Basic Policies of the People's Action Party (PAP)

Lim Siew Yea, MA

Essentially pragmatic in its outlook, the People's Action Party (PAP) is unhampered by ideological dogma. Rooted in reality, it shows itself to be versatile in devising unconventional but practical policies to fulfil the changing needs of the country. With rationalism as its guiding principle, the PAP has succeeded in turning Singapore from a Third World country with no natural resources into a competitive nation in the global scene with its adoption of technological innovation. Cohesive within itself and honest in its workings, the PAP has proven its leadership capable, highly efficient, and productive, one able to secure high economic growth and stability for the nation.

Believing that social order can only be established by placing society above self, the PAP advocates sacrificing some degree of personal freedom to promote greater peace and harmony among its people. Free from the ills of divisiveness, parochialism, and corruption, the PAP has governed Singapore since the nation's independence.

In 1965, when Singapore became a republic, the PAP faced an extemely dangrous situation. In a recent speech on Singapore's past to the students of the National University of Singapore, the Senior Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, spoke of the Independence imposed on Singapore with its break from Malaysia, after two years as a member-state of the Federation of Malaysia:

...we faced the prospect of economic decline with Indonesia confronting us and cutting off all economic links and Malaysia also determined to bypass Singapore and deal direct in her imports and exports, (The Sunday Times, 8.12.96: 8)

This was an especially harsh blow to Singapore, which was then a Third World country with extreme poverty and an exceptionally high rate of population growth, poor health and housing, wide illiteracy, and massive unemployment threatened by communalism and communism. This situation disposed Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the leader of the PAP, and his colleagues to adopt an authoritarian political style. To minimise the divisiveness that could arise from ethnic and cultural differences, the government implemented a "steady and systematic depoliticisation of a politically active and aggressive citizenry" (Chan, 1975: 5) so that social order would not be compromised. This was carried out so effectively that Singapore eventually became an "administrative state in which politics is seen to be a matter of management" (Quah, 1988: 137).

Thereafter, believing that one of the most effective ways of ensuring political allegiance was to promote economic development, the PAP government "adopted policies designed to organise the population into a tautly-controlled, efficient and achievement-oriented society" (Bedlington, 1978: 211). Known as the politics of survival in which all else was made secondary to the securing of a socio-economic revolution, the political power worked on "the mobilization of a 'rugged society', innovative and technological in outlook" (Bedlington, 1987: 211), with singleminded determination.

To facilitate the continued smooth operation of such a political system, certain pragmatic values associated with the development of a modern industrial state were promulgated: "multi-racialism, social discipline, ruggedness, future-orientation, achievement-orientation, selfreliance, patriotism, technical development, economic development are values the Singapore citizen must imbibe" 10 (Chan, 1971: 12). With this focus on common values of modernisation, the government believed that the different communities would be forced to "think of future common endeavours and achievements" instead of "the distinct contributions of each community" (Chan, 1971: 13).

More importantly, the emphasis on pragmatic values that stressed the development of a national state also helped to ensure that immigrants gave their allegiance to Singapore, the country of their residence and citizenship, rather than to their countries of origin. As Chan states this position: "In Singapore, the political leaders must persuade the people to reorientate the loyalties owed to larger political units such as China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia and focus them on...Singapore" (Chan, 1971: 13).

Pressed by the socio-economic problems that arose when Singapore was forced out of Malaysia, the majority offered little resistance to this "guided" democracy. In fact, for most who had never experienced the benefits of a consultative style of government under the British colonial rule, "the nature of the Singaporean polity, the role of the government and their own relationship with it" (Vasil, 1992: 236-7) were concerns alien to them.

Instead, they chiefly wanted economic and social progress. As Vasil asserts, "the real test of the government's priorities, policies, and programmes was not how they were determined, but what progress and prosperity was brought about by them" (Vasil, 1992: 236-7). For the success of the socioeconomic revolution, many willingly placed their individual freedom on the altar of sacrifice and assumed a supportive and subsidiary role to the government by endorsing the regulated and pragmatic politics of the ruling power. With a rugged, resolute, highly-disciplined, and trained community, Singapore finally pulled itself out of its economic problems. The Senior Minister points out that

we succeeded because the people were united and determined. They backed our tough policies to change the political, social climate, and hence made us more attractive to investments. (Sunday Times, 8.12.96: 8)


Bedlington, S. Malaysia and Singapore: The Building of New States. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978.

Chan Heng Chee. Singapore: The Politics of Survival, 1965-67. Singapore, Kuala Lumpur: University Press, 1971.

Chua, Beng Huat. Communitarian Ideology and Politics in Singapore. London: Routledge, 1995.

Vasil, Raj. Governing Singapore. Singapore: Mandarin, 1992.

[This essay has been adapted, with kind permission of the author, from Politics and Self: A Study of Gopal Baratham and Suchen Christine Lim, her 1996 National University of Singapore Master's thesis. GPL]

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