Channel NewsAsia

"Passionate" debate an example of constructive politics: MP Zaqy Mohamad

The final day of the five-day debate on the President's address in Parliament saw the hot topic of immigration taking the spotlight.

SINGAPORE: Member of Parliament for Chua Chu Kang GRC Zaqy Mohamad described the five-day debate on the President's address in Parliament, to chart the Government's agenda for the second half of its term as a "robust" and "passionate" debate.

Mr Zaqy, who had tabled the motion of thanks to the President, wrapped up the debate on Friday (May 30). He said MPs conducted themselves with decorum despite differences of opinion, which is a good step forward in constructive politics.

A total of 62 MPs spoke during the five-day debate which featured some vigorous exchange on topics such as constructive politics, immigration and retirement adequacy.

"The passionate discussion and the clashes of ideas we had this week is an example and a good step forward in the direction of constructive politics which means putting Singapore and Singaporeans at the heart of every one of our policy goals," said Mr Zaqy.

A clash of ideas was again displayed on the last day of the debate, with MP for Pioneer Cedric Foo asking opposition member Chen Show Mao what his view was on immigration.

"I would like Mr Chen's comments on whether he welcomes immigrants and whether he would rally the support of Singaporeans to bring in immigrants so that they are on our side, they help us compete, they help us stabilise our society," said Mr Foo.

Mr Chen replied: "Of course we have nothing against immigrants coming to Singapore but we are talking about an orderly growth within limits that hopefully we would have debated and agreed on, and that is not inconsistent with what we have said on immigration on foreign workers in Singapore."

The volley of exchanges prompted Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang to step in.

"Let's make it clear here. We are not anti-immigration. We need to have quality immigrants,” said Mr Low, who is also the MP for Aljunied GRC.

“Secondly, we have to keep Singaporeans’ core strong. I think it is too simplified to assume that when immigrants come to Singapore, they will integrate in Singapore and be part of Singapore. I think it's not that simple."

MP for West Coast GRC Arthur Fong also spoke on the issue of immigrants, warning that xenophobia should not take root in Singapore. He cited the example of how organisers of the Philippine Independence Day celebrations had decided to drop the event after being slammed by netizens for wanting to hold it at Orchard Road.

“Xenophobia, I hope, will not take root but this group has been organising it for many years, I'm told 20 years, and this time round we have this reaction from Singaporeans,” said Mr Fong.

“I think this is a shot across the bow to tell us to re-look and examine ourselves. Look at our society. Is this what we want? And if this takes root, what kind of Singapore will we have? We need to be aware and keep this in view so that we will not polarise."

MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC Seng Han Thong suggested ways the Government can "actively maintain and promote constructive politics" through online and offline platforms in various languages. This includes sharing more information with citizens, especially the vested interest groups, before formulating long term policies affecting their livelihood or lifestyle.

He said these platforms should not be top-down, but one where all can talk and discuss good ideas.

"The coffee shops and new media are also platforms for constructive politics if the participants are well informed and the Government has an overall strategy to engage them with short and sharp messages and adequate information sharing,” said Mr Seng.

“In fact, market stalls, provision shops and shopping malls are also places where ordinary Singaporeans exchange views and information daily and instantly."

Mr Zaqy noted that while the Government has laid out its plans in areas such as healthcare, housing, manpower and education, it is all still very much a work in progress. He said that what this parliament debate has shown is that the Government has the interest of Singapore and Singaporeans at heart.

"I also note that members have given general recognition to the Government's efforts in improving the lives of Singaporeans in the last three years and responding to their immediate concerns,” said Mr Zaqy.

“This Government has clearly shown that it is about the people, and for the people. Regardless of positions taken, members pointed out concerns and suggested solutions on issues including healthcare, ageing, retirement adequacy, making Singaporeans lives better and many more."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indicated on Facebook late Friday, that even though the debate is over, the Government will continue working on issues such as refining the Central Provident Fund system to better provide for Singaporeans when they retire. He said he will have more to share during the National Day Rally.

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna