Voter-MP bonding key amid winds of change in politics

Voter-MP bonding key amid winds of change in politics
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong chatting with members to the Singapore Cancer Society Support Groups at the Singapore Cancer Society's 50th anniversary celebrations.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong believes that while politics in Singapore will not remain static, how it changes will depend on the voters and the way new PAP MPs and ministers bond with them.

He also drew a comparison with Britain and the United States, where different regions are strongholds of competing political parties, and they tilt one way or the other but "never completely topple over".

But in Singapore, he said: "We are flat. The tallest mountain in Singapore is Bukit Timah so you make one small change, the sky can change.

"That is not a comfortable position to be in, but that is the way our society is and we have to know that."

Mr Lee was responding to a question, in an interview with Singapore media, on how he saw democracy here evolving over the next few decades amid calls for more political diversity.

"It must change. I am not sure which way it will change," he said.

"We are in a very unusual situation where there is a clear consensus for the ruling party. There is a desire for alternative views, yes. But basically Singaporeans want the PAP to govern Singapore.

"If you ask the opposition parties - whether it is the Workers' Party or the Singapore Democratic Party - nobody says 'Vote for me, I will form the government, I will be the prime minister, I will run this place better'."

Hence it is important for the Government to continue to maintain support and be able to carry the consensus of the population over the long term.

But this state of affairs will not remain, he said, and how it changes will also depend on the situations the country faces.

"If you run into turbulent situations, people will be very worried about the dangers and there will be a flight to safety," he said.

"If you are in a peaceful, prosperous environment, people say, 'Well, this is the way the world is, why do you need the government? We can prosper without the government'.

"So there is no safety net. There is no certainty that what we have now is going to continue. And each election is a very serious contest for who is going to form the next government."

Asked what he felt was a healthy version of checks and balances in Parliament, Mr Lee said voters should elect the best person to represent them. In Singapore, there was no possibility of Parliament being all-PAP, with Non-Constituency and Nominated MPs, he said.

"Outside of Parliament, voices are influential too. There is media and new media, blogs build up a following, and so there is no lack of alternative voices."

But voters should ensure those they elect are up to the mark.

"A person who sits in Parliament and is not competent is not going to be a check on the Government. "A person who can be in Parliament and can raise questions, ask and debate and intelligently question what is the Government doing and why are you doing this and not doing that - that is what you need when you are talking about checks and balances."

MPs must be able to operate on the ground too, as a "test of readiness and competence", he added, in an oblique reference to the Workers' Party, which has come under fire from PAP MPs over the management of its Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.

"How you run your town council, whether your constituencies are well managed or not, there is a reason why we put the town councils under the MPs - because we want it to have this test," he said.

Taking up a similar point in his Mandarin interview, he said: "You can do a lot of work if you have a good opposition MP."

He noted that only three PAP members were elected to the Legislative Assembly in Singapore's first election in 1955: Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Lim Chin Siong and Mr Goh Chew Chua.

"Three of them were sufficient to establish a force, so it is about having the best and not the most," he said.

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