SINGAPORE: Politics in Singapore has changed permanently following the recent General Election, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Sunday (Jul 19).
The outcome of the election was good for Singapore, he said in a Facebook post, while the results were good for the People’s Action Party (PAP). He gave two reasons for the latter point.
First, it secured a solid mandate for the PAP, showing that trust in the party to run the Government and to do what is best for Singaporeans is intact.
“Second, the swing in votes (though from an unrepeatable high in 2015) is leading the party to review its own game so as to win the hearts, and not just the minds, of a changing electorate,” he said.
Mr Tharman added that the results were also good for opposition politics, and not merely because they won more votes collectively.
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“The stronger vote for the Workers’ Party, with its more reasonable brand and eschewing of campaigning around a single figure, reflected a discerning public and a political culture that bodes well for Singapore.”
Mr Tharman said the opposition also fielded more candidates who were credible in the public’s eyes.
“The PAP too had a strong cast, with several candidates bringing fresh perspectives. But the opposition benefits from another major factor. When the PAP with its long-standing, dominant position contests in the GE, people hold the PAP and opposition to different standards - that’s human nature. It also reflects a desire among Singaporeans for a new balance in politics.
“We have to make this new balance work well for Singapore. That will happen if we have vigorous and informed debate in Parliament between the PAP and the opposition on the policies that each advocates, with both sides treating the other with equanimity,” he said.
Mr Tharman said the aim of both the Government and the opposition must be to serve Singaporeans’ interests through policies that can stand the test of time, rather than gain popularity by telling people what they would like to hear or promising benefits without revealing the costs and making clear who will bear them.
“We have to do more to achieve social justice, but in a way that enables it to last - strengthening social mobility; raising the pay of our lowest income workers without risking unemployment; ensuring middle-aged Singaporeans continue to have good careers; giving greater peace of mind to our retirees and being able to sustain the benefits for them over time.
"We can never claim to be a model for anyone else in politics - each society moves forward out of its own history and social circumstances. But there are challenges that all democracies face that we too must address, and we must do so in a way that reflects the changing aspirations of Singaporeans," he said.
Mr Tharman said that it will be good if Singapore could evolve in three ways. First, by becoming a democracy with a strong centre, even as politics gets more contested. This can be done by avoiding the “polarised politics” that many other democracies have drifted into.
Singapore must also become a democracy that keeps working to promote multiracialism in society, as well as a more tolerant democracy with greater space for divergent views and a more active civil society without the public discourse becoming divisive or unsettling the majority.
These ways will each help ensure stability in Singapore’s democracy in the years to come, and they will tap on the energies and ideas of a younger generation of Singaporeans and their desire to be involved in public affairs, he added.