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The People's Action Party (abbrev: PAP) is a right-wing[5] political party in Singapore. Having been the country's ruling party since 1959, it is Singapore's longest (and only ever) ruling party. This continuous rule has led the country to be described as a "de facto one party-state" and "undemocratic."[6][7]

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
Vice-Chairman Yaacob Ibrahim
Assistant Secretary-General Teo Chee Hean
Tharman Shanmugaratnam
Founder Lee Kuan Yew
Founded 21 November 1954; 63 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
Ideology Conservatism
Economic liberalism
Civic nationalism[1][2]
Political position Right-wing[4]
International affiliation None
Colours White, Blue, Red
82 / 101

Since the 1959 general elections, the PAP has dominated Singapore's politics and has been credited as being central to the city-state's rapid political, social, and economic development.[8] 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 developmentsEdit

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

Lee Kuan Yew, Toh Chin Chye and Goh Keng Swee were involved the Malayan Forum, a London-based student activist group that was against colonial rule in Malaya in the 1940s and early 1950s.[9][10] Upon returning to Singapore, the group met regularly to discuss approaches to attain independence in Malayan territories, and started looking for like-minded individuals to start a political party. Journalist S. Rajaratnam was introduced to Lee by Goh.[11] Lee was also introduced to several English-educated left-wing students and Chinese-educated union and student leaders while working on the Fajar sedition trial and the National Service riot case.[12]

The PAP was officially registered as a political party on 21 November 1954. Convenors of the party include a group of trade unionists, lawyers and journalists such as Lee Kuan Yew, Abdul Samad Ismail, Toh Chin Chye, Goh Keng Swee, Devan Nair, S. Rajaratnam, Chan Chiaw Thor, Fong Swee Suan, Tann Wee Keng and Tann Wee Tiong.[13] The political party was led by Lee Kuan Yew as its secretary-general, with Toh Chin Chye as its founding chairman. Other party officers include Tann Wee Tiong, Lee Gek Seng, Ong Eng Guan and Tann Wee Keng.[14]

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 trade union members and student groups such as the University Socialist Club, who canvassed for them.[15] The party won three seats, one by its leader Lee Kuan Yew for the Tanjong Pagar division, and one by co-founder of the PAP, Lim Chin Siong, for the Bukit Timah division.[16][17] Then 22 years old, unionist Lim Chin Siong was and remained the youngest Assemblyman ever to be elected to office. The election was won by Labour Front, headed by David Marshall.[18]

In April 1956, Lim and Lee represented the PAP at the London Constitutional Talks along with Chief Minister Marshall, 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, as he had pledged to do so earlier if self-governance was not achieved. He was replaced by another Labour Front member Lim Yew Hock.[19] Lim 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.

PAP, and left-wing members who were labelled by some as communists, were criticised for inciting riots in the mid-1950s.[20][21] Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan and Devan Nair, as well as several unionists, were detained by the police after the Chinese middle schools riots.[22]

Following this, the PAP decided to re-assert ties with the labour faction of Singapore in the hope of securing the votes of working-class Chinese Singaporeans, many of whom were supporters of the jailed unionists. Lee Kuan Yew convinced the incarcerated union leaders to sign documents to state their support for the party and its policies, promising to release the jailed members of the PAP when the party came to power in the next elections.[23] Ex-Barisan Sosialis member Tan Jing Quee claims that Lee was secretly in collusion with the British to stop Lim Chin Siong and the labour supporters from attaining power because of their huge popularity. Quee also states that Lim Yew Hock deliberately provoked the students into rioting and then had the labour leaders arrested.[24] "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."[24] Lee Kuan Yew eventually accused Lim Chin Siong and his supporters of being communists working for the Communist United Front, but evidence of Lim being a communist cadre was a matter of debate as many documents have yet to be declassified.[25][26]

The PAP eventually won the 1959 election under Lee Kuan Yew's leadership.[27] 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. Lee, who became the first prime minister,[28] requested for the release of the PAP left-wing members to form the new cabinet.[29]

In 1961, disagreements on the proposed merger plan with Malaysia and long-standing internal party power struggle led to the split of the left-wing group from the PAP.[30][31][32] The breakaway group of members formed the Barisan Sosialis with Lim Chin Siong as Secretary-General.[33] Aside from the Chinese union leaders, lawyers Thampoe Thamby Rajah and Tann Wee Tiong,[34] as well as several members from the University Socialist Club such as James Puthucheary and Poh Soo Kai joined the party.[35]

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) 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.[24] 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[36] 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.[37]

Central Executive Committee and Secretary GeneralEdit

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.[38]

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.

