The PAP and the people – A Great Affective Divide

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“The PAP and the people – A Great Affective Divide” is the title of a political commentary which was published in Singapore’s main newspaper, The Straits Times, on 3 September 1994. It was written by Singaporean author Catherine Lim , who believed there existed a division in Singaporeans’ attitudes towards the ruling party in government, the People's Action Party (PAP). In the essay, she argued that while Singaporeans respected the PAP’s efficiency and were grateful towards it for bringing Singapore economic success, they lacked any real affection or warmth for the political party.

About the essay[edit]

Lim suggested that this “affective divide” arose as a result of Singapore’s troubled history during the PAP’s early years. It led the PAP to make a commitment towards Singapore’s economic development as a way out of its problems, and to accordingly “slap down ruthlessly”[1] any perceived potential threats to that aim. Such consistent commitment towards this goal requires “special qualities”[1] of the government, like impersonality and a no-nonsense attitude, but they are what cause Singaporeans to see their leaders as lacking an “affective dimension”,[1] and feel isolated from them.

In a related point, Lim mentioned that the PAP’s success in elections, being a result of the economic prosperity it has brought Singapore, could be complicated by the tendency of Singaporeans to equate the PAP with Singapore itself. Given the disaffection that Singaporeans had for the PAP, they would be unlikely to express any patriotism towards Singapore. Instead, they felt a loyalty towards neither their government nor country, but to the “good life which the country has come to represent”.[1] Such a loyalty would be fickle and easily vanish, or be displaced, once the good times ended.

Thus, Lim felt that the “affective divide” was a serious problem which could lead to a divorce of “head…from heart”,[1] where Singaporeans seemed to support the Government but said otherwise in private. However, she thought the problem was a “two-way thing”[2] and would require a “co-operative solution”[2] between the Government and the people.


The article, together with a second political commentary also by Lim which was published on 20 November, drew a harsh response from the Government. The then-Prime Minister (PM) Goh Chok Tong wrote to Lim that while he had not felt a need to respond to the first essay,[3] he “could not leave the second article unrebutted”.[3] On 4 December, The Straits Times published a reply by the PM’s press secretary to Lim’s claims, which promised that the PM would respond “robustly” and “sharply”[4] to any attacks towards himself or his policies. The letter also called for Lim to “take responsibility for her views”,[4] and enter politics if she wished to continuing airing them. These remarks were later reiterated by PM Goh himself at a PAP function that same day.

The controversy eventually led Lim to make a public statement in The Straits Times that, in writing those articles, she had only wished to share her feelings on what she felt to be a problem and had never had any intentions to “belittle or upset anyone”,[5] nor enter politics. Lim had also written a personal apology to PM Goh earlier, in which she expressed her “greatest respect and regard for your Government”.[3] In a reply to Lim on 13 December, PM Goh then stated some of the OB markers which Singaporeans were allowed to discuss. They did not include, he said, “demolishing the respect for and standing of the Prime Minister and his government by systematic contempt and denigration in the media”.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Lim, Catherine. “The PAP and the people—A Great Affective Divide”. In The Straits Times. 03/09/94."
  2. ^ a b "Tan, Sumiko. “Catherine Lim: Why I wrote Great Affective Divide article”. In The Straits Times. 24/09/94."
  3. ^ a b c d "“PM tells Dr. Lim why he responded to commentary”. In The Straits Times. 17/12/94."
  4. ^ a b "“PM Goh remains committed to consultation and consensus politics”. In The Straits Times. 04/12/94."
  5. ^ "Lim, Catherine. “I wrote as a concerned Singaporean”. In The Straits Times. 07/12/94."

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