People's Action Party

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People's Action Party
Parti Tindakan Rakyat ڤرتي تيندقن رعيت
人民行动党 Rénmín Xíngdòngdǎng
மக்கள் செயல் கட்சி Makkaḷ Ceyal Kaṭci
Chairman Khaw Boon Wan
Secretary-General Lee Hsien Loong
Deputy Chairman Yaacob Ibrahim
Vice Chairman Tharman Shanmugaratnam
Founder Lee Kuan Yew
Founded 21 November 1954; 62 years ago (1954-11-21)
Headquarters PCF Building
57B New Upper Changi Road
Singapore 463057
Youth wing Young PAP
Women's wing Women's Wing (PAP)
Policy forum PAP Policy Forum
Senior wing PAP Seniors Group
Membership  (2000) Decrease 632,060
Ideology Third Way[1]
Economic liberalism
Cultural conservatism
Political position Centre-right[3]
International affiliation None
Colours White, Blue, Red
83 / 101

The People's Action Party (abbrev: PAP) is a centre-right[3] political party in Singapore. Having been the country's ruling party since 1959, it is Singapore's longest-ruling party.

Since the 1959 general elections, the PAP has dominated Singapore's parliamentary democracy and has been central to the city-state's rapid political, social, and economic development.[4] In the 2015 Singapore general election, the PAP won 83 of the 89 constituency elected seats in the Parliament of Singapore, representing 69.86% of total votes cast.

Political developments[edit]

People's Action Party supporters during the Singapore General Election, 2011

The PAP was formed on 21 November 1954 by Lee Kuan Yew, an English-educated middle-class professional lawyer who had returned from university education in the United Kingdom. He had a vision of full independence for Singapore, and was joined by Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan despite their ideological differences. Beginning with Lee Kuan Yew's earlier cooperation with the University Socialist Club in the Fajar trial, PAP gained much support from the Club in the 1950s. Numerous Club members later joined the PAP; some of them were even the founding members of the PAP, like Poh Soo Kai. [5]

In April 1955, Lim Chin Siong was elected as Assemblyman for the Bukit Timah constituency. Then 22 years old, he was and remained the youngest Assemblyman ever to be elected to office. The following year, Lim and Lee represented the PAP at the London Constitutional Talks, which ended in failure: the British declined to grant Singapore internal self-government. On 7 June 1956, David Marshall, disappointed with the constitutional talks, stepped down as Chief Minister, and was replaced by Lim Yew Hock.[6]

Lee Kuan Yew eventually accused Lim Chin Siong and his supporters of being Communists, though declassified British government documents later suggested that no evidence was ever found that Lim was a Communist.[7]

The PAP first contested the 1955 elections, in which 25 of 32 seats in the legislature were up for election. In this election, the PAP's four candidates gained much support from the University Socialist Club members who canvassed for them.[5] (Yap 54)The party won three seats, one by its leader Lee Kuan Yew, and one by co-founder of the PAP, Lim Chin Siong, the election going to the Labour Front's David Saul Marshall.

David Marshall was vocally anti-British and anti-colonialist, and the British found it difficult to come to an agreement or compromise. Eventually, after failing to reach any agreement about a definite plan for self-government, he resigned in 1956, as he had pledged to do so earlier if self-government was not achieved. Lim Yew Hock, another Labour Front member, took his place. He pursued a largely anti-communist campaign and managed to convince the British to make a definite plan for self-government. The Constitution of Singapore was revised accordingly in 1958, replacing the Rendel Constitution with one that granted Singapore self-government and the ability for its own population to fully elect its Legislative Assembly.

Following this initial defeat, the PAP decided to re-assert ties with the labour faction of Singapore by promising to release the jailed members of the PAP and at the same time getting them to sign a document that they supported Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP, in the hope that it could attract the votes of working-class Chinese Singaporeans. According to Tan Jing Quee in the book "Comet in our Sky", Lee Kuan Yew was being deceptive at this time: while pretending to be on the side of the jailed labour members of the PAP, he was secretly in collusion with the British to stop Lim Chin Siong and the labour supporters from attaining power, whom Lee had courted because of their huge popularity, without which Lee would most likely not have been able to attain power. Quee also states that Lim Yew Hock deliberately provoked the students into rioting and then had the labour leaders arrested. "Lee Kuan Yew was secretly a party with Lim Yew Hock" – adds Dr Greg Poulgrain of Griffiths University "in urging the Colonial Secretary to impose the subversives ban in making it illegal for former political detainees to stand for election."[7]

