- POSTED: 28 May 2014 22:48
- UPDATED: 29 May 2014 01:30
Low-profile in Parliament but "tigers and heroes" when campaigning - the Prime Minister's assessment of The Workers' Party sparks a feisty exchange with Opposition leader Low Thia Khiang.
SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang crossed swords in Parliament after Mr Lee's speech on Wednesday (May 28), in a vigorous 10-minute exchange that saw the two debate the performance and role of the Opposition so far.
Mr Low said he had focused his earlier speech on constructive politics because he felt it to be an important issue. “From what the Prime Minister has said, it seems to me that it's more constructive for the PAP, rather than constructive politics in terms of the society moving forward,” he said. His stand was that “we should be able to move forward together, despite the differences”.
The discussion then moved on to Mr Lee’s assertion that the Workers’ Party has flip-flopped on issues. Mr Low said he has clarified the party’s stand, adding: “I also noted that when the PAP has to make a policy U-turn, they call it policy shift. I don't know whether if that is a shift or a flip flop.”
To this, Mr Lee responded: “I think the record will speak for itself where we make a shift, we acknowledge a shift. When the Workers' Party changes position, they pretend they haven't. That is the difference.”
He also stated that as the Opposition leader, Mr Low had a responsibility to state his party’s stand on the big issue: “Is the government doing right? Is it doing wrong? Do you agree with the government? Do you have a better view? Or do you abstain? Or do you abstain from abstaining?”
Mr Low then gave this assessment of the Government’s performance: It has solved some problems and still needs to improve on other areas. The other Members of Parliament from the Workers’ Party would be giving their assessments of specific fields in due time, he said, and would offer alternatives and suggestions to improve policies.
This was characterised as a “reasonable explanation” by Mr Lee, who quipped: “I hope he takes an equally reasonable approach when it comes to election rallies, because the Workers' Party approach has been to be extremely reasonable, indeed low-profile, in Parliament, but come election time to turn into tigers and heroes.”
Mr Low thanked the Prime Minister for “praising the Workers' Party's ability to fight in the elections”. "We have no intention to hide ourselves in Parliament. We seek the mandate from people to come to Parliament to (serve as a) check against the Government. We have done it honestly and sincerely. We have not turned this place into a theatre. That shows we are responsible and we will behave continuously, as a rational and responsible party."
“We have not come here with some wild policies or wild suggestions,” he said. “We debated the policies, we came up with some suggestions, but these are not bankrupting the government coffers or suggesting to you to use the reserves.”
He also had this comeback to the Prime Minister's “tigers and heroes" remark: “You are the Government and you have been the governing party for 50 years and you got more people, talented people than the Workers' Party. How can you say that we are tigers and we are something else in Parliament? I am sure the PAP can equally be tiger or lions.”
Mr Lee then stepped up his criticism of the Opposition’s performance: “In a serious Parliament, the government presents its policies, the Opposition presents the alternatives,” he said. The Workers' Party may not have alternatives on every issue, but it does have a responsibility to explain to Singaporeans what they stand for.
“What you stand for cannot be what the PAP is doing and a little better. That means you have no stand,” he said. “Where do you think this is the completely different way to do things better? Where do you think in principle we do not want Singapore to be like this? These are big issues which deserved to be debated and not elided over and avoided in the House. And that is what first-world Parliament should be about.”
He cited the example of the debate on the Population White Paper, and asked if the Workers’ Party was still demanding zero growth of foreign workers. Mr Low replied: “We have said our piece, but we have to respect the decision of the Government to move on.” That was the mark of a “responsible opposition”, he said.
Mr Lee said the explanation did not clarify the Workers' Party’s stand. “That is the mark of a sub-standard opposition,” he said. “We have to call a spade a spade. If you have changed position and your previous position was wrong, say so. If you hold by your position, have your guts to reaffirm it and to take the consequences. But to weasel away, play with words, avoid the issue and then claim to be responsible, that is what we fear can drive Singapore's politics into the same place where many other countries have gone.”
Later on Wednesday night, Mr Lee recapped highlights of his speech in Parliament on his Facebook page. He noted that he had a "vigorous exchange" with Mr Low, after he explained his view that the Opposition "fell short" of their role in Parliament. "Naturally, Mr Low found reasons to disagree."