SINGAPORE - The call in last week's Presidential Address for "constructive politics" elicited an attempt by Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang to define it yesterday, a move that prompted a swift rebuttal from the People's Action Party (PAP) MPs and leaders.
Both sides crossed swords over the meaning of the term, which President Tony Tan Keng Yam has described as politics that puts people and the nation first while eschewing populist politics that could lead to gridlock and weaken Singapore.
Mr Low, who devoted his entire speech to the subject during the debate on the Presidential Address, made the first move, suggesting it was a reference to "compliant politics". He also suggested the PAP was engaging in rhetoric.
It drew a strong rebuttal from Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah, who questioned if the WP was capable of "constructive politics" which she said is real, not rhetoric, and requires integrity and responsibility.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also weighed in with a Facebook post last night, stating that the purpose of politics was to make a difference in people's lives and to build a better Singapore.
"Constructive politics is key to realising our dreams... Politics purely for the sake of power, without any notion of what we want Singapore to become, will lead us to disaster," he said.
But in Mr Low's view, constructive politics is about the outcome of the political process.
"It does not happen by the order of the Government. Nor does it happen through a national conversation or public consultation."
It requires inculcating political values in youth, building a political culture that is free from bullying, abuse of power or fear, and establishing institutions that are impartial and hence, trusted by the people, he said.
To this end, the veteran MP called for a review of the National Education syllabus so that young people understood their rights, obligations and values as citizens in a democratic society.
"I believe Singapore will be a more stable and mature democracy if Singaporeans are in possession of democratic values."
He also urged Singaporeans to decide through the ballot box the political culture they want.