The result was successful for the PAP under Lee Kuan Yew's control who won the 1959 election. The 1959 election was also the first election to produce a fully elected parliament and a cabinet wielding powers of full internal self-government. The party has won a majority of seats in every general election since then. In 1961, the Lee government's merger plan of "Malaysia" led to the split of Barisan Sosialis from the PAP. Several Members of the University Socialists supported the Barisan's critique of Malaysia as a neocolonial plot and left to form the Barisan Sosialis Party.[8] In PAP's split in 1961, the Barisan Sosialis gained the support of the University Socialist Club. Numerous Club members left PAP to join the Barisan Sosialis. [9]

After gaining independence from Britain, Singapore joined the federation of Malaysia in 1963. Although the PAP was the ruling party in the state of Singapore, the PAP functioned as an opposition party at the federal level in the larger Malaysian political landscape. At that time (and ever since), the federal government in Kuala Lumpur was controlled by a coalition led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). However, the prospect that the PAP might rule Malaysia agitated UMNO. The PAP's decision to contest federal parliamentary seats outside Singapore, and the UMNO decision to contest seats within Singapore, breached an unspoken agreement to respect each other's spheres of influence, and aggravated PAP-UMNO relations. The clash of personalities between PAP leader Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman resulted in a crisis and led to Rahman forcing Singapore to leave Malaysia on 9 August 1965. Upon independence, the nascent People's Action Party of Malaya, which had been registered in Malaysia on 10 March 1964, had its registration cancelled on 9 September 1965, exactly a month after Singapore's exit. Those with the now non-existent party applied to register "People's Action Party, Malaya", which was again rejected by the Malaysian government, before settling with the Democratic Action Party.

The PAP has held an overwhelming majority of seats in the Parliament of Singapore since 1966, when the opposition Barisan Sosialis (Socialist Front), a left-wing group that split from PAP in 1961, resigned from Parliament after winning 13 seats following the 1963 state elections, which took place months after a number of their leaders had been arrested in Operation Coldstore based on charges of being communists.[7] In the general elections of 1968, 1972, 1976, and 1980, the PAP won all of the seats in an expanding parliament. Although opposition parties managed to get back into Parliament in 1984, the PAP still rules Singapore as a virtual one-party state. Opposition parties did not win more than four parliamentary seats from 1984 until 2011 when the Workers' Party won six seats and took away a Group Representation Constituency (GRC) for the first time for any opposition party.


People's Action Party Headquarters in New Upper Changi Road, Singapore
A People's Action Party branch in Bukit Timah, Singapore

Initially adopting a traditionalist Leninist party organisation, together with a vanguard cadre from its labour-leaning faction in 1958, the PAP Executive later expelled the leftist faction, bringing the ideological basis of the party into the centre, and later in the 1960s, moving further to the right. In the beginning, there were about 500 so-called "temporary cadre" appointed[10] but the current number of cadres is unknown and the register of cadres is kept confidential. In 1988, Wong Kan Seng revealed that there were more than 1,000 cadres. Cadre members have the right to attend party conferences and to vote for and elect and to be elected to the Central Executive Committee (CEC), the pinnacle of party leaders. To become a cadre, a party member is first nominated by the MP in his or her branch. The candidate then undergoes three sessions of interviews, each with four or five ministers or MPs, and the appointment is then made by the CEC. About 100 candidates are nominated each year.[11]

Central Executive Committee and Secretary General[edit]

Political power in the party is concentrated in the Central Executive Committee (CEC), led by the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General of the People's Action Party is the leader of the party. Because of the PAP electoral victories in every General Election since 1959, the Prime Minister of Singapore has been by convention the Secretary-General of the PAP since 1959. Most CEC members are also cabinet members. From 1957 onwards, the rules laid down that the outgoing CEC should recommend a list of candidates from which the cadre members can then vote for the next CEC. This has been changed recently so that the CEC nominates eight members and the party caucus selects the remaining ten.

Historically, the position of Secretary-General was not considered for the post of Prime Minister. Instead, the Central Executive Committee held an election to choose the Prime Minister. There was a contest between PAP Secretary-General Lee Kuan Yew and PAP treasurer Ong Eng Guan. Lee Kuan Yew won, and thus became the first Prime Minister of Singapore.[12]

Since that election, there is a tradition that Singapore's Prime Minister is the Secretary-General of the winning party with the majority of the seats.