HQ Executive CommitteeEdit

The next lower level committee is the HQ Executive Committee (HQ Ex-Co) which performs the party's administration and oversees 12 sub-committees.[39] 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.[40] 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".[41]

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."[42]

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. In 2015, the party was seen by some observers to have adopted a left-of-centre tack in certain areas, in order to remain electorally dominant.[43]

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.[44] In 1976, however, the PAP resigned from the Socialist International after the Dutch Labour Party had proposed to expel the party,[45] 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.

Marking a possible shift in ideology, at an Institute of Policy Studies dialogue held on 2 July 2015, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about the need to maintain a certain natural aristocracy in the system, to instill a culture of respect and to avoid anarchy.[46]

According to Kenneth Paul Tan, with an overwhelming majority in parliament, the PAP government has been able to amend the Constitution without much obstruction, introducing multi-member constituencies, unelected parliamentary membership, and other institutional changes that have, in effect, strengthened the government's dominance and control of Parliament.[47] It has also propagated the idea that pragmatism and economic considerations triumph over accountability, transparency and checks and balances.[48] By drawing from a specious notion of Confucian values and Asian culture to construct ideological bulwarks - like "Asian democracy", the PAP government has been able to justify its (liberal) democracy deficit and its authoritarian means.[47]


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.[49]

List of ChairmanEdit

No Name In Office
1 Toh Chin Chye 1954—1981
2 Ong Teng Cheong 1981—1993
3 Tan Keng Yam 1993—2004
4 Lim Boon Heng 2004—2011
5 Khaw Boon Wan 2011—

List of Secretaries-GeneralEdit

No Name In Office
1 Lee Kuan Yew 1954—1992
2 Goh Chok Tong 1992—2004
3 Lee Hsien Loong 2004—

PAP's general election resultsEdit

Legislative AssemblyEdit

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
 3 13,634 8.7% PAP in opposition. Labour Front forms government.
1959 51 51 0 43 8
43 / 51
 40 281,891 54.1% PAP majority
1963 51 51 0 37 14
37 / 51
 6 272,924 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
 21 65,812 86.7% PAP wins all seats
1972 65 65 8 57 0
65 / 65
 7 524,892 70.4% PAP wins all seats
1976 69 69 16 53 0
69 / 69
 4 590,169 74.1% PAP wins all seats
1980 75 75 37 38 0
75 / 75
 6 494,268 77.7% PAP wins all seats
1984 79 79 30 47 2
77 / 79
 2 568,310 64.8% PAP supermajority
1988 81 81 11 69 1
80 / 81
 3 848,029 63.2% PAP supermajority
1991 81 81 41 36 4
77 / 81
 3 477,760 61% PAP supermajority
1997 83 83 47 34 2
81 / 83
 4 465,751 65% PAP supermajority
2001 84 84 55 27 2
82 / 84
 1 470,765 75.3% PAP supermajority
2006 84 84 37 45 2
82 / 84
  748,130 66.6% PAP supermajority
2011 87 87 5 76 6
81 / 87
 1 1,212,514 60.1% PAP supermajority
2015 89 89 0 83 6
83 / 89
 2 1,576,784 69.86% PAP supermajority

