PM: Singapore's democratic system evolving over time

PM: Singapore's democratic system evolving over time
PM Lee being interviewed by Asean journalists (above) at the Istana on Thursday. In underlining the country's democratic system, Mr Lee said it works for Singapore even as it evolves.

SINGAPORE'S democratic system has delivered a stable and competent government for its people, but is also evolving over time because society and expectations are changing, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday.

Mr Lee, however, believes that progress will come not from having more opposition MPs in Parliament but from the quality of discussion in Parliament.

He was replying to a journalist from Thailand's Bangkok Post who was in a group of 17 visiting ASEAN journalists who interviewed him on Thursday.

The Thai journalist, raising the issue of democratic development, asked whether there was such a thing as a "Singapore-style" democracy.

Mr Lee, in underlining the country's democratic system, said it works for Singapore even as it evolves. "The way it operates will gradually adjust. So we are looking for our own way forward."

He added: "I don't know if you call it a Singapore model for other people to follow, but it is a model which Singapore is making work for ourselves."

But on whether having more opposition MPs is a sign of progress, Mr Lee was categorical when he stated "it is not the numbers which count, it is what contribution they make".

To him, a responsible opposition is one that raises serious issues which concern the country, offers real alternatives and debates hard choices the country has to make. "That is the duty of the opposition. If they do that, whether they have one member, whether they have 10 members, they are a good opposition. If they don't do that, you may have 20, 30 members, you are not being responsible," he said.

Singapore has 10 opposition MPs - seven elected MPs and three Non-Constituency MPs. The People's Action Party (PAP) holds 79 of the 87 elected seats, of which one is vacant following the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

How did the PAP maintain its popularity for so long, the journalist also asked. "There is no secret," PM Lee said. "You must have policies which are in the interest of the people and you must also show to the people that you actually care for them and you are working for them. And you have to work with them at the ground as well as at the policy level."

One way, he added, is through the Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS), where MPs meet and help residents facing problems, and through constituency activities. As a result of these encounters "three, four times a week", the residents know their MPs, who are able to hold the ground.

The ASEAN journalists attended an MPS by Dr Fatimah Lateef, an MP for Marine Parade GRC, this week, met Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and visited several government agencies.

Despite the MPs' efforts, it does not mean the PAP manages to win over everybody, said Mr Lee, highlighting that in the 2011 General Election, the PAP got 60.1 per cent of the popular vote.

"It is a clear majority but it is not 100 per cent. But that is so in any society. It is not possible however hard you work," he said.

"I would say 60 per cent is a good result," he added.

"That is the way democracy works," he said. "We try our best to bring together people so that we have a broad consensus of support for the Government.

"You may not like everything which the Government does, but on balance, you are prepared to say, 'This Government is not bad. We vote for it'."

PM Lee was also asked how different Singapore would be withoutMr Lee Kuan Yew, and whether he took a leaf out of his father's book.

He replied that while it was sad that Mr Lee Kuan Yew would not be able to celebrate the nation's 50th anniversary in August, a new team has long been in charge. And his father had been preparing Singapore for the day it carries on without him.

"He never stopped making the effort to make Singapore better," he said. "And you have to be able to do that."

He added: "We have to keep on moving forward... It is not so easy to keep on making progress because people have to change. But if you do not make progress, I think we would be finished."

This article was first published on June 6, 2015.
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