List of Secretaries-General[edit]

No Name In Office
1 Lee Kuan Yew (1923—2015) 1954—1992
2 Goh Chok Tong (1941— ) 1992—2004
3 Lee Hsien Loong (1952— ) 2004—

HQ Executive Committee[edit]

The next lower level committee is the HQ Executive Committee (HQ Ex-Co) which performs the party's administration and oversees 12 sub-committees.[13] The sub-committees are:

  1. Branch Appointments and Relations
  2. Constituency Relations
  3. Information and Feedback
  4. New Media
  5. Malay Affairs
  6. Membership Recruitment and Cadre Selection
  7. PAP Awards
  8. Political Education
  9. Publicity and Publication
  10. Social and Recreational
  11. Women's Wing
  12. Young PAP

An additional two more were later added, totalling 14.
13. PAP Seniors Group (PAP.SG)
14. PAP Policy Forum (PPF)


Since the early years of the PAP's rule, the idea of survival has been a central theme of Singaporean politics. According to Diane Mauzy and R.S. Milne, most analysts of Singapore have discerned four major "ideologies" of the PAP: pragmatism, meritocracy, multiracialism, and Asian values or communitarianism.[14] In January 1991 the PAP introduced the White Paper on Shared Values, which tried to create a national ideology and institutionalise Asian values. The party also says it has 'rejected' what it considers Western-style liberal democracy, despite the presence of many aspects of liberal democracy in Singapore's public policy such as the recognition of democratic institutions. Professor Hussin Mutalib, however, opines that for Lee Kuan Yew "Singapore would be better off without liberal democracy".[15]

The party economic ideology has always accepted the need for some welfare spending, pragmatic economic interventionism and general Keynesian economic policy. However, free-market policies have been popular since the 1980s as part of the wider implementation of a meritocracy in civil society, and Singapore frequently ranks extremely highly on indices of "economic freedom" published by economically liberal organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Lee Kuan Yew also said in 1992: "Through Hong Kong watching, I concluded that state welfare and subsidies blunted the individual's drive to succeed. I watched with amazement the ease with which Hong Kong workers adjusted their salaries upwards in boom times and downwards in recessions. I resolved to reverse course on the welfare policies which my party had inherited or copied from British Labour Party policies."[16]

The party is deeply suspicious of communist political ideologies, despite a brief joint alliance (with the pro-labour co-founders of the PAP who were accused of being communists) against colonialism in Singapore during the party's early years. It has since considered itself a social democratic party, though in recent decades it has moved towards neoliberal and free-market economy reforms.[citation needed]

The socialism practised by the PAP during its first few decades in power was of a pragmatic kind, as characterised by the party's rejection of nationalisation. According to Chan Heng Chee, by the late Seventies, the intellectual credo of the government rested explicitly upon a philosophy of self-reliance, similar to the "rugged individualism" of the American brand of capitalism. Despite this, the PAP still claimed to be a socialist party, pointing out its regulation of the private sector, activist intervention in the economy, and social policies as evidence of this.[17] In 1976, however, the PAP resigned from the Socialist International after the Dutch Labour Party had proposed to expel the party,[18] accusing it of suppressing freedom of speech.

The PAP symbol (which is red and blue on white) stands for action inside "interracial unity." Furthermore, PAP members at party rallies have sometimes worn a "uniform" of white shirts and white trousers. The "white-on-white" symbolises the party's ideals of clean governance, it reminds party members that the white uniform, once sullied, is difficult to make clean again.


For many years, the party was led by former PAP secretary-general Lee Kuan Yew, who was Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990. Lee handed over the positions of secretary-general and prime minister to Goh Chok Tong in 1991. The current secretary-general of the PAP and Prime Minister of Singapore is Lee Hsien Loong, son of Lee Kuan Yew, who succeeded Goh Chok Tong on 12 August 2004.

The first chairman of the PAP was Dr Toh Chin Chye.

