By Seah Chiang Nee | SingaporeScene – 2 hours 28 minutes ago
An internal rift in the powerful People's Action Party (PAP), which has governed Singapore for 46 years, isn't the sort of news one often gets to read about here.
That it surfaced last week — three months after founding leader Lee Kuan Yew left the Cabinet — caused much speculation among citizens, and with party representatives hurrying to deny it.
The informant was not some flippant source but a respectable former party stalwart, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who recently quit the party to contest in the presidential election.
He missed defeating former Deputy Prime Minister Dr Tony Tan, a PAP-favoured candidate, by a slim 7,269 out of 2.2 million votes.
The dismal showing by the one-time PAP inner cabinet member was a major blow to the ruling elite.
The man who almost pulled it off was a popular doctor and PAP MP for 26 years.
Despite being an outsider, Cheng Bock said, he had received the support of the PAP grassroots.
"There's definitely a division in the PAP.
"The split is right down the middle," he told the press.
Grassroots go their own way
Grassroots leaders had ignored advice not to vote for him.
"Many old MPs have also came out to support me. It's two camps... so it's quite level," he said.
"The party will need to take a critical look at its way of doing things."
For years, people had speculated that once party strongman Lee Kuan Yew stepped down, the PAP — one of Asia's longest ruling parties — would split into factions.
Lee, himself, had once talked of a possible split when he was no longer around.
Only recently, he warned of the danger of PAP losing power in Singapore. "That day will come," he said.
After a poor election showing three months ago, the 87-year-old Lee resigned from the cabinet, retaining only his parliament seat.
Since then, there has been no sign of PAP's control slipping but — as Dr Tan pointed out — a split of its rank and file is real.
Throughout its rule for half a century, the party's strong point was its ability to keep its internal conflicts a private affair, fought within four walls.
In 1961, the party split into two when the extreme leftwing faction split to form the Socialist Front.
Since then, internal rifts were occasionally whispered to have taken place among cabinet members, or with Lee, over major policies.
But most of the quarrels were in private.
"Usually the losing side would fade away," said a retired journalist who reported on the PAP for decades. Open challenges against Lee were harshly dealt with.
A political turning point
Lee's retirement in May was unquestionably regarded as a key moment in Singapore's political history.
Traditionally, the departure of a strongman who has exercised power over his people for a long period is often followed by internal upheavals as sections jostle for power.
"This removal of a central point of control usually unleashes forces that had been under restraint to move to fill the power vacuum," said a polytechnic lecturer.
In Singapore, this is unlikely, he said, given the nature of its moderate, well-educated population not given to public combat.
But peaceful changes through the ballot box and a changing electorate are another matter and cannot be ruled out, analysts say.
They may likely emerge from internal reviews conducted after heated debates within the younger party leadership as time passes and the Kuan Yew era fades.
Key issues behind rift
Currently, one clear cause of the split within the PAP, as well as between the government and the public, is the widening gap between rich and poor.
The discontented members Dr Tan referred to include many from the 25,000 grassroots leaders, which are a powerful part of the PAP's power machinery during the past half a century.
For simplicity, some analysts have termed it a PAP elite versus grassroots conflict.
Another strong debate raging now is: how far the party leadership should act to address public unhappiness or meet demands for policy changes.
If speculation of a PAP split becomes a reality, it is unlikely to be similar to the ideological break-up of 1961.
Singaporeans are largely ideology-free.
Instead, the split is between the younger and older generations on how far and fast reforms should proceed.
Referring to the differences with his father (Minister Mentor, or MM, in the last cabinet), PM Lee Hsien Loong said in May, "MM is MM, we are different. We do it our way."
Lee Kuan Yew would tell it "straight from the shoulder" — no ifs, no buts, solid hard talk, he said.
"I think you have got used to our style. We understand what we need to do, but we don't try to do it MM's style. We do it our way."
Conservatives worried over changing order
The older conservatives are evidently more worried about the changing politics.
One of Lee Senior's close friends, Philip Yeo, recently said, "My greatest fear now is that the government is terrified of the people. You cannot have a system where the people are pampered."
Lee, himself, has warned again of the dangers of Singapore moving towards a two-party system and "electing weak and ineffective governments".
Dr Tan's revelation of a PAP split was not the first.
After losing in May's general election, Former Foreign Minister George Yeo said he would work from within to help the party reform.
"I think we have many party members (who) feel that way. And in the coming weeks and months, there will be many discussions and debates about the way forward," Yeo said.
"We've got to gather feedback from all supporters... from outside the party, too... from all classes, all groups, and try a way to achieve this new unity."
A former Reuters correspondent and newspaper editor, the writer is now a freelance columnist writing on general trends in Singapore. This post first appeared on his blog www.littlespeck.com on 3 September 2011.
If true, then the death of Lee Kuan Yew will be the bomb that sets off the split.
Time bomb ready to blow after he dies.
The clock is ticking.
PAP practices such extreme policies, no wonder people are alienated.
Extreme immigration, extreme stinginess, extreme control, extreme political advantage. Not surprising at all.
In order to stay united, there must be no internal conflicits among the members.
Prolong internal conflicits will lead to a downfall of the party.
it must be addressed and hold a dialogue for all the members.
Trashed out any differences and work in one common goals.
If not, the next general election will see more percentage going to another party.
The best part is- when some elite PAP leaders deny that there is any division in the PAP, they ironically confirm Dr. Tan Cheng Bock's assertion that there IS indeed, a division in the PAP.
no dynasty lasts forever...so even if one day the ruling party were to lose its power grip....its only a matter of time....
what is of greater concern is not who rules, but the one who possesses better alternatives to the present....
the winner will be an ingenious "political and social psychologist of the masses"
tt day is coming. soon.