First time Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) shared some thoughts about his “unforgettable” exchange with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the fourth day of Parliament sitting on Thursday (3 September).
In a Facebook post, Mr Leong thanked PM Lee for his “frankness with Singaporeans” when he talked about the lessons he and his cabinet learnt from their experience dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and commended the PM for not shying away from admitting areas in which the government could have done better.
Mr Leong also noted PM Lee’s concerns about the future of Singapore’s politics, in particular the comment he made about how Singaporeans who voted opposition are “free riders”, as well as his remarks on the opposition’s approach of “squandering the reserves”.
However, while he “empathises” with the PM’s concerns, Mr Leong said, “I also differ in my thinking on these matters.”
Mr Leong—who is serving in Parliament for the first time in his political career—emphasised his belief that Singaporeans are seeking for a “better balanced Parliament” and have a desire for “good government and a strong opposition”.
He added that voting for such an outcome will not necessarily lead to the slippery slope that the Prime Minister alluded to in his speech.
Mr Leong said: “Singaporeans who vote for the opposition are not resting on the assumption that other Singaporeans will vote in the PAP as government for them, but rather they are aware of the supermajority of [approximately] 90% that the PAP currently holds in Parliament and for them, it also represents leeway for them to increase the balance between a strong government and a strong opposition that can both speak for the whole spectrum of different voices in Singapore.”
He added, though, that this doesn’t mean voters will just vote anyone in, stressing that voters have shown “great discernment” in who they choose to vote in from the opposition.
Mr Leong explained that as long as the PAP supermajority remains, there is a “buffer” for Singaporeans to vote in more opposition politicians into parliament. Once that new balance is achieved, however, “Singaporeans will then be very careful about the PAP losing power and they will remain cognisant of what the country needs.”
Tapping into the reserves will benefit future Singaporeans as well
Mr Leong went on to clarify his position on social safety nets, emphasising that when the opposition asks about the nation’s reserves, it is not with the intent of draining it completely but to seek shorter term relief from the current financial situation.
“The claim that there will be a knock-on effect of continuous withdrawal from the reserves, year after year is misleading,” he chided.
PM Lee raised the issue of using the reserves when he criticised the opposition, namely the Workers’ Party, for asking about the size of the country’s reserves.
Mr Lee said, “(They are saying), show me how much we have in our reserves before I decide whether to support your Budget and tax plans… Basically, they are asking: I have something in the bank already. How much of it can I touch?”
Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh countered by saying that his party’s proposal to slow the growth rate of the reserves without touching the principal sum is not unusual, stressing that when the WP raises this issue, it was not with the intent of raiding the national coffers.
In his post, Mr Leong further explained that the financial relief provided to Singaporeans via proposals which involved tapping into the reserves will give them peace of mind, and enable them to plan for the future and work to improve their financial prospects independently.
“In crises like this, as the PM pointed, fears for the future abound and they are not without basis in today’s context.
“Even marginal financial relief can empower entrepreneurial Singaporeans, giving them a stable financial base to tide them through the early bumps in their journey to value innovation,” said the NCMP.
He went on, “It seems to me that a false dichotomy has been struck between keeping the reserves intact for future generations and taking out money to look after the current generation and our pioneers, when it is in fact not the case that you cannot achieve both at once.”
Mr Leong suggested that instead of viewing tapping into the reserves as “Singaporeans squandering away an inheritance,” it should be seen as using some of these funds now in order to add to it for future Singaporeans.
As a final note, the first time NCMP admitted to feeling slightly nervous during his first exchange with PM Lee, though assured the public that he will “continue to strive to do better in speaking up for Singaporeans.”