The current chairman of the PAP is Khaw Boon Wan.[19]

PAP's general election results[edit]

Legislative Assembly[edit]

Election Seats up for election Seats contested by party Seats won by walkover Contested seats won Contested seats lost Total seats won Change Total votes Share of votes Outcome of election
1955 25 4 0 3 1
3 / 25
Increase3 13,634 8.7% PAP in opposition. Labour Front forms government.
1959 51 51 0 43 8
43 / 51
Increase40 281,891 54.1% PAP majority
1963 51 51 0 37 14
37 / 51
Decrease6 272,924 46.9% PAP majority


Election Seats up for election Seats contested by party Seats won by walkover Contested seats won Contested seats lost Total seats won Change Total votes Share of votes Outcome of election
1968 58 58 51 7 0
58 / 58
Increase21 65,812 86.7% PAP wins all seats
1972 65 65 8 57 0
65 / 65
Increase7 524,892 70.4% PAP wins all seats
1976 69 69 16 53 0
69 / 69
Increase4 590,169 74.1% PAP wins all seats
1980 75 75 37 38 0
75 / 75
Increase6 494,268 77.7% PAP wins all seats
1984 79 79 30 47 2
77 / 79
Increase2 568,310 64.8% PAP supermajority
1988 81 81 11 69 1
80 / 81
Increase3 848,029 63.2% PAP supermajority
1991 81 81 41 36 4
77 / 81
Decrease3 477,760 61% PAP supermajority
1997 83 83 47 34 2
81 / 83
Increase4 465,751 65% PAP supermajority
2001 84 84 55 27 2
82 / 84
Increase1 470,765 75.3% PAP supermajority
2006 84 84 37 45 2
82 / 84
Steady 748,130 66.6% PAP supermajority
2011 87 87 5 76 6
81 / 87
Decrease1 1,212,514 60.1% PAP supermajority
2015 89 89 0 83 6
83 / 89
Increase2 1,576,784 69.86% PAP supermajority

Internet presence[edit]

In February 2007 it was reported by The Straits Times that the PAP's "new media" committee, chaired by Dr Ng Eng Hen, had initiated an effort to counter critics on the Internet "as it was necessary for the PAP to have a voice on cyberspace".[20]

In June 2014, PAP MP Baey Yam Keng called for legal action against those who had vandalised its Wikipedia page, which had been the subject of an edit war between vandals and editors of Wikipedia on 12 and 13 June,[21] though he later said that "(advocating for legal action was) never on top of my mind, nor is it PAP's (People's Action Party) priority".[22] This came weeks after blogger Roy Ngerng disparaged the incumbent Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong over the use of CPF Funds in an ongoing defamation lawsuit.[23]

Lack of meaningful opposition[edit]

Journalist Toh Han Shih writes that Singapore lacks a strong opposition because Singaporeans view the PAP as crucial to the economic success of Singapore. Toh argues that voters fear a change of government, thus allowing the PAP to retain power election after election.[24]

The Workers' Party is the main opposition party. WP took 6 of the 89 parliamentary seats in the 2015 election, while the PAP won the other 83.[25] An unsuccessful WP candidate, Dennis Tan, spoke of a need for competition in elections, saying, "It's not so much a setback for the WP but for Singapore as we need to develop and entrench a strong alternative voice. It will take time."[26] WP drew thousands of people to their rallies, while the PAP drew less.[24] Another major opposition party, the Singapore Democratic Party, obtained no seats in the 2015 election.[26]

Political theories about lack of opposition to PAP[edit]

