The character of constructive politics

The character of constructive politics
Mr Sean McMenamin (holding microphone) speaking during the Our Singapore Conversation session on affordable housing held on 29 May 2013. During the three-hour session, home owners and buyers debated different ways to make resale and Build-To-Order (BTO) flats more affordable.

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke on the importance of "constructive politics" in Parliament yesterday during the debate on the President's Address. Below are excerpts, followed by a transcript of the exchange that ensued between Mr Lee and Workers' Party leader Low Thia Khiang.

Prime Minister Lee: As the President said: "We must maintain constructive politics that put our nation and our people first."

Politics cannot just be about politics alone, because Singaporeans' lives and our futures are at stake. If you are entering politics, the first question you must ask is, "What do you stand for? What do you believe in? What do you want to achieve in politics for Singaporeans?"

So I found it striking that when Mr Low Thia Khiang spoke on Monday on behalf of the Opposition, responding to the President's Address setting out the Government's agenda and programme for the second half of the term, he had nothing to say about the substance of the Government's programme. No critiques, no suggestions, no alternatives. Nothing.

There are many sorts of politics. And we've got to get our politics right. We don't want money politics. We don't want power politics. We don't want racial politics. We don't want the politics of envy.

Constructive politics can help us to scale new heights. Wrong politics will doom us.

So when Mr Low Thia Khiang said: "To me, whatever way politics is described and coloured, it is still politics" - that was a breathtakingly cynical view of politics. What is constructive politics?

First, it means developing effective policies for Singaporeans, solving problems, creating opportunities, improving the lives of people. It means having good policies, making difficult trade-offs but persuading people, leading people to get things done. It means putting forward good people to lead. People capable of integrity and character who can represent Singapore with distinction, who can serve Singapore in an outstanding way.

Institutions are important, yes. But equally critical is the quality of the ministers and the MPs and of those who aspire to be ministers and MPs.

Thirdly, constructive politics means having a robust and open debate. Not just engaging in "soundbite politics", if I may quote Dr (Janil) Puthucheary.

You must have a robust and open debate to ensure that proposals are scrutinised, are debated, are argued, so that we find out what the strengths are, identify the weaknesses and the problems, and we come up with the best ideas and solutions for Singaporeans.

I am very disappointed that the Opposition has offered very little of this in this Parliament.

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