PAP must share info if WP is to craft credible policy alternatives: Pritam Singh

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Workers' Party Secretary-General Pritam Singh, left, and Chairman Sylvia Lim, second left, arrive at a nomination center with their team to submit their nomination papers ahead of the general election in Singapore, Tuesday, June 30, 2020. Campaigning has begun for Singapore’s general elections, with the opposition hoping to dent the ruling party’s supermajority in parliament. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)
Workers' Party Secretary-General Pritam Singh, left, and Chairman Sylvia Lim, second left, arrive at a nomination center with their team to submit their nomination papers ahead of the general election in Singapore, Tuesday, June 30, 2020. Campaigning has begun for Singapore’s general elections, with the opposition hoping to dent the ruling party’s supermajority in parliament. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)

SINGAPORE — The Workers’ Party’s ability to formulate “realistic policy alternatives” is dependent on the People's Action Party (PAP) government’s willingness to share information, said WP chief Pritam Singh on Saturday (18 July).

In a statement to The Straits Times that was later posted on Facebook, Singh said, "The extent to which realistic policy alternatives can be advanced both in public and in Parliament is also a function of the PAP's approach to democratic politics."

Nevertheless, the WP will continue to give "forward-looking suggestions for the welfare of Singaporeans", even though it can only rely on its volunteer base for political work. By contrast, the government can tap on the 120,000-strong civil service as a resource for parliamentary debates.

For example, the WP has proposed a redundancy insurance scheme, as well as alternatives to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, in Parliament. It will also release public working papers on key issues affecting Singaporeans.

The newly-appointed Leader of the Opposition was responding to National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who had said that the WP "cannot just continue asking the Government questions". With 10 Members of Parliament, it is now incumbent on the WP to put forth serious policy alternatives to be scrutinised and debated.

In a virtual speech to PAP activists that was only open to media outlets from Singapore Press Holdings and Mediacorp, Wong gave a preliminary review of the party’s recent electoral performance. He noted that the nationwide swing against the ruling party probably came from middle-class voters rather than younger voters, according to media reports.

In a move that sparked speculation about the state of leadership succession, Wong, who also co-chairs the multi-ministry taskforce on COVID-19, fronted the briefing rather than PM-designate Heng Swee Keat or the party’s second assistant secretary-general Chan Chun Sing. While the 47-year-old sits on the PAP’s central executive committee, he is not an office-holder.

Asked why he was conducting the briefing, The Straits Times reported that Wong replied, "I'm doing it today but it could have been any one of us. I don't think you need to read too much into who is the spokesperson."

Holding the government to account

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong speaking at a multi-ministry taskforce press conference on 1 June 2020. (PHOTO: MCI)
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong speaking at a multi-ministry taskforce press conference on 1 June 2020. (PHOTO: MCI)

Singh, a Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC MP, had said on Polling Night that even an historic 10 opposition seats is still not a “quantum leap”, as it falls far short of the number required to deny the PAP a two-thirds majority in Parliament. With its existing supermajority, the PAP is able to amend the constitution at will.

In his statement on Sunday, the 43-year-old stressed that questioning the government remains a "fundamental role of a responsible opposition - not just in Singapore, but in any parliamentary democracy anywhere in the world".

"This duty is critical in holding the government to account and it will remain fundamental to the WP's work in Parliament."

For its new term in Parliament, the WP will focus on key bread-and-butter concern such as jobs for Singaporeans, healthcare for seniors and the cost of living. In addition, said Singh, it will also highlight political issues that have a direct impact on transparency, accountability, balance and fairness.

The WP chief also responded to Wong’s comments that the WP tells voters that it only aims to serve as a check on the government because it is “a message they know voters want to hear". Wong added, "I have no doubt that they want to displace the PAP and form the government one day, except that they find it inconvenient to acknowledge this now. And there is nothing wrong with that ambition... It is part of a democracy at work. So we must be clear-eyed about this."

Singh noted that the WP remains far short of its medium-term goal of securing one-third of the elected seats in Parliament. This would require the party to have 32 elected MPs. "Even so, such an outcome would still give the ruling party a very strong mandate with 61 elected seats, allowing it to advance its agenda and policies."

He concluded, "Whatever the expectations the PAP have of the WP, the WP's purpose and approach in Parliament is to advance and achieve better outcomes for Singapore, and to champion the welfare of Singaporeans. We will remain steadfast and fully committed to that cause."

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