Exchange raises questions on role of opposition

Exchange raises questions on role of opposition
Responding to The Straits Times' queries yesterday, Mr Low said the WPCF builds on the party's previous charity efforts while drawing a line between political work and social and charity work.

SINGAPORE - Yesterday's rare verbal sparring between the two leaders of the elected parties in Parliament was fascinating to watch.

Indeed, the other members of the House sat silent, enthralled as the action unfolded for 15 minutes.

But the exchange also raised important questions for both parties, and for voters about the role of the opposition in an environment of constructive politics.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in outlining in detail what is needed to have constructive politics, accused the Workers' Party (WP) of not meeting expectations of what an opposition should be.

In strongly worded criticisms of the first opposition party to win a GRC, PM Lee said in no uncertain terms that the WP is a substandard party, with no alternative policies, and no clear stand.

He said that while the WP may not have all the resources at hand to design specific schemes, it does "have a responsibility to say which direction are we going and that direction has to be set clearly".

It has to explain to Singaporeans what the party stands for, and that cannot simply be what the People's Action Party (PAP) is doing "and a little better".

"That means you have no stand. Whatever the PAP's standing, ask them to do better. That's easy, I can do that too," he said.

What the opposition should be doing in a First World Parliament, he said, using the WP's own slogan in the 2011 General Election against it, is stating clearly in principle "what are the big issues which deserve to be debated and not elided over and avoided in the House".

The issue of constructive politics, and what it is, has been a hot topic of debate over the last three days.

It began with President Tony Tan Keng Yam's call in his May 16 address for constructive politics that puts the interests of the nation and people first, and where after vigorous debates, opposing parties move on together.

But WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang turned it around, criticising the PAP Government for not creating the environment for constructive politics. He also called for changes to inculcate the right political values, have a more conducive political culture and strengthen trust in public institutions.

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