SINGAPORE — The Government will take an open and constructive approach to policies amid a stronger opposition presence in Parliament, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (2 September).
He also applauded Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh for “his tone and his approach” in describing how he intends to perform his role.
“The Government benches will do our part to work with him, to keep Parliament a constructive forum for debate,” said Lee.
Speaking during the parliamentary debate on the President’s Address, Lee said that with more opposition MPs in the House, he expects the tone of the debate to shift. Apart from the 10 elected MPs from the Workers’ Party led by Singh, there are also two Non-Constituency MPs from the Progress Singapore Party.
Ministers and MPs from the ruling People’s Action Party will have to “raise their game, be prepared for sharper questioning, and defend the government’s policies and decisions, while speaking up for their constituents,” he said.
They must also be prepared for more substantive debates.
However, Lee also expressed hope that the opposition will also step up and go beyond asking questions and criticising government proposals to “put up serious proposals and ideas of their own to be examined and debated (and if found meritorious, adopted) to show that they are willing and able to play their part as a loyal opposition”.
The prime minister said the government will be open-minded and listen to different voices, and take in constructive views and perspectives.
But where there are major issues concerning the fundamental interests of the country, the government cannot wait passively for consensus, he said.
“At the end of the discussion if there are still different views, the government will have to make the decision that it judges best, and take responsibility for it. Having been elected to govern, we must govern. It is the government’s duty to make such decisions, and to be accountable to the people for them,” he added.
In his speech, Lee also said that it is good to have “an adequate number” of opposition MPs in the House – to keep the government on its toes and show the public that “the government has nothing to hide, and will answer all questions, however awkward”.
But the adversarial dynamic inherent in the Westminster Parliament system can go wrong, he noted.
“We all hope that diversity will make a hundred flowers bloom,” he said. “But how do we prevent diversity from producing polarisation? How do we make sure that disagreement does not result in paralysis?”
Lee cautioned that if Singapore goes down the route of partisanship and its politics becomes toxic and bitter, the country will not just cease to be exceptional, but “it will be the end of us”.
To make Singapore’s politics work, the government and opposition must share an overriding objective to work for Singapore, and not just for a political party or its supporters, he said.
“Our debate must be based on principles and facts, and guided by shared ideals and goals. MPs must speak up for what they sincerely believe in...We must be in politics in order to protect Singapore’s security, grow our economy and secure our future,” he added.
“Ultimately, what sort of politics Singapore has, depends on Singaporeans themselves.”
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