What is a political party? Is it all speeches and ideology, or more recently, party members shouting at each other in hawker centres? Definitely not, for inside many political parties there lies a machine operated by various hands. One of those hands is the youth. How do youths influence their political parties? What role do they play in elections? In this series of articles, we will answer these questions.
We start with the Young People’s Action Party (YP), the youth wing of the ruling party, the PAP. Founded in 1992, it serves as a platform for youth voices in the PAP. We talked with Kenneth Yeo from the YP, a member of the YP since 2013. He has played an extensive role in several appointments in the YP, both at his branch and at the YP Exco.
Why do people join?
Joining a political party is no simple decision. Kenneth was attracted to the YP from his experience in meet-the-people sessions (MPS). The YP, it seems, provides youths with an all-rounded experience. Allowing youths to engage in volunteering, policy discussion, and feedback to their members of parliament.
Volunteering seems to be a key draw in joining the Young PAP. After all, most members start off experiencing the everyday concerns of Singaporeans from the get-go. As Kenneth highlights, the meet-the-people sessions allowed him to feel “the warmth and sincerity of the MPs”. He has worked with Nee Soon MP, Prof. Faishal, who “appears very genuine in helping the residents”. This exposure to MPs left an impression on Kenneth of the perspective of Singapore’s political leadership.
Kenneth highlights that MPS gives him a “platform to exercise a different mode of volunteering, where [members] are challenged intellectually to serve the residents”. The MPS is a pivotal institution in Singapore; a uniquely-Singaporean platform that allows representatives to assist their residents directly. The MPS, unlike other volunteering platforms, allows for an almost “immediate impact” on residents.
The YP is not just about assisting MPS. Instead, they engage in a variety of platforms to get a feel of the ground, including coffee shop visits to help distil problems around town. But beyond simply volunteering, the YP offers a platform for discussion.
Kenneth’s has co-organised two ‘model parliaments’. These events allow YP members to actively debate policies and analyse government policies, and more importantly, they allow youth members to suggest possible alternative ideas. The ultimate aim is to “distil policy outcomes”. In fact, these ‘model parliaments’ are often attended by young working adults, rather than just students. The ‘model parliament’ allows for a robust debate on the principles and practicalities of policy decisions.
More than that, the YP allows members (and members of the public) to join a bi-monthly dialogue where they can question key appointment holders on critical policy issues.
Far from simply being an avenue to aid the main party, the YP allows for members to give feedback on policies to those who control the levers of policy. Many of these events are not even exclusive to the YP, and are often open to the public.
Channelling the voices of the youth
One of the showcases of the YP is the Climate Change paper. The paper was developed in consultation with climate change activists and sustainability experts to chart the policies required to take Singapore into a sustainable future.
As one of the authors of the paper, Kenneth highlights that the paper is a testament to “[the YP] voice [being] championed by MPs”, with some of the “radical” suggestions made in the paper even making their way to Parliament. For Kenneth, this experience makes the YP “unique” to its members.
For Kenneth, he takes pride in the injection of new talent into the PAP. He highlights it as a testament to the PAP’s efforts at encouraging diversity. It is quite “inspiring” to see the PAP change up its slate of candidates.
It is during this time that members of the youth wing contribute in many ways to support the PAP. “It is not homogeneous” as different individuals play different roles. And ultimately, the role that each young person plays in the election depends upon their local branch.
The key objective, for Kenneth and the YP, is to “provide feedback from residents”.
The future of the YP
As Kenneth explains, “the wing will change. In what direction we do not know yet … the YP aims to represent the voices of the youth, if the needs on the grounds shift we will shift as well, that is a certainty”. With Singapore heading into a watershed election, the future is uncertain for Singapore, the PAP, and even the YP, which has tried to be the voice of the youth in the PAP.
But for the YP, they continue to hope for greater youth voices in policy discussions. Kenneth highlights that youth activism has come a long way since 2011. But, there is more to be done to encourage youth participation in politics.
He believes that “the politics of Singapore will continue to evolve. However, he hopes that general elections in the future would be focused on debating the strengths and weaknesses of policy proposals.”
From the oldest youth wing… to the youngest. In our next edition, we will be showcasing the efforts of Red Dot United in encouraging youth voices.
Top image: CNA