Former PAP MP Inderjit Singh Still Speaks for the Average Singaporean
Inconvenient Questions is a series of interviews and discussions by Strategic Moves in collaboration with RICE Media. In this episode, we chat with former People’s Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh about his thoughts on the next General Election.

After the 2011 General Election, Mr Inderjit Singh took it upon himself to advise Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. 

Both Mr Singh and PM Lee were re-elected as Members of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC. But Mr Inderjit Singh, like his fellow party members, was concerned about the bigger picture: the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) performance. 

“I gave the Prime Minister some advice after we did very badly in 2011. I wrote him a long email,” Mr Singh reveals in an interview with former Nominated Member of Parliament Viswa Sadasivan. 

The party won 81 out of 87 seats in the 2011 General Election. It retained more than two-thirds majority of the seats in Parliament, maintaining the party’s parliamentary supermajority—a streak which started in 1968. 

Yet, political observers point to the 2011 General Election as representing a shift in Singapore’s political landscape. The PAP won 60.14 percent of the popular vote, the lowest since Singapore gained independence. 

“I told [PM Lee], ‘Your father’s style is autocratic. Goh Chok Tong’s style was consultative,’” the 64-year-old serial entrepreneur and former parliamentarian elaborates on his email.

“I told him, ‘Your style is distributed. You need to pull it in a bit. Not everyone is as good as you.’” 

Mr Inderjit Singh in conversation with former Nominated Member of Parliament Mr Viswa Sadasivan.

A Disarming Frankness

The 2011 General Election was Mr Singh’s last. He announced his retirement from politics in 2015, hoping to spend more time on his work and family. He spent nearly 20 years as a Member of Parliament before retiring from politics. 

He has, however, kept a keen eye on things in the years since. His straight-talking and sure-footedness might have left a vacuum in Singapore’s parliamentary chamber, but he has not shied away from sharing his political opinions online. 

Mr Inderjit Singh’s most endearing quality is his disarming frankness. The former politician is remembered for his honesty and directness, and those qualities have not left him. He never tiptoes around the questions during the conversation. His responses are measured and honest—sometimes, shockingly honest. 

“I was very critical. I never send my speeches for vetting. The clearest example was my 2013 Population White Paper Speech.” 

Mr Inderjit Singh, the PAP’s deputy party whip at the time, suggested that the focus should be on improving the lives of Singaporeans rather than growing the number of permanent residents and new citizens. 

In response to the Population White Paper, he suggested accepting the tradeoff of economic growth for a more cohesive Singapore. He was one of a handful of MPs from the ruling party who questioned the policies.

For the Man on the Street

It’s been nearly a decade since he retired from politics, but he still has the same passion for advocating for the average Singaporean. 

Five years after he announced his retirement from politics, Mr Inderjit Singh analysed the results of the 2020 General Election. According to him, the 2020 General Election was yet another “watershed election.”

Although once a member of the PAP, he was honest about the party’s campaign style in the 2020 General Election. “One big issue for the PAP campaign this GE is that it lacked focus on their manifesto,” he explains in a Facebook post.

“It would have been more useful for the PAP leaders to use reason to convince Singaporeans how the plans in their manifesto were superior compared to the plans presented by the opposition.”

He concludes his lengthy analysis, the first of two Facebook posts, with a common refrain. “This GE also showed how spending time on the ground is essential not just during the GE but also in the years leading up to it.”

In 2017, two years after he retired from politics, Mr Singh advocated for understanding the ground sentiment better when he offered his opinion on the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s Report on the Committee on the Future Economy.

Underlying his analysis was the same fervour for improving Singaporeans’ lives. In an interview with TODAY just before he left politics, Mr Inderjit Singh said that he spoke up for the “underdog, the man on the street.” He evidently continues to do so whenever he has the chance.  

Mr Inderjit Singh on walkabout in 2015. He retired from politics soon after. Image: Inderjit Singh / Facebook

A Return to the Public Spotlight

Mr Singh returns to the public spotlight on Inconvenient Questions, still armed with his directness and candid political observations. And it could not be more timely. 

PM Lee revealed that he intends to hand over the leadership to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong before the next General Election.

During the conversation, Mr Inderjit Singh reflects on his career as an MP, explains the different leadership styles, and offers his take on Singapore politics today. He is acutely aware that a new generation of leaders looks set to take over the reins.

Like he did in 2011 with PM Lee, Mr Inderjit Singh offers advice to the PAP’s newest generation of leaders, delivered with the same unblemished candour which has endeared him to generations of Singaporeans. 

“[The PAP leadership] really need to get in touch and understand the real issues on the ground. They’re trying their best with all their TikToks. I think that is only gonna address a small section. You really need to have Singaporeans feel that ‘I understand your problem.’” 

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