In response to a question posted at a meeting with visiting journalists from Malaysia on Saturday (27 Jul), Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said that a more “adversarial” system of politics with “plenty of disagreements” will not be good for Singapore.
“I will say that even across the world, the systems which have operated well in delivering a better life for their people have been systems in which people are prepared to deal with differences, but not in an adversarial way,” he said.
Heng who is also the Finance Minister said that there needs to be a certain political maturity where people are encouraged to come up with different ideas of doing things.
“But at the end of the day, the country cannot be going in 10 different directions because then we go nowhere,” he said.
What is important, he said, is for people to have debated the options and agree on a course of action. It does not mean everyone will agree on everything all the time, but they must find as many areas as possible that are in agreement and work on these, he added.
“I think that it is very important that our energy is not frittered with plenty of disagreements and, in fact, going into an adversarial system because that does not solve the problem,” he reiterated.
Without adversaries, PAP becomes “fat” and takes things for granted
But then again, when a country is dominated by a single political party for decades without any adversaries, it can become “fat” and start to take things for granted, even implementing policies that can harm the interests of its citizens.
A case in point is the unpopular 6.9 million Population White Paper put up by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) government and was quickly endorsed by the PAP-dominated Parliament back in 2013.
Many Singaporeans were already feeling the squeeze by its “open-door” foreign talent policy with many Singaporeans being squeezed out of their jobs by the huge influx of foreigners. Yet, the PAP government decided that they would want to import even more foreigners onto the island state.
In early Feb 2013, the PAP government rammed its white paper through the Parliament which was dominated by PAP MPs in an overwhelming 77 votes to 13, to endorse the white paper. The paper sets a target of 6.9 million population (about 30% growth) in Singapore by 2030.
The Parliamentary endorsement of the white paper triggered one of Singapore’s largest ever protests, with more than 4,000 Singaporeans protested at Hong Lim Park a week later. The protest made headlines in world news with some newspapers like the South China Morning Post even publishing the news on its front page.
The large scale public protest was the first in Singapore since its independence in 1965. It just shows that the PAP after winning numerous general elections for more than half a century is beginning to lose touch with the ground.