Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Minister K Shanmugam used to have their differences as seen in the following video clip when they were both debating each other on TV around 1990.
At the time, the young Balakrishnan had not joined the People’s Action Party (PAP) yet. Shanmugam was already a PAP MP by then.
He joined the PAP team contesting Sembawang GRC in the 1988 general election. The PAP team won, and Shanmugam became an MP representing the Chong Pang ward of Sembawang GRC.
At the time of the debate, Balakrishnan raised the issue that government ministers had been questioning the loyalty of certain segments of the society to Singapore. Shanmugam, a lawyer by training, was defending on behalf of the PAP government.
Vivian Balakrishnan: I’m of the younger generation. We’ve grown up the past 20 years with a fairly good propaganda machine which led us to believe that we were all Singaporeans regardless of race, language and religion.
Vivian Balakrishnan: Recently however, you have government ministers questioning the loyalty of certain segments of our society to this nation. You have government concerned at differential reproductive rates among the different races. You have talked of topping up deficits in these reproductive rates and you have all these figures and playing of games with numbers as to how to ossify the racial proportions in Singapore as if that was some kind of magic formula.
Vivian Balakrishnan: “For stability, you can’t expect people to be loyal to you when you question the loyalty outright at the beginning as your first premise. That is the surest way of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
K Shanmugam: I’d like to go back to the questions raised by vivian. The way i perceive it is that for the first 25 years anyway, the focus was on developing that common culture, a strong bond within and of late, the emphasis has been maybe slightly shifted and it’s moved over to emphasizing the individual cultural identities, perhaps as a realization that we were losing what little we had by trying to forge something. So, it may be a difference of perception rather than one of a propaganda machine putting forward a certain line, trying to get to the first level of common unity and then from there on trying to develop the individual cultural identities, and hope that the common cultural identity will evolve slowly.
Vivian Balakrishnan: How can you get to the first level by questioning someone’s loyalty?
K Shanmugam: Granted you cannot question loyalty if you want loyalty. But at the same time, if you feel, now Ii do not say that I agree or disagree with this, but let me put this as a hypothesis if you feel that a certain factual matrix exists, is it better to face it and see how you can overcome the problem or is it better to avoid it and not talk about it?
Vivian Balakrishnan: That’s precisely the problem. What evidence does the government have or what facts does the government have to make a statement questioning the loyalty of certain segments of our society?
K Shanmugam: I don’t think that statement was ever made. I think that’s the way some people have perceived it. I think what was said was with a frank attitude of trying to discuss the issue of why, um maybe you know the.., we have to try and bring the Malaysian into the street mainstream and why they are not in. That sort of question and answer section I think has been blown out of proportion into one of questioning the loyalty.
Balakrishnan eventually also joined the PAP some 10 years later after that debate, and made his political debut at the 2001 general election as part of the five-member PAP team contesting in Holland–Bukit Panjang GRC. Balakrishnan immediately became an MP through walkover when the GRC went uncontested.
Today, Shanmugam and Balakrishnan have both become neighbours together, staying at 26 and 31 Ridout Road respectively.
Both are luxurious colonial bungalows leased to them by the PAP government. Both ministers have chosen to stay next to each other as neighbours.
Joining the PAP together does seem to help mend differences.