Pluralism in Parliament: It's the quality that counts, not the quantity

 Pluralism in Parliament: It's the quality that counts, not the quantity
PHOTO: The Straits Times

More is not better when it comes to the Opposition in Parliament, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

"It's the quality which counts. It's not the numbers," he said at a People's Action Party (PAP) press conference, hours after candidate nominations closed at noon.

He set out this argument in response to a question on the growing desire among Singaporeans for greater pluralism in Parliament.

Mr Lee, who is the ruling party's secretary-general, pointed out that the PAP had only three members elected to the legislative assembly in the 1955 General Election: Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Lim Chin Siong and Mr Goh Chew Chua.

"They established such a reputation for themselves, especially Mr Lee Kuan Yew, that in 1959, they swept the general election and formed the Government," he said.

The PAP won 43 out of the 51 seats in the legislative assembly general election that year.

In contrast, the last Parliament had 10 opposition MPs.

Seven were elected MPs from the Workers' Party, two were WP Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs), and one was an NCMP from the Singapore People's Party.

The performance of the opposition, said Mr Lee, "frankly, has been disappointing".

He highlighted what he saw as a disparity between their fierce speeches on the hustings and their low-key Parliament performance. "You voted for a tiger in the chamber and you got a mouse in the House," he told voters.

The "fierce, rousing" arguments made during rallies are not brought up by the same opposition politicians in parliamentary sittings, he said.

"They know that in Parliament, if they raise those issues, face to face in debate, they will be pinned down and the fallacies and the insincerities and the untruths will be exposed... So they remain quiet.

"It's one of these Frankenstein monsters... Every night, it turns into a tiger and every day, it turns into a mouse," he said.

But Mr Lee also acknowledged that political moods change, and the current PAP has to forge its own relationship with the electorate.

The bond that Singapore's pioneer generation had with the founding members of the PAP is not easily replicated, as it emerged through the crucible of nation-building, he said.

These included going through crises, solving problems and experiencing success together.

"The new Government and a new population have to find their own ways to bond together, through new experiences," said Mr Lee.

This article was first published on Sept 2, 2015.
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