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Singapore Parliament

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PM Lee offers his definition of 'constructive politics'

The Prime Minister spelt out what he felt made for constructive politics in Parliament, touching on factors like effective policy-making and maintaining high standards of integrity.

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong weighed in on the debate over constructive politics, as he charted out the Government's agenda for the second half of its term in Parliament on Wednesday (May 28).

Politics cannot be about politics alone, because Singaporean lives and futures are at stake, he said. Rather, politics is about what leaders stand for, what they believe in, and what they want to achieve.

He said it was "striking" how Opposition Member of Parliament Low Thia Khiang's speech had nothing to say about the substance of the Government's programmes: "No critiques, no suggestions, no alternatives - nothing."

Constructive politics, said the Prime Minister, can help Singapore scale new heights, and the wrong politics will doom the country. He then outlined what he believed constructive politics to be. 

First, developing effective policies for Singaporeans, which means solving problems, creating opportunities and making difficult trade-offs to improve lives.

Second, putting forward good people to lead. Mr Lee said institutions are important, but equally critical are the Ministers and MPs, and those who aspire to be such. 

Third, having a robust and open debate where proposals are scrutinised, so that the best ideas for the country are gleaned. Mr Lee said he was "disappointed" that the Opposition has offered very little of this in Parliament.

Scrutiny must extend beyond policies and personalities, he added. "Certainly if ever a PAP MP were accused of making false and untruthful statements, I would get to the bottom of the matter," he said.

Fourth, maintaining high standards of integrity and honesty. Mr Lee said this is the key differentiator between politics in Singapore and in many other countries.

And finally, rallying people together around a common cause. Mr Lee noted this is more of a challenge now as society becomes more diverse and interests less aligned. It is thus even more important to navigate this next phase of nation-building together, because if the country ends up with factional politics that divide society, then "politics would have failed Singapore", he said.

The Prime Minister added the ruling People's Action Party has tried its best to practice constructive politics by offering serious policies and debating trade-offs even when issues are sensitive, admitting wrong-doing and putting them right, and engaging Singaporeans in a shared future.

Mr Lee said opposition parties, too, must uphold the same standards. "Case in point: Indranee Rajah on Monday pointed out the WP has flip-flopped on foreign workers. 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.' Mr Low's denial is simply false. WP did flip-flop. The record is there in the Hansard, for everyone to see. But his suggestion to file a motion is not a bad idea and I think it's worth considering," said Mr Lee.

Citing the experiences of other countries like the US and Thailand, Mr Lee said many other countries have gotten in trouble because they have not gotten their politics to work.

"We must maintain constructive politics in Singa­pore. Develop good policies to solve people's problems. Encourage good people of integrity and character to serve. Help us make common cause together, to face our future confidently as one people, and that's a task I ask all MPs and political parties to join us in this effort," said Mr Lee.