Economists Acemoglu and Robinson hypothesized that the PAP's success can be attributed to the relatively low inequality. They argue that this reduces the incentives for voters to demand a transfer of resources toward the majority.[27] Singaporeans have relatively high social mobility, as "children from the lowest income quintile of parents do better in Singapore than in a range of developed countries."[28] According to Acemoglu and Robinson's argument, voters have fared well under social programmes from the PAP's policies. For example, 80% of Singaporeans live in government-funded housing, namely HDB flats.[29] Furthermore, since Singapore is a relatively new country compared to some Western states, there is no landed aristocracy, which enables civil servants, rather than elites, to take charge.[27] However, Acemoglu and Robinson's argument about equality does not fit very well with Singapore's gini coefficient, which is one of the highest in the region at 0.43.[28] See: List of Countries by Income Inequality.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Discovery Channel - A History of Singapore: Asian Tiger, Lion City (c) Discovery Networks
  2. ^ Diane K. Mauzy and R.S. Milne (2002). Singapore Politics Under the People's Action Party. Routledge. p. 52. ISBN 0-415-24653-9. 
  3. ^ a b Diane K. Mauzy and R.S. Milne (2002). Singapore Politics Under the People's Action Party. Routledge. p. 147. ISBN 0-415-24653-9. 
    Partido de Ação Popular
  4. ^ "A History of Singapore: Lion City, Asian Tiger". Discovery Channel. 2005.
  5. ^ a b Yap, Sonny; Richard, Lim; Weng, K. Leong (2010). Men in White: The Untold Story of Singapore's Ruling Political Party.. ISBN. Singapore: Straits Times Press. p. 54. ISBN 9814266515. 
  6. ^ Wong Hongyi (2009). "Lim Chin Siong". Singapore Infopedia. National Library Board Singapore. 
  7. ^ a b c Tan Jing Quee (2001). Comet in our sky: Lim Chin Siong in history. Insan. ISBN 983-9602-14-4. 
  8. ^ Loh, Kah S (2012). The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya: Tangled Strands of Modernity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. pp. 24–25. ISBN 9089644091. 
  9. ^ Poh,, Soo K; Tan, Jing Quee; Koh, Kay Yew (2010). The Fajar Generation: The University Socialist Club and the Politics of Postwar Malaya and Singapore. Petaling Jaya: SIRD. pp. 59–60. ISBN 9789833782864. 
  10. ^ Diane K. Mauzy and R.S. Milne (2002). Singapore Politics Under the People's Action Party. Routledge. p. 41. ISBN 0-415-24653-9. 
  11. ^ Koh Buck Song (4 April 1998). "The PAP cadre system". The Straits Times. Singapore. 
  12. ^ "Lee Kuan Yew elected as Prime Minister of Singapore". AsiaOne. 10 September 2009. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  13. ^ "About the Leadership HQ Executive Committee". People's Action Party. Archived from the original on 6 May 2006. Retrieved 10 May 2006. 
  14. ^ Christopher Tremewan (1996). The Political Economy of Social Control in Singapore (St. Anthony's Series). Palgrave Macmillan. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-312-15865-1. 
  15. ^ Hussin Mutalib (2004). Parties and Politics. A Study of Opposition Parties and the PAP in Singapore. Marshall Cavendish Adademic. p. 20. ISBN 981-210-408-9. 
  16. ^ Roger Kerr (9 December 1999). "Optimism for the New Millennium.". Rotary Club of Wellington North. Archived from the original on 7 March 2006. Retrieved 10 May 2006. 
  17. ^ Driven by Growth: Political Change in the Asia-Pacific Region edited by James W. Morley
  18. ^ "PAP bows out of Socialist International". Workers' Party of Singapore. June 1976. Archived from the original on 17 September 2007. Retrieved 4 October 2009. 
  19. ^ Li Xueying (1 June 2011). "PAP appoints Khaw Boon Wan as Party Chairman". The Straits Times. Singapore. 
  20. ^ Li Xueying (3 February 2007). "PAP moves to counter criticism of party, Govt in cyberspace". The Straits Times. Singapore. 
  21. ^ "MP calls on ruling party to consider legal action". The Straits Times. Singapore. 13 June 2014. 
  22. ^ "Advocating legal action over PAP's Wiki page edits not a priority: Baey". Channel News Asia. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  23. ^ Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh (29 May 2014). "PM Lee commences suit against blogger Roy Ngerng". The Straits Times. Singapore. 
  24. ^ a b Toh, Hanshih. "Why Singapore's mix of authoritarianism and democracy is a warning for Hong Kong". Peace and Freedom: World Policy Ideas. Retrieved 10 April 2016. 
  25. ^ "Singapore election: Governing party secures decisive win". BBC News. 12 September 2015. Retrieved 10 April 2016. 
  26. ^ a b Chen, Sharon; Koh, Joyce. "Singapore Lee's People's Action Party Wins Parliament Majority". Bloomberg Markets. Retrieved 10 April 2016. 
  27. ^ a b Acemoglu, Daron; Robinson, James A. (2005). Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Cambridge Press. pp. 8–10. 
  28. ^ a b Ministry of Finance (August 2015). "INCOME GROWTH, INEQUALITY AND MOBILITY TRENDS IN SINGAPORE" (PDF). Ministry of Finance Occasional Paper. Retrieved 14 April 2016. 
  29. ^ "Luxury hotel? No, public housing, Singapore-style". CNN. Retrieved 14 April 2016. 
  • Goh, Cheng Teik (1994). Malaysia: Beyond Communal Politics. Pelanduk Publications. ISBN 967-978-475-4.

The Round Table Vol. 105 , Iss. 2,2016

External links[edit]