It is very important for Singapore to get its politics right because constructive politics will help it scale new heights, but wrong politics will doom it, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday.
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Here is an excerpt from PM Lee's speech in Parliament on constructive politics, in point form:
Getting politics right
- We have policies to create a better Singapore for the future
a. Key to realising these policies is to get our politics right
b. As President said, we must "maintain constructive politics that puts our nation and our people first"
- Politics cannot just be about politics alone
a. Singaporeans' lives and Singapore's future are at stake
b. What do you stand for? What do you believe in? What do you want to achieve in politics?
c. Hence striking that Mr Low Thia Khiang's speech, on behalf of the opposition, responding to the President's Address setting out the government's programme for the second half of the term, had nothing to say about the substance of the government's programme. No critiques, no suggestions, no alternatives - nothing
- There are many sorts of politics, and we need to get ours right
a. Not money politics, power politics, racial politics, the politics of envy
b. Constructive politics can help us scale new heights
c. Wrong politics will doom us
d. So when Low Thia Khiang said that "To me, in whatever way 'politics' is described and coloured, it is still politics", that was a breathtakingly cynical view of politics
- What is constructive politics?
- First, developing effective policies for Singaporeans
a. Solving problems, creating opportunities, improving lives of people (Indranee Rajah, Lee Bee Wah, Jessica Tan)
b. Means having good policies, making difficult trade-offs, leading people to get things done
- Second, putting forward good people to lead
a. Must have capable people of integrity and character
b. Institutions are important, but equally critical is the quality of the Ministers and MPs, and those who aspire to be Ministers and MPs
- Third, having a robust and open debate, and not just engaging in "soundbite politics" (Janil Puthucheary)
a. Ensuring proposals are scrutinised, debated and argued
b. So that we have the best ideas for Singapore
c. Disappointed that opposition has offered very little of this in Parliament
d. But scrutiny must extend beyond policies, to personalities too
i. To demand high standards of them
ii. Not through anonymous innuendos and insinuation, especially online, that deter good people from entering politics
iii. But responsibly, through open, direct raising of pertinent questions, and establishing the truth, to prevent incompetent, dishonest or self-serving people from getting into positions of responsibility
iv. Certainly if ever a PAP MP were accused of making false and untruthful statements, I would get to the bottom of the matter
- Fourth, maintaining high standards of integrity
a. Honesty is an absolute necessity
b. The key differentiator between politics in Singapore and in many other countries
c. We cannot allow flawed people to be immune from scrutiny, because in politics "we only discuss policies, not personalities" or we believe in "live and let live"
- Fifth, rallying people together around a common cause
a. Enable us to achieve our broad objectives, and accommodate our differences
b. More difficult now because society more diverse, interests less aligned
c. Yet more important, to navigate our next phase successfully
d. If we end up with factional politics, each group pushing for single issues (e.g. beyond the issues of race, religion and language, we also have NIMBY, green agenda, and those for and against gay rights) or dividing society to gain political advantage, then our politics would have failed Singapore
- Constructive politics depends on what we as political leaders do, how we act, the decisions we make, the standards we hold ourselves to
a. Values, culture, institutions are all important
b. But do not blame culture and institutions for our own decisions and choices
c. Have the courage and honesty to take responsibility for what we say and do
d. Quote Janil Puthucheary: "What you say and how you say it are both important, as are what you choose to say nothing about. When you fail to acknowledge the good, when you avoid discussion of consequences and trade-offs, when you spend a whole speech attacking one point you disagree with and fail to support all the other points you should agree with, when you incite division in the name of diversity, when you silently support xenophobia in the name of nationalism, these are not the markers of good politics, no matter how much debate and diversity of opinion they reflect."
- The PAP does our best to practise constructive politics
a. Offering serious policies and debating trade-offs even when issues are sensitive, e.g. with the Population White Paper
b. Upholding the highest standards of integrity, e.g. admitting wrongdoings even when it is politically inconvenient or embarrassing
c. Representing a broad church where Singaporeans accommodate one another to improve our shared goals
d. Engaging all Singaporeans on our shared future, e.g. through the OSC, MediShield-Life consultations, etc. - thank Singaporeans for contributing
- Opposition parties must uphold same standards too
a. Case in point: Indranee Rajah on Monday pointed out the WP has flip-flopped on foreign workers
b. Low Thia Khiang denied this. He said "whether we flip-flop… No. We are not. If she wishes to have a full debate on that please file a motion, we are prepared to debate that."
c. Mr Low's denial is simply false. WP did flip-flop. The record is there in the Hansard, for everyone to see
d. But his suggestion to file a motion is not a bad idea
- Many other countries have gotten in trouble because they have not gotten their politics to work, e.g.
a. US: Political gridlock has shut down the US Government, and prevented US from tackling its long-term structural problems
b. Thailand: Despite having the forms of democracy (Constitution, free media, elections, etc), its politics cannot bridge fundamental divides in society. No election or Constitution can solve this problem unless the political leaders address these fundamental issues and lead the country together and not apart
- We must maintain constructive politics in Singapore
a. Develop good policies to solve people's problems
b. Encourage good people of integrity and character to serve
c. Help us make common cause together, to face our future confidently as one people
d. Ask all MPs and political parties to join us in this effort