Singapore 2025

What of Singapore towards 2025? Thoughts of a Singaporean.

The Workers’ Party: Rational, Responsible, Respectable

The Workers’ Party conducted a for-members-only seminar sometime between late last year and early 2011. A number of members of spoke up on a wide range of issues and for me, it was a useful platform to run some of my thoughts by my colleagues on how an opposition party ought to conduct itself, in light of the political environment in Singapore.

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Good morning.

We are at an important juncture in the history of Singapore. Many Singaporeans acknowledge that the presence of a credible opposition is necessary for our political, social and economic well-being. An increase in the number of opposition MPs will ensure that the PAP becomes much more accountable and transparent to Singaporeans.

In May this year, the PAP amended the Parliamentary Elections Act, proudly declaring that it has paved the way to increase the number of opposition representatives in parliament by increasing the number of NCMPs. But what the PAP did not remind the public in any great detail was firstly, that NCMPs cannot vote on changes to the highest law of land – the constitution. Secondly, NCMPs cannot vote on the Supply or Supplementary Bills. Thirdly, NCMPs cannot vote on motions of no confidence in government. So lets be clear: the PAP has not done the cause of the opposition in Singapore any favour by increasing the number of NCMP seats.

But I am not here today to talk to you about the PAP and how they deny Singaporeans the prospect of real checks and balances in parliament. I am here to talk to you about something much more important,  – how should the Workers’ Party conduct itself in the context of overwhelming PAP political dominance, and a government-managed media that operates in conditions of a virtual monopoly? What can Singaporeans expect from the Workers’ Party as an opposition party, and what can Singaporeans expect of elected Workers’ Party members of parliament?

Source: SPH Collection

Many years ago David Marshall, the first Chief Minister of Singapore, former Singapore ambassador to France, and the founder of the Workers’ Party, suggested to Singaporeans how members of the opposition should behave. This is what David Marshall said:

“To play dirty, to be vicious & malicious, to be obstructive for the sake of filth, for the sake of making a point, for the sake of personal glorification or party advantage is to act criminally. The duty of an Opposition is to act with vigour in guiding & criticising with integrity the conduct of the Govt, to make heard the voices of the minority without fear.” (repeat this again).

Marshall’s words, although uttered many decades ago, continue to echo in the hearts and mind of every Workers’ Party member today. In the words of our Secretary-General, and MP for Hougang for the last 20 years, Mr Low Thia Khiang – the Workers’ Party today is committed to the 3Rs – to be a Rational, Responsible and Respectable political party on the Singapore canvas.

Rational, Responsible and Respectable. I will now speak briefly on each of these three values.

Rational – Ever since our founding in 1957, the Workers’ Party has had a very close and deep relationship with the workers of Singapore. By workers, I refer to every Singaporean who is a wage-earner, be it, a blue collar or white collar Singaporean. We are deeply concerned about rising HDB prices, an open-door policy towards foreigners at the expense of local Singaporeans, and of course the ever-widening income gap that has grown larger under the PAP’s watch. In fact, one of the central reasons why so many of us in the Workers’ Party joined this party is precisely because our concern for Singapore. We criticize the PAP and PAP policies not because we hate the PAP or that we see the PAP as the enemy, but because we are citizens of this country and we are concerned about the direction this country is headed, and the Singapore that we will leave behind for our children, friends, brothers and sisters.

When we see HDB prices rise faster than median wages, we are concerned that the prices of new flats may become unaffordable for Singaporeans. After paying off a 30-year mortgage we fear Singaporeans may not have enough in their CPF accounts for retirement, and have no choice to work well into their 70s, assuming their health allows them too.

Source: transitioning.org

So no one should be surprised to hear of the Workers’ Party speaking out, loudly and clearly for the working majority of Singaporeans. But by the same token, you will not hear of the Workers’ Party blindly criticizing the employers of Singapore who are a critical cog in the wheel of our country as they provide so many jobs for our workers. What we will ask of them, and never will we shirk from this duty – is to look after the welfare of our workers and hold them to this commitment. It is a well-established fact that employers who look after their employees, and who pay their employees a fair wage run very successful and productive companies.

