Expect sharper debate with more opposition in Parliament, PM Lee Hsien Loong tells PAP MPs

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Prime Minister and PAP election candidate Lee Hsien Loong  speaking to the media at Deyi Secondary School on Nomination Day (30 June). (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking to the media on Nomination Day of the General Election. (FILE PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has told the People’s Action Party (PAP) Members of Parliament (MPs) to expect sharper questioning and debate in the new Parliament, with more opposition MPs and a formally-designated Leader of the Opposition.

In a letter on “Rules of Prudence” sent on Saturday (1 August) to all PAP MPs – a tradition for the Singapore PM after every General Election (GE) – PM Lee urged them to express their views “frankly, whether for or against Government policies”.

“During debates, speak freely and with conviction. Press your points vigorously, and do not shy away from robust exchange,” said PM Lee, who is also PAP’s secretary-general.

“Be prepared to engage the opposition, to clarify their interventions and scrutinise their ideas. However, please exercise judgment when putting your points across, and do not get carried away playing to the gallery.”

By bringing out questions and issues that Singaporeans and constituents have concerns about, it will show that PAP MPs are in touch with the ground and speaking for Singaporeans, PM Lee wrote in the letter.

“Ministers will accept valid, constructive suggestions, but they have to challenge inaccurate or mistaken views,” he added.

“Over time, the public will see that PAP backbenchers are as effective as opposition MPs, if not better, at holding Ministers to account, getting issues fully debated, and influencing policies for the better.”

Never break faith with people: PM Lee

The PAP won 83 out of 93 seats in the GE on 10 July, garnering 61.24 per cent of the votes. The remaining 10 seats were won by the Workers’ Party, with its secretary-general Pritam Singh being officially appointed as the Leader of the Opposition. As the “best losers” in the GE, two members of the Progress Singapore Party were also chosen to be Non-Constituency MPs.

In his letter on Saturday, PM Lee urged the PAP MPs to work with Singaporeans to keep the COVID-19 pandemic in check, protect jobs and livelihoods, and make sure everyone comes through safely together.

To do so, he advised the MPs to be humble, listen closely, help to tackle pressing needs, and express the people’s worries and aspirations to the government.

“Never break faith with the people. Always carry out our duties responsibly, addressing their concerns and advancing their interests,” PM Lee said in the letter.

“This will help us persuade Singaporeans to support policies which are to their own long-term benefit. It will also enable the Government to formulate good policies and stay in close touch with the people.”

PM Lee added that PAP MPs must always uphold the high standards of the party, and not have lifestyles or personal conduct which will embarrass themselves and the party.

“The PAP has held our position in successive elections because our integrity has never been in doubt, and because we are sensitive to the views and attitudes of the people we represent,” he said.

“Any slackening of standards, or show of arrogance or indifference, will erode confidence in the MP, and ultimately in the party and government... Always conduct yourselves with modesty, decorum and dignity, particularly in the media. You must win respect, not popularity, to stay the course.”

Spelling out do’s and don’ts on MP conduct

PM Lee used most of his letter to spell out the do’s and don’ts on the conduct of MPs in various situations.

For instance, he told MPs to be “scrupulously proper” in their contacts with government departments or public officers, and to conduct business with government agencies in writing and avoid making telephone requests.

In particular, he wants the MPs to separate their public political position from their private, professional or business interests.

“You must not exploit your public position as government MPs, your close contacts with the ministers, or your access to government departments and civil servants, for your personal interest or the benefit of your employers. Your conduct must always be above board,” he wrote in the letter.

PM Lee also urged PAP MPs to manage their personal financial affairs prudently, as they risk exposing themselves to pressure or blackmail should they become “financially embarrassed”.

With social media prevalent, he also advised MPs to be mindful of their status as public figures elected by their residents when they engage social media to let the public know about their work.

“Observe decorum, ensure factual accuracy as this is an absolute requirement for us, and remember every social media post will be permanently associated with you and the Party,” he said.

“Know your audience and be sensitive to how they feel. Do not use social media to attack another person.”

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