“So look at each of the candidates as an individual, understand his background, understand his or her thinking... what they stand for and see how they can make a contribution, rather than pigeonhole anyone of them just because of a single dimension of their background.”

In his speech on Saturday, Mr Lee, who is also prime minister, said that the new candidates come from all walks of life and are representative of the complexity of Singapore society. 

He noted that they are a mix of entrepreneurs, businessmen, lawyers, social workers, public servants and ex-SAF officers, and several of them have also taken harder roads to success.

“If elected, they will become your representatives in Parliament because they are like you. They understand you and your concerns,” he added.

Assoc Prof Tan of SMU said that the question of why PAP has not been able to attract more private-sector candidates remains unanswered, and that high-flying individuals from the private sector have been few.

However, he is cautious about “bean counting” and fixating on the statistics. “We might miss the forest for the trees”. 

Dr Felix Tan, associate professor of international relations from SIM Global Education, noted that the focus when PAP introduced the candidates was not so much on their careers but more on their personal backgrounds and upbringing, with many emphasising their humble beginnings and early life struggles.

The incumbent party appeared to be “trying a bit too hard” and the attempt to showcase their diverse and humble backgrounds did not come across as natural, he added.

POTENTIAL OFFICER HOLDERS, LEADERSHIP RENEWAL

In sussing out who might perform well should they step up to the table to serve after winning an election, there are usually indicators typically tied to the candidates’ career experience.

In GE2011, Mr Ong Ye Kung, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Mr Heng Swee Keat, Mr Lawrence Wong and Mr Chan Chun Sing from PAP were dubbed the “Fantastic Five”, and in 2015, there were notable candidates such as Mr Ng Chee Meng and Mr Chee Hong Tat.

All of them had held senior positions in the civil service or SAF.

On Friday, Mr Chan was asked if any of the new candidates are of ministerial calibre. In response, he said it was "premature to do any such comparisons".

Still, analysts pointed to some candidates who stood out as potential political office holders. They include:

  • Mr Desmond Tan, former chief of the People’s Association
  • Ms Ng Ling Ling, former managing director of Community Chest
  • Mr Yip Hon Weng, former group chief of the Silver Generation Office
  • Mr Tan Kiat How, former chief executive of the Info-communications Media Development Authority
  • Ms Gan Siow Huang, former SAF general

Mr Singh, the former PAP MP, said that the background of these candidates is “no different from what was in the past”.

“The obvious ones are the former military officers and former civil servants among them. Although some of them had previous private-sector experience, they are mainly from the establishments that PAP is more comfortable putting into the Cabinet.”

As for leadership renewal, Mr Singh said that PAP seems to be “fully focused” on building up its fourth-generation (4G) team, but cautioned that there is a need to identify potential 5G leaders early and give them a sufficient runway “to learn and perform”. 

However, Dr Tan of SIM Global Education estimated that it would be about 10 years down the road — or two more GEs — before there would be a change to a 5G leadership team.

“What I foresee with this new crop of candidates is that they will work closely with the 4G leaders led by Mr Heng Swee Keat. I won’t say that they are backbenchers but they will contribute to a certain extent, and they will probably replace some of the existing 3G leaders as well in Mr Heng’s Cabinet in due time,” he said.

Associate Professor Bilveer Singh from the National University of Singapore’s political science department said that the selection for candidates to become potential ministers or political office holders will depend on how these individuals “perform in politics, where the vacancies are and very importantly, how they connect with the public and political leadership”.

Asked on Friday if any of the new candidates are potential ministers and how they compare with the 2011 and 2015 batches, Mr Chan said that “it’s premature to do any of such comparisons”. 

“It is not about this batch versus that batch versus another batch," he added.

"We are all in this together and if you look at the leadership system, the leadership model that we have in Singapore, it is about different batches of people all coming together to serve with a common purpose.”

Related topics

PAP PAP candidates People's Action Party SGVotes2020 Singapore General Election

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