SINGAPORE, Nov 29 — The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) must show that it is not afraid of opposing views or being challenged, but political discourse is also “not just a matter of accepting or marketing good ideas”, said the party’s secretary-general Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.
“We welcome good ideas wherever they come from We also have to rebut wrong views, if possible gently, but when necessary firmly,” said Lee, emphasising that voters today want to see more debate, contestation and questioning of established ideas.
Lee, who is the Prime Minister, was speaking at the annual PAP convention to more than 2,000 party activists as well as members from the National Trades Union Congress who were attending the event physically at Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre and online.
Referring to the recent parliamentary debates with opposition parties over foreign talent and the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, he added: “We have to expose those who, for their own political purposes, attempt to exploit issues to confuse people and make them unhappy.
“I tell my younger colleagues, in politics, if you are not able to hold your own, stand up, argue your case and retain the support of voters, you are finished.
“You may have noble intentions and good ideas, but if you can’t get re-elected, you can’t do anything about them and you won’t be able to do good for Singapore.”
Making the political connection
In his speech, Lee spoke about the importance of getting politics right in order for Singapore to continue as a “high-trust society”.
After all, politics, which carries on even during a pandemic, is about people’s lives and futures, he said.
“We have to continue addressing people’s concerns, and striving towards our aspiration of a fair and inclusive society,” said Lee.
To this end, he highlighted several “long-term endeavours” for the PAP.
The PAP government has worked to improve social mobility, launching programmes such as the Uplift Enhanced School Resourcing programme recently to help disadvantaged students, and pressing on with policies like SkillsFuture to open up more paths for people to improve themselves, said Lee.
“At the same time, we are redoubling efforts to strengthen social cohesion and prevent divisive issues from splitting us,” he said.
This is why the PAP wants to foster stronger race relations and tackle racial discrimination, as well as to empower women’s development and improve their standing in society.
The party also acknowledges — and is dealing with — the tensions between Singaporeans and foreign work pass holders, through ensuring fair opportunities at the workplace with anti-discrimination legislation.
“Yet having good policies alone is not enough. We must also help people appreciate how these policies make a difference to their lives,” Lee said.
That means helping Singaporeans “make the political connection” — that positive outcomes like upward mobility, better jobs and better lives do not happen by themselves, he stressed.
“In many countries, they don’t happen at all. If you want to continue to get good results in Singapore, we have to get our politics right, you have to support the PAP government, and we must work with them to build the nation that we all aspire towards,” said Lee.
“The PAP must remain politically on top,” he added.
Integrity and honesty of politicians
Lee then stressed the importance of integrity and honesty in politics, which is what allowed the PAP to deliver results for Singapore.
Singaporeans thus expect their Members of Parliament and political leaders “to be clean, to be above reproach in their personal conduct, and to be scrupulously truthful in what they say, inside or outside Parliament”.
“If politicians are venal or dishonest, they tell lies or are corrupt, politicians cannot be trusted, voters will not trust their motives, cannot take what they say at face value,” he said, warning that people will ultimately lose faith in all politicians.
“They despair of the system, they give up hope on their country. The country is in a bad state. And trust me, it is forever destroyed.”
If someone from the PAP misbehaves, he will be disciplined, and if he misspeaks, he “puts it right because he knows that is the right thing to do and the party will insist on it”, said Lee.
He did not mention any names or incidents involving MPs in his speech.
Last month, Workers’ Party MP for Sengkang Group Representation Constituency Raeesah Khan admitted in Parliament to lying multiple times in the House over a sexual assault case.
Lee said that voters must apply the high standards of integrity and honesty that the PAP has set to every group and every person participating in politics, whichever side they may be on.
“Otherwise, we will be signalling we are prepared to lower standards, and this will eventually drag our system down,” he said. — TODAY