SINGAPORE - Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat believes a more adversarial political system will not be good for Singapore.
Instead, what the country needs is a "certain political maturity" in which people are encouraged to come up with different ideas on how to get things done, said Mr Heng, tipped to lead the ruling People's Action Party and be the next prime minister.
"At the end of the day, the country cannot be going in 10 different directions, because then we go nowhere," he said, stressing that it is important that energy is not frittered away on disagreements.
"What is important is that having debated the options, we agree - let us do this, or let us do that."
He was responding to Mr John Teo of Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times, who had asked if Singapore's political system needs to evolve into a more adversarial one, with "more team rivalry even within the same party".
Mr Heng said that worldwide, systems that have done well and delivered a better life for their people are those that are prepared to deal with differences, but not in an adversarial way.
"I prefer to be a constructive problem solver," Mr Heng told Mr Teo, one of eight journalists who met him last Saturday (July 27) as part of this year's Malaysian Journalists Visit Programme. "If there are problems, let us work together to see how best we can solve them, in as constructive a way as possible, that can meet the needs of as many people as possible."
"And if there are differences that we cannot agree on, we should set them aside and say, let these differences not impede us from cooperating closely to achieve things that we can achieve. I think that is a more practical way."
The programme, which was jointly organised by the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gives foreign journalists a sense of key policies in Singapore.
Mr Firdaus Azil from TV news channel Astro Awani also asked the Deputy Prime Minister what his "ideal Singapore" looks like.
It is one in which every Singaporean feels that this is a country where they can realise their potential and fulfil their aspirations, Mr Heng said.
To this end, the Government emphasises education, job creation and economic transformation. It also ensures that seniors' healthcare needs are met through schemes such as the Pioneer and Merdeka Generation packages, he added.
On the regional front, he underlined the importance of working with other Asean members to achieve economic progress. The regional grouping has brought peace and stability to the whole region and all member countries have grown economically, he said.
"If we can work closely together to make sure that we do not end up with a financial crisis, and that if there is a financial crisis elsewhere in the world, we can all maintain our systems well, like what we did during the global financial crisis, I think that will enable us to continue to achieve progress," he said.
Asked for his thoughts on being poised to take up the mantle of prime minister in the future, Mr Heng said that his focus is, at present, on restructuring the Singapore economy to catch up with global changes.
"Our term of government is up to April 2021. We want to make the best use of the time to ensure that we deliver on the policies, and that we can help to improve the lives of our people over this period," he told Mr Joe Chaw of Oriental Daily News.
Ms Marlissa Mohammad Kamal of Sinar Harian asked how Singaporeans can treasure their racial and religious harmony, to which Mr Heng replied that they must celebrate diversity and promote deeper understanding among different faiths.
"For instance, in the area of religion, I think it is important for us to respect what each of us believe."
He highlighted that Singapore has laws on the maintenance of religious harmony, and that leaders from the Inter-Religious Organisation meet regularly to discuss what can be done to promote deeper understanding.
"And of course, we must start from young, in our schools," he said. "Because when our kids go to school and they interact with people from different faiths, they must learn to appreciate that diversity."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.