Fiery debate puts focus on 'constructive politics'

Fiery debate puts focus on 'constructive politics'
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 - If the tone of the first day of Parliament debate is anything to go by, the second half promises to be full of fireworks.

Within an hour into a new Parliament session, Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang took to the lectern with guns blazing and delivered a strongly critical speech of the People's Action Party (PAP) and its notion of what is "constructive politics".

Speaking in English from a drafted text, Mr Low pointed to President Tony Tan Keng Yam's call for upholding constructive politics, and said that while he agreed that constructive politics is what should be aimed for, the WP and the PAP have vastly different understandings of what that actually means.

"We must all remember constructive politics does not happen by the order of the Government. Nor does it happen through a national conversation or public consultation," he said. "To achieve the outcome of constructive politics in a diverse and open society, like those in mature democracies, and to nurture an environment conducive for it requires much effort, and everyone across society has his part to play."

Setting out his view, he said constructive politics involves inculcating democratic political values in young people, building a political culture that is free from bullying, fear and abuse of power, and having institutions that are politically impartial and hence trusted by the people.

Instead of promoting constructive politics, he added, recent moves by the PAP Government to require online news sites to register "could result in a loss of valuable political diversity" if it leads to bloggers having to close down their websites. "This smells of compliant politics and not constructive politics."

The PAP shot back through its lawyer MPs Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) and Indranee Rajah (Tanjong Pagar GRC), who is also the Senior Minister of State for Education and Law.

Mr Nair said it was "a little bit tragic if the focus is going to be on politics and not the policies that will help people".

Ms Indranee took up the same theme, noting that Mr Low's speech had focused almost entirely on politics with hardly any mention of the policies outlined in the President's Address.

She went further, and accused the WP of flip-flopping on its policy stands, by asking for more foreign workers to be let in one year and then saying there should be a freeze the next. She also questioned its integrity in town council management to show that the WP itself has not been engaging in constructive politics.

She added that "perhaps Mr Low has no constructive alternatives (for) the challenges that we face... or with the recent woes of his town council, he wishes to create an impression that nothing is wrong and that the Government is out to fix them".

Mr Low jumped up to defend his party, saying it had not flip-flopped, and even raised the ante by challenging Ms Indranee to file a motion to debate the matter.

It was the highlight of a full day of debate on the President's Address which outlined the Government's plans for the rest of its term after a month-long break.

While 19 MPs rose to speak on a variety of issues, offering salient critiques and suggestions of policies related to the Central Provident Fund scheme and retirement needs, and on education and training to improve social mobility, it is likely that Mr Low's speech will be the one most people remember.

He spoke on an issue that appeals to a younger generation who want more space for political debate and more competition.

Mr Low noted: "They expect better standards befitting a First World Singapore not only in terms of hardware like physical infrastructure and efficient services, but also software like quality of life, as well as in politics and government response."

But it is also significant since he was asserting that what might be considered constructive politics is not for the Government alone to determine.

Indeed, this issue was also touched on by other MPs including Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam, and Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC).

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