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Singapore needs leaders willing to make sacrifices, not just fair-weather candidates

Singapore needs leaders who are willing to stay the course and make tough decisions which they will carry out, instead of fair-weather candidates who enter into politics only in good times, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Monday (20 January).

Speaking at the Institute of Policy Studies’ Singapore Perspective Conference, Mr Chan said that the government finds it easier to select people in the toughest of times.

“On the other hand, when times are good, there are many people who want to step forward, and you really have to be careful who you choose,” he added.

Mr Chan, a former Major-General in the Singapore Armed Forces before his political career, was answering a question by Ms Lee Huay Leng who asked about the challenges in getting people to enter into politics. Ms Lee, the head of Singapore Press Holdings’ Chinese Media Group, was moderating a dialogue with Mr Chan.

The Minister elaborated that prospective political candidates are sometimes deterred from politics due to the intense scrutiny that they and their families will face, especially now with social media.

However, there are those who are “prepared to put aside their personal interest- and to some extent, their families’ interests – in service of the country”, he added.

Mr Chan explained that the challenge of getting new faces into politics isn’t just finding those with intellect but also those with the right motivations and values.

“The first order of business is how do you get people with the right values in, and to the best of our efforts, we may still get it wrong,” he said.

“Once they are in, how do we gel them into a coherent team – that they do not love themselves more than they love the country?”

Ensuring that policies evolve with the times

Apart from the query on new political faces, Mr Chan also talked about governmental policies.

When asked by former senior minister of state for foreign affairs and current former non-resident ambassador of Singapore to Kuwait, Zainul Abidin Rasheed, about areas of policy that the government should revisit, Mr Chan said that there are ongoing efforts from tracking broad geopolitical shifts to changes in the local society.

“We cannot assume that just because we have got certain things right at this point in time, that this will always be right,” he said. “That would be a very, very bad mistake.”

Using the rise of inter-ethnic marriages in Singapore as an example, Mr Chan noted that the strategy of compartmentalising people according to race is something that has to change.

“The complexion of our society will definitely change in the upcoming years,” he hinted. “And if all these things are going to change, then we have to seriously ask ourselves, every step of the way, are our policies still right and relevant?”

Suggestion to make EBRC completely independent

Another question asked of Mr Chan was whether it is possible to have the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) to be entirely independent of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

This was asked by Assistant Professor Walid Jumblatt of Nanyang Technological University’s Public Policy and Global Affairs Programme.

Mr Chan responded that the EBRC comprises of public servants familiar with issues of population and demographic changes, noting that he has never doubted their independence.

“No matter who does the work, how it is done, you have to report to somebody and present it to be approved and issued,” he said.

Assoc. Prof Walid also suggested limiting the sizes of GRCs to a maximum of two representatives, saying that “if the intention is minority representation, we do not need more than two people”.

On this note, Mr Chan explained that EBRC has already received instructions from the Prime Minister to reduce the average size of GRCs and form more single-member constituencies.

He continued, “So, we have to wait for the EBRC’s work to be done before we make any comments.”

It was announced last year that the EBRC was convened by the Prime Minister on 1 August and it has been deliberating since then on the electoral boundaries for the upcoming general election. Generally, the process of a review can take between two to four months before a report is submitted to the Prime Minister – though this time it has been nearly six months since the committee was formed.

The country’s next general election has to be held by 15 April 2021.

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