This interview was conducted by Kumaran Pillai, Editorial Head and member of PSP with Assistant Secretary-General of PSP, Mr Francis Yuen in early October.
Francis’ current task at hand is to reorganize the party and to be ready for the next general elections which is not due until 2025. He outlines the strategy going forward, of walking the ground, engaging voters and attracting new political talent into the party. He has a good feel for the ground, after making a debut in politics in the recent elections.
Francis, let’s start off with a question of Why? Tell me about your personal journey into politics – why did you join politics and why now?
It was an evolutionary process and I wouldn’t have thought about joining politics three years ago when I was still busy with my career. Although I’m retired from full-time employment, I still keep myself busy and am involved in a lot of companies with many overseas trips that come with it.
Some of my ex-colleagues, friends and university classmates feel that something is amiss in this country – we are growing economically, we are well-to-do, prosperous, and we have gleaming skylines with beautiful buildings but, inequality is creeping in and it is no longer a level playing field. I want to see the country continue to not just prosper, but for all Singaporeans of every strata to prosper and realise the fruits of Singapore’s prosperity.
So all it took was a little spark for me to enter politics. This happened during the PSP launch last year. When Dr Tan Cheng Bock broke down during his speech, I saw him so emotional and full of dedication and commitment to his cause. It made me realise that this was where I wanted to be, standing next to him, shoulder to shoulder and working towards a better Singapore for our future generations.
So you’ve garnered a respectable 41.3% in the General Elections. What could you have done more to cross the line? More time perhaps? Or better execution of the campaign?
More time for sure and the fact remains that we were locked down during phase one of COVID-19 restrictions. So, we could only use online platforms to conduct our outreach to the electorate, which also meant that we were not able to reach a segment of our voters and we had a very short runway to get our message across.
Our message of accountability resonated with the younger voters but it was difficult to reach the pioneer generation voters who were not online and it was equally difficult to reach those living in condominiums as we had limited or no access to their homes.
Our plan going forward is to do more ground outreach and door-to-door house visits – to feel the pulse of Singapore first hand, reach out to them and understand their challenges and problems better.
The PAP saw a downswing of almost 9 per cent. In your opinion, what contributed to this?
In my opinion there are three main reasons for this:
Firstly, the incumbent thought that there would be a voter flight-to-safety because of the current health and economic crises. However, that didn’t happen. On the contrary, people were really upset with them for calling the elections during the pandemic, which translated to PAP putting politics above life and safety. That would have cost them some votes.
Secondly, people were also feeling the hardship and financial pain from the various right-wing policies implemented by PAP, which led to our local PMETs being marginalized, losing jobs in the process. They felt that they have been repudiated.
The third reason in my opinion is that there was an increased political awareness in our citizenry. A lot of people felt that their concerns were not adequately addressed and it was no longer tenable to give one party the absolute majority in parliament. We need a stronger alternative voice in parliament and PSP presented a credible alternative to the ruling party.
What are your plans for the next General Elections in 2025? And how do you think your RSC and Ground-Operations are going to help you win, if not deny the PAP of two-thirds majority?
We now have a voice in parliament through the two NCMPs and we’ll raise questions and hold the government accountable for the lapses in the current policies. This will raise the party’s profile.
We need to work harder and reach out to more Singaporeans, to find out what their concerns and misgivings are with the current system. Communicate with them and come out with solutions on how best to deal with such issues.
The electorate is not as homogenous as we think it to be. There are differences in the demographics, between the various age groups, ethnic groups and interest groups. And sometimes the needs of these groups come into conflict with one another.
Hence, it is important for us to engage them effectively and iron out the differences between them. I have put in place a very capable and effective team to run the Ground Operations and we are setting up grassroots and branches in the wards and constituencies that we contested in. So come 2025, if you ask me, I’m highly optimistic, a lot of work needs to be done, but we have a plan.
So how are you bringing on board new political talent? Is there a pull factor or are you going out actively looking for such talent?
It’s a pull factor so far. PSP is a political upstart with a lot of potential. We have hundreds of new members that have joined us since the General Elections. New members feel a sense of belonging and want to be part of the sea-change in Singapore’s political climate.
Secondly, we’ve assembled a Youth Wing precisely to address the aspirations of our younger members. These youth want to step forward and will come through for us, for the cause. We need to make sure that the best of them surface to the top and go on to contest in the next elections. We walk the ground and talk the talk when it comes to politics in Singapore. So, if you’re reading this, sign up as a member and be a part of this change.
Mr Francis Yuen will be speaking at the IPS (Institute of Policy Studies) Forum this coming Thursday 22nd October.