Internet presenceEdit

Since 1995, the youth wing of the PAP has had an internet presence "posting corrections to "misinformation" about Singaporean politics or culture."[50] In February 2007 it was reported by The Straits Times that the PAP's "new media" committee, chaired by minister Ng Eng Hen, had initiated an effort to counter critics anonymously on the Internet "as it was necessary for the PAP to have a voice on cyberspace".[51] The initiative was divided by two sub-committees, one of which was in charge of strategising the campaigns and is co-headed by minister Lui Tuck Yew and MP Zaqy Mohamad. The other sub-committee 'new media capabilities group', led by MPs Baey Yam Keng and Josephine Teo, executed the strategies. The initiative was set up after the 2006 general elections and also included around 20 IT-savvy PAP activists.[51]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ Rodan, Gary. "The Internet and Political Control in Singapore" (PDF). Retrieved 6 November 2017. 
  7. ^ Reyes, Sebastian (29 September 2015). "Singapore's Stubborn Authoritarianism | Harvard Political Review". Harvard Political Review. Retrieved 6 November 2017. 
  8. ^ "A History of Singapore: Lion City, Asian Tiger". Discovery Channel. 2005.
  9. ^ Desker, Barry; Guan, Chong; Kwa, Chong Guan (2012). Goh Keng Swee: A Public Career Remembered. World Scientific. ISBN 9789814291392. 
  10. ^ Josey, Alex (2013-02-15). Lee Kuan Yew: The Crucial Years. Marshall Cavendish International Asia Pte Ltd. ISBN 9789814435499. 
  11. ^ Leong, Ching (2004). PAP 50 : Five Decades of the People's Action Party. Singapore: People's Action Party. 
  12. ^ Lee, Kuan Yew. The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Marshall Cavendish International Asia Pte Ltd. 
  13. ^ "Nine Form New Political Party in Singapore". The Straits Times. 1954-10-24. Retrieved 2017-08-17. 
  14. ^ "The PAP bosses". The Straits Times. 12 July 1955. 
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  20. ^ "Mr. Lim Sits on The Fence". Retrieved 2017-08-17. 
  21. ^ "The Guilty Men - By Goode". The Straits Times. 1955-05-17. Retrieved 2017-08-17. 
  22. ^ "Who's Who - The Top 15 Names". The Straits Times. 1956-10-28. Retrieved 2017-08-17. 
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  25. ^ migration (2014-12-20). "British archives, personal accounts, confirm extent of Communist United Front activities here: PM Lee". The Straits Times. Retrieved 2017-08-31. 
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  28. ^ "LEE IS PREMIER". Retrieved 2017-08-17. 
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  32. ^ "Merger issue: Dr. Toh hits out at six top unionists". Retrieved 2017-08-17. 
  33. ^ 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. 
  34. ^ "Lawyers Rajah, Tann join Barisan Socialis". The Straits Times. 15 August 1961. 
  35. ^ 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. 
  36. ^ Diane K. Mauzy and R.S. Milne (2002). Singapore Politics Under the People's Action Party. Routledge. p. 41. ISBN 0-415-24653-9. 
  37. ^ Koh Buck Song (4 April 1998). "The PAP cadre system". The Straits Times. Singapore. 
  38. ^ "Lee Kuan Yew elected as Prime Minister of Singapore". AsiaOne. 10 September 2009. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  39. ^ "About the Leadership HQ Executive Committee". People's Action Party. Archived from the original on 6 May 2006. Retrieved 10 May 2006. 
  40. ^ 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. 
  41. ^ 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. 
  42. ^ 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. 
  43. ^ Azhar, Saeed; Chalmers, John (6 September 2015). "Singapore's rulers hope a nudge to the left will keep voters loyal". Reuters. Retrieved 21 November 2017. 
  44. ^ Driven by Growth: Political Change in the Asia-Pacific Region edited by James W. Morley
  45. ^ "PAP bows out of Socialist International". Workers' Party of Singapore. June 1976. Archived from the original on 17 September 2007. Retrieved 4 October 2009. 
  46. ^
  47. ^ a b Tan, Kenneth Paul (2012). "The Ideology of Pragmatism: Neo-liberal Globalisation and Political Authoritarianism in Singapore". Journal of Contemporary Asia. 42 (1): 67–92. doi:10.1080/00472336.2012.634644. 
  48. ^ Tan, Kenneth Paul (2007). "Singapore's National Day Rally speech: A site of ideological negotiation". Journal of Contemporary Asia. 37 (3): 292–308. doi:10.1080/00472330701408635. 
  49. ^ Li Xueying (1 June 2011). "PAP appoints Khaw Boon Wan as Party Chairman". The Straits Times. Singapore. 
  50. ^ "Mickey Unbound". Wired. 1 July 1995. Retrieved 6 November 2017. 
  51. ^ a b Li Xueying (3 February 2007). "PAP moves to counter criticism of party, Govt in cyberspace". The Straits Times. Singapore. 
  • Goh, Cheng Teik (1994). Malaysia: Beyond Communal Politics. Pelanduk Publications. ISBN 967-978-475-4.

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

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