“Sixty years ago, 1,500 people gathered in this hall. There were union members – postmen, hospital attendants, public works employees, teachers, busmen, workers in trade and industry. There were white-collar office workers, there were students, and a wide spectrum of Singapore society – people of all races, speaking different languages – but come together for an important occasion.
On stage, Mr Lee Kuan Yew spoke at a table like this. And the Party’s conveners sat behind him in a row, in a semi-circle. And amongst them were Dr Toh Chin Chye, Mr S Rajaratnam, Mr Devan Nair, and Mr Ismail Rahim, who was from the postmen’s union. It was a multi-racial line-up, with substantial union representation and support. And this was a signal that a new party was being formed in Singapore – different from any of the other parties which were then already in Singapore, the People’s Action Party, a party for all, a national party.
PAP’s stewardship of Singapore creates successful nation
We built up the SAF to defend ourselves. We housed our nation with the HDB. We educated our people, with schools, polytechnics, universities, everyone, all the way. We industrialised our economy, modernised, created jobs and better lives for all Singaporeans. And we led the country through crises, because from time to time, crises came to us. In 1973, when oil prices went up suddenly, and the world went into a recession.
In 1985, we went into a deep recession, because we had lost our competitiveness, and had to turn around quickly. In 1997, during the Asian Financial Crisis, when all around us, countries were running into trouble, we were the safe harbour in a very troubled region. With SARS in 2003, when you are fighting an enemy you can’t see, and you don’t know where it is, and you have to maintain confidence and calm, and react rationally as one people. Or during the Global Financial Crisis, 2008 – already six years ago but a very serious storm which came and would have hit us with full force had we not responded in the right way, taken cover, protected ourselves, and come through safely, with the people’s support.
How did the party do this? With the original team, but also by constantly renewing ourselves. Bringing in new generations of leaders with ability, with commitment, with integrity. Keeping the trust and support with new generations of Singaporeans, keeping ourselves it and lean, and it to lead Singapore.
And so we won the trust of the voters, and the mandate to serve Singaporeans in every successive general election ever since then – in 1959, 1963, 68, and so on, until 2011 most recently. And we will win the next one too!
For the last 60 years, the PAP has played a vital role in Singapore, bringing us from the Third World to the First.
PAP pioneers’ efforts laid strong foundation for nation
And for all this, we must thank our activists, all through the years who have served on the ground, who have taken care of residents, who mobilised support, provided feedback and kept the party close to the people.
Activists like Comrade Seah Chin Heng, who has been a selfless active party member for 55 years. Or Comrade Png Wee Chor, who’s a die-hard loyalist who made sure every time we have a campaign, an election, he’s there, and all the other activists and members are catered for, and the food will always be ready.
And other activists as well, including some who were here back 60 years ago, and some, for the founding of the party, in this hall, like Comrade Chen Li Zhao, whom I spoke of just now. So we thank all of them for their contributions.
I would also like to pay tribute to our party leaders. That’s why we’ve invited some of the pioneer generation of MPs to join us on stage today for this ceremony. Including Comrade Ong Pang Boon, our first organising secretary, who helped to hold the party together through its darkest years. Comrade Mahmud Awang, who helped to get the NTUC started and stood on the frontline in our fight against the communists. Or Comrade Chan Chee Seng. He was one of those who was here 60 years ago, arranging the room and getting it ready. A real stalwart. On the day of the vote of confidence in 1961, if he had not persuaded Madam Sahorah (Ahmat), one of our Assemblymen, who was sick in hospital, to come out of her hospital bed, in an ambulance, carried to the chamber, and to come here and vote, we would have not won by that one vote. Singapore would have been very different!
Or Comrade Yeo Toon Chia, who was in Kampong Kapor as branch secretary, went to Ang Mo Kio, set up the first branch in Ang Mo Kio new town, when the town was still being built, prepared the ground, made it ready, assembled the resources, gathered the volunteers, and when the rest of us came to Yio Chu Kang, to Chong Boon, to Bowen, to Kebun Bahru, to Teck Ghee, we found ready kindergartens, activists, a little bit of money, resources, and we were launched. All from the pioneer, Yeo Toon Chia who helped us get started.
There’re some others who are not able to be with us this evening. Sixty years have passed, some have passed on. Others are old, frail, unable to come. But I think we should remember them too. People like P. Govindasamy, who was one of the postal workers who approached Mr Lee Kuan Yew to represent the postmen in the postmen’s strike in 1952 – which was Mr Lee’s first service for the unions and got him launched on this path. Or Dr Goh Keng Swee, or Mr Rajaratnam, or Mr Othman Wok, Dr Toh Chin Chye, or Mr Devan Nair, all Mr Lee’s key lieutenants.
Re-dedicating ourselves to the party and to Singapore
But most of all, we are grateful to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, our first secretary-general, who founded the People’s Action Party, made it into a national movement, led it to build Singapore, and to continue building beyond him and his colleagues, to his successor Mr Goh Chok Tong and his team, to his successor’s successor, me and my team. And I’m particularly happy that he is able to join us today, 60 years after launching the party here in the Victoria Memorial Hall.
So let us remind ourselves how we got here. That’s why we are launching the book today, PAP 60, Forward Together to celebrate our party’s achievements and our people. And that’s why we re-dedicated the marker that commemorates the founding of the PAP.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew had unveiled this marker ten years ago, on our 50th anniversary. But subsequently, Victoria Concert Hall underwent major upgrading and the marker was put away for safekeeping. Now that the building is restored to its former glory. I think it is right that on the 60th anniversary, we gather here again to restore the marker to its proper place, and to re-dedicate ourselves to the party, and to Singapore.
We must look ahead where our path is going to be different. Our society has changed, our people’s aspirations have risen, and the world is changing on us, faster than ever.
PAP must continue to provide good leadership for Singapore
Yet, one thing has not and will not change – Singapore needs good leadership, and the PAP has the duty and the responsibility to provide this leadership for Singapore. We are a national party that represents Singaporeans from all walks of life. We must always be one. We have a team of Ministers and MPs, national leaders and ground activists, of mobilisers and organisers. Committed to Singapore, capable of taking the country forward.
The PAP cannot decline this responsibility, much less can it shirk this responsibility. If we fail, Singapore is in deep trouble, and we must not fail. That has been so until now, and that will continue to be so for a long time to come.
So we must continue to hold fast to the PAP’s ideals and its vision. We must develop new leaders, keep the party vigorous and strong, close to the people. Continuing to win their support, and enjoy their trust.
Then we can act on the behalf of the people. We can serve with humility, conscious of our duty to Singaporeans, both this generation and future generations. And we can lead Singapore to greater successes.
No matter what the odds may be, or what circumstances we may find ourselves in, the PAP will always be on the side of Singapore and of Singaporeans, and we will always do its best for Singapore and for Singaporeans.
So let us pledge ourselves anew as we do in our Party Pledge: To create a vibrant, just and equal society, through achieving excellence by all, so that every Singaporean, regardless of race, language or religion, can enjoy a full and happy life.”
“For the last 60 years, the PAP has played a vital role in Singapore, bringing us from the Third World to the First.”
This article was first published in the November 2014 issue of Petir Magazine.