Being a rational party entails speaking out and looking after the interests of both employers and employees, with a view to achieve economic success for Singapore. A rational party must consider the interests of both businessmen and workers, fairly and equitably. The Workers’ Party is committed to looking after all Singaporeans. It is the rational thing to do.

I will now move on to second value – Responsibility. To be responsible is perhaps best understood as an obligation to do the right thing. Responsibility is a concept we all intuitively understand. Doing the right thing very often entails making difficult decisions. In the context of a multi-racial Singapore, it is vital that our politicians remain responsible. Responsibility means we must be look beyond the reality of race and race politics. Let me use an illustration to make my point.

A few months ago, the PAP government raised the prospect of a cut in the weightage of the Chinese language at the PSLE. Now you might be asking why I, an Indian am bringing this up. I bring it up because I understood and empathized with how my Chinese friends felt at the thought of a decreased emphasis on Mandarin at the PSLE level. I know very well that language and culture are closely related. A lesser emphasis on language can have the prospective effect of weakening one’s sense of culture.

Likewise, some of my Malay and Indian friends were also concerned when the government began to seriously consider this proposal. Why were many of us that belonged to the minority races able to empathize with our Chinese friends? Because we could put ourselves in their shoes. After all, the policy that MOE was considering involved all the other examinable mother-tongue languages, Malay, Tamil, Bengali, Urdu, Gujerati, Hindi and Punjabi, so it would have affected my community too.

This emotion I felt, was similar to that of many Chinese and Indian Singaporeans, who were adamant that Mas Selamat’s actions were not reflective of Singapore’s Malay community.

Responsibility is a two way street. The Workers’ Party envisions a Singapore where all Singaporeans regardless of race look at race, religion, language and culture in a responsible manner and can understand and empathise with each others concerns.

All of us are all on board a ship called Singapore. This ship will not be prosperous if its people do not respect one another or if some sailors look after their own community’s interests while ignoring the concerns of their friends and neighbours. The Workers’ Party is committed to a path that is befitting a responsible opposition and looking after all Singaporeans, regardless of race or religion.

The third and final R that the Workers’ Party is committed to – is to be a respectable party. Like responsibility, respect is also a two way street. Again, let me explain this value with an illustration. In 2006, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, Temasek Holdings invested in a Thai telecommunications company connected to the then Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Although Temasek still holds shares in that company, it was by most assessments a very poor investment. Although there are no public figures on the size of the paper loss, it is estimated to be very large, some say, in excess of a billion dollars. Unsurprisingly, some Singaporeans wanted the Temasek’s officers involved to be sacked.

Now, how should a respectable opposition party respond to a situation like this? This is a question that does not have any easy answers. For the short-term, sacking the Temasek officers responsible would appease many people. But sometimes, it makes sense to look at the entire situation holistically and assess what is in the best interests of Singapore. We must remember that failure is sometimes a precious gift and a good teacher. It makes a person wiser. Failure has the potential of making Temasek’s officers wiser too. In case some of you think so, I am not suggesting we let Temasek off the hook.

Temasek Holdings must be expected to re-train, re-deploy and in the worst case, release its non-performers and those officers who consistently make poor investment decisions. And the PAP must reveal to Singaporeans how Temasek fairs in comparison to other sovereign wealth funds over an assessed period. If Temasek does well, then it should be commended. If it does not, then it must be accountable to Singaporeans in the name of good governance.

A respectable opposition party is ultimately a balanced and fair party. If the Workers’ Party wants to be respected it, it must respect Singaporeans first. We must and will listen to Singaporeans. We will give credit where it due, but will expect and demand openness, transparency and accountability from the government when things go wrong.

To conclude – what sort of opposition party can Singaporeans expect the Workers’ Party to be? This we commit to you: “we will not play dirty, we will not be vicious & malicious, we will not be obstructive for the sake of filth or for the sake of making a point. We are not in politics for the sake of personal glorification or party advantage and we will not act criminally. But the Worker’s Party will act with vigour in defending the rights of Singaporeans, we will criticize with integrity and we will make the voices of Singaporeans heard.  In short, you can expect a Rational, Responsible and Respectable party to take Singapore forward.

Thank you.

Written by singapore 2025

16/04/2011 at 3:45 pm

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