SINGAPORE - Whether or not the People's Action Party (PAP) can continue to run the Government depends on how well it acquits itself and continues to build on the successes of the past, and on Singaporeans themselves, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Similarly, there can be no straight-line predictions that because the opposition has 40 per cent of the vote, it will not be long before it takes over government, he said, during a dialogue at Chatham House, a think-tank, on Friday.
He was responding to dialogue chairman and former British secretary of defence and transport Malcolm Rifkind, who commented that given that the opposition had scored 40 per cent of the vote in the last general election in 2011, it was "not a long way from overtaking you and taking over power".
Mr Lee replied: "I don't think you can draw straight lines like that. In politics, things never progress in linear fashion. In the end, people will have to decide in Singapore on what government they want and whom they want to run their government.
"And the opposition in the last election did not stand to run for government, in fact the contrary, they made a point to say they are not going to run for government, please vote for me."
To this, Mr Rifkind said it was either not to be believed, or there was a "very odd thing going on".
Mr Lee's rejoinder: "The odd thing going on is that in Singapore, people actually know that the Government generally is doing the right thing.
"But they'd like somebody to be there to put a bit more chilli on the Government's tail."
The exchange began when Mr Rifkind noted that the PAP had been in power for more than half a century and if this was healthy.
Mr Lee said that there were advantages in ensuring continuity but also change within that continuity. For a small country, discontinuous change could be disruptive and dangerous.
Importantly, the system has been renewed with several changes of the guard and leaders who can "move with the times with the population".
"Whether we can do that, whether we can maintain that position of trust and dominance in the system over the long term depends on Singaporeans and also how well we acquit ourselves and we establish ourselves in our own rights, not just as heirs to the success, but creators and builders on what the previous generation achieved."
Pressed on whether it was tenable that if 40 per cent of opposition votes still ended with, say 10 seats in Parliament, given the first-past-the-post system, Mr Lee said the system seeks to be representative with Non-Constituency MPs and Nominated MPs.
He said that for the opposition, it was "politic not to propound policies or alternatives" in Parliament but to snipe from time to time and when elections are held, to try and rouse the people.
During the one-hour dialogue, Mr Lee was also asked wide-ranging questions on matters from China-Japan ties, to regional politics in South-east Asia and global economic growth.
On how Singapore managed to survive the global financial crisis of 2008 and whether it would be able to avert future crises such as the effects of a debt crisis in Japan or a banking meltdown in China, Mr Lee said there was "no armour". As a small country, it feels the effects of any global downturn quickly and one result of the outflows of capital from that crisis into Asia has led to Singapore's own property market moving.
"We have had a very tough fight trying to manage this and hold back the waters and stabilise the property market," he said.
Singapore also had resources to quell any sudden panic and to help workers and companies cope, including helping them pay workers Central Provident Fund contributions in the Wage Credit Scheme, for example.
"We sailed through with hardly any increase in unemployment and the storm passed faster than we expected," he said.
On any other "cataclysm" happening any time soon, he said: "It depends what exactly happens; we keep our powder dry, we have reserves, we have people who are hard-working, we have unionists who...work with us to solve problems in a way which is win-win and benefits workers...we are not at odds within ourselves, so we can unite to fight the problems which face us from the rest of the world."
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