In the event of a change of government in Singapore, can a new political party run the country equally well?
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posed this question towards the end of his lengthy speech in Parliament on Wednesday (2 September) in lieu of the National Day Rally during which he outlined the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the electoral successes of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and the development of Singapore over the decades.
While Lee did not make a reference to the outcome of the recent General Election, he cited the desire of some citizens who prefer the PAP to form the government and still vote for another party’s candidates to be their Members of Parliament for diversity and for checks and balance.
“How long can Singaporeans vote for the opposition in some constituencies, in the expectation that somehow, somewhere else, their fellow Singaporeans will ensure the PAP is returned to power?” Lee asked.
He also wondered at what point a vote for “a strong opposition” becomes a vote for a different government.
“Is it really true that one day if there is a change of government, a new party can run Singapore equally well, because we have such a good public service, as Mr Pritam Singh (Leader of the Opposition) suggested on Monday? It’s like saying you have the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, anybody can be the conductor.”
Lee said the PAP has a special responsibility to make Singapore’s system work, and provide the leadership that it needs and deserves. He pointed out that the party is “inextricably linked” with Singapore’s history and development.
From the period of the founding fathers such as Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee and S Rajaratnam and through the following decades, Singapore’s achievements to build a multi-racial nation and a strong Singapore Armed Forces were among the reasons why the PAP has won every election since independence, Lee said. “Singaporeans have trusted us, and we have never let them down.”
To underscore his point, Lee cited an Instagram post by the Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim of herself with fellow party members Low Thia Khiang, Png Eng Huat and a few others. He told the House that the post featured the city skyline showing the National Gallery, Raffles Place and part of the new downtown in Marina South with Lim’s caption, “What a skyline”.
“I thought to myself, she has paid an enormous tribute to the PAP government and to the people of Singapore...I don’t think she intended it and therefore I appreciate it all the more,” Lee said.
Can’t kick the can down the road
The functions of politics and government in Singapore are unique, said Lee, adding that the government has put in place a political leadership and a public service of strong quality. With the trust and support of Singaporeans, the government has been able to deal with problems rationally and effectively, he added.
“But in Singapore the PAP government has been able to do the right thing for Singaporeans – sometimes difficult and hard things – and still get re-elected. Sometimes we have paid the price in the vote but overall, we have continued to win elections.”
The government has also been able to think long term, well beyond the next general election when meeting challenges, such as the 100-year horizon in the case of climate change.
“We have no incentive to kick the can down the road because down the road, we will very likely meet the can ourselves again,” Lee said.
Each successive generation of Singaporeans has kept the system working right and the PAP “feels acutely” its special responsibility to keep on doing its best for Singapore, he added.
“We will fight hard to win the hearts and minds of Singaporeans and win every vote, and show those Singaporeans that the PAP continues to deserve their support and trust.”
In his conclusion, Lee recounted a visitor who recently came to Changi Airport and noted how it had become “deathly silent” amid the COVID-19 pandemic unlike the bustling scenes there previously.
Lee said Singapore had overcome many crises in the past, including separation from Malaysia, the British withdrawal from the region, the Asian Financial Crisis and the Global Financial Crisis.
Similarly, with “hope in our hearts, because there is a silver lining”, Singapore will overcome the COVID-19 crisis to emerge stronger and more united.
In an emotional rallying cry as MPs thumped their armrests, Lee said, “Do not doubt. Do not fear. Jewel will shine again. Changi will thrive again. SIA will be a great way to fly once more. Our economy will prosper anew. Our children and our grandchildren will continue marching forward to build a fairer, ever more just and equal society.”
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