Tip for the PAP: Build a church

Posted on 20 May 2011

To win the next generation of voters, it needs to do something it has sucked at doing: Getting emotional.

By Terence Lee

Church.

I WILL never forget the day I attended the Worker’s Party rally at Serangoon Stadium, where the crowd of 40,000 roared in laughter whenever the speakers slammed the PAP, and where Singaporeans, led by the booming voice of Pritam Singh, recited the national pledge like they meant it. Putting it mildly, it was an awe-inspiring moment when we worshipped the sacred values that guide our nation.

It felt like church.

The only PAP rally I attended, which was in Yishun Stadium, was lame by comparison. There, nubile cheerleaders attempted to rouse wrinkly seniors to cheer, grassroots leaders sang praises of the PAP candidates for half-an-hour, and a small welcome party was planted to drape garlands on Shanmugam and Co. like they were kings.

And many in the crowd were not even true-blue PAP supporters. No pun intended.

Sure, there were small outbursts of spontaneity here and there, but it was nothing like what opposition commanded during their rallies.

The stark contrast signals an affective divide between the two camps. Sure, some of the opposition candidates are questionable, and some policy proposals downright ludicrous, but they have won the battle of attracting organic, ground-up support.

Even in the online sphere, the paragon of democratised participation, the discussion appears to be overwhelmingly anti-PAP.

So it’s pretty well-known that the pews for the Church of Lightning has been empty for decades, which means there are only two reasons why they are voted in again and again: Sheer technical competence and Lee Kuan Yew.

Sure, the PAP has to tweak and rethink some of its existing policies to win voters back. But more than that, it needs to win the hearts of both the online and offline community.

In the past, they had Lee Kuan Yew. With his charisma, intelligence, and iron-fist leadership, he brought Singapore out of the slums and inspired songs of praise. Schools were named after him, and even the uniquely Singaporean title of Minister Mentor was created for his sake.

Brutal as he may be, it’s hard not to like that son of a gun.

Fast forward to today. The Old Man has now stepped down from The Cabinet, leaving the son in charge. No doubt that PM Lee is an okay speaker, but I wouldn’t call him Obama-esque. But that’s okay, surely his party branding is there to pick up the slack?

Not really. Not when being “struck by lightning” has become a byword for the government’s heavy-handedness.

Sure, filling stadiums at rallies has never been an accurate way of predicting vote share. But it is a symptom of a deeper problem: Lack of emotional connection to the PAP.

Going forward, what the PAP has to do now is to win affection back from the 40 percent of Singaporeans that voted against them, and the untold numbers who voted for them only because the opposition sucked.

It’s time for the PAP to take a leaf from churches.

Religious entities excel at doing one thing: Building a strong network of supporters. A very successful one, City Harvest Church, attracts about 13,000 worshippers every week (despite its money-sucking practices, which makes it even more amazing).

Churches are successful at fostering strong emotive connections through music, social bonding, and preaching. They enforce moral values through weekly reminders at the pulpit, through monetary donatons and charitable work in social welfare organisations.

That is what the PAP needs. Instead of winning voters through facts and figures alone, it needs to encourage organic support in both online and offline communities, on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs as well as in the kopitiams and neighbourhoods. It needs to address the moral issues that irritate voters, such as the unfair playing field in politics against the opposition, and the lack of a social safety net for the poor.

The PAP needs to carry a new message; a new vision. And they need to execute it. It needs to bring tears to my eyes, like George Yeo almost did.

Lee Hsien Loong, sad to say, cannot be the torchbearer of the new PAP because he is too tainted already. We need a new personality to front a rebranding effort; someone with a clean slate. Less boring old geezer, more Stevie Tyler authenticity (Chuan-Jin, I’m looking at you).

Relying on the Singapore brand like it did in the past will not do. As the last elections has showed, Singaporeans are now more comfortable with divorcing the Lightning from the Merlion. By voting in the Worker’s Party, they are comfortable with the idea that PAP/LKY is not Singapore, and vice-versa.

Sure, filling stadiums at rallies has never been an accurate way of predicting vote share. But it is a symptom of a deeper problem: Lack of emotional connection to the PAP.

Rallies also serve a useful purpose: It’s at such mega events that affiliations are reinforced, and thousands are inspired by the political pulpit.

In the next half a decade, the PAP will have to do a better job of becoming viral (not in the Tin Pei Ling way, please). For years, they’ve been saying that politics should be rational, calm, and measured. Yes, we need that. But voters are human beings: We need to be inspired, entertained, and engaged.

And when all the right buttons are pushed, that’s when we click that ‘share’ button on Facebook.

This post was written by:

- who has written 81 posts on New Nation.

Terence is an online media nut that is obsessed with writing and publishing on the Internet. Recently, he took up photography to expand his repertoire, and hopes to learn videography soon. He has worked in both online and print publications such as The Straits Times, Today, Mind Your Body, The Online Citizen, and Funkygrad. He is currently the assistant editor with SGEntrepreneurs, a website that covers entrepreneurship in Singapore and Asia. Terence can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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  • Something to consider

    Get emotional? I thought these PAP people did so.

  • Terence

    i guess what i’m trying to say is: I think they have to connect with Singaporeans on an emotional level too!

  • Soojenn

    “Lee Hsien Loong, sad to say, cannot be the torchbearer of the new PAP because he is too tainted already. We need a new personality to front a rebranding effort; someone with a clean slate. Less boring old geezer, more Stevie Tyler authenticity (Chuan-Jin, I’m looking at you). ”

    Looks like they are more keen to bring up the Ah Beng ex-MG Chan Chun Sing, tail-coat in the Tg Pagar GRC, moved up to Acting Minister so quickly.. Chuan-Jin would have been a better choice. Unfortunately he has to be in the GRC with the Tin Kate Spade who has apparently brought down the support for the SM from the 70 ercentile to the low 50’s percentile

  • Terence

    actually i have no problem with him being acting minister… i want to see how he performs first before judging.

  • Something to consider

    What’s more, MG Chan, though acting Beng-ish, is actually our version of Bob Hawke

    • Terence Lee

      eh? how does MG Chan acting beng-ish relate to Hawke?

      • Something to consider

        For those unfamiliar with Oz politics, Hawke is the beer-drinking, Oxbridge-educated PM who stroke a chord with the Aussie voters’ hearts.

  • Alan Tang

    ‎”When the rate of change outside exceeds the rate of change inside, the end is in sight!” By Jack Welch. PM may wish for change but he can only do so much if his whole army of cronies still treat business as usual then the status quo will remain the same more or less till 2016! By then it will be too late cuz the citizens will be ready for a regime change thru the secret ballot box in a one man one vote system! When so many citizens whether online or offline hate you so much, then the end is quite obvious. I wonder why so few ppl condemn and talk bad about our pass founding fathers eg Rajaratnam, Goh Keng Swee or Hon SS or even EW Baker just to name a few? Hear! Hear! All Papies!