SINGAPORE – Political leaders and members of parliament (MPs) are expected to have personal conduct that is beyond reproach and be truthful in what they say both inside and outside of Parliament, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Nov 28).
Singapore’s politics has delivered results because of its emphasis on integrity and honesty, and Mr Lee stressed that voters cannot trust the motives of politicians if they are dishonest and what they say cannot be taken at face value.
Speaking during the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) annual party gathering, Mr Lee, who is party secretary-general, said that the PAP has upheld stringent standards from the beginning in 1959, when it came into power.
“All our Ministers, MPs and activists know this. If someone misbehaves, misspeaks, we will discipline him. If someone misspeaks, he will put it right, because he knows that is the right thing to do, and the party will insist on it,” he said.
The PAP’s rigour sets the tone for politics here, noted Mr Lee, and he added that voters must apply these same high standards of integrity and honesty to everyone participating in politics, whichever side they may be on.
Not doing so will signal that Singapore is prepared to lower its standards, and this will eventually drag its system down. Should voters be unable to trust politicians, they will become disillusioned and cynical, leading them to turn away not just from individual leaders or political parties.
This, he warned, could cause voters to ultimately lose faith in the whole political class, and the political system itself.
“They despair of the system, they gave up hope on their country. The country is in a bad state . You cannot recover, and trust is forever destroyed,” he said.
Politics is about people’s lives and futures, and PM Lee pointed out that this carries on even during a pandemic. As the nation tackled Covid-19, it has also pressed on with the important goal to improve social mobility.
This has been done through initiatives like early childhood programme KidStart and after-school support scheme Uplift, as well as the opening of more paths for people to improve themselves through the national lifelong learning movement SkillsFuture.
Singapore is redoubling its efforts to strengthen social cohesion and prevent divisive issues from fracturing society as well.
Mr Lee pointed out that this is being done through the fostering of stronger race relations and tackling racial discrimination, and empowering womens’ development and improving their standing in society.
The country is also working to recognise and deal with tensions between Singaporeans and workpass holders, as well as to ensure fair opportunities at the workplace through anti-discrimination laws.
“These are long-term endeavours, and results will take time. But we are moving in the right direction, and we are making progress,” said Mr Lee.
But good policies alone are insufficient, and he said the PAP must help people appreciate how the government’s policies make a difference to their lives.
The party must help Singaporeans make the political connection that good things like upward mobility, better jobs and better lives do not happen by themselves. If Singapore wants to continue getting such results, it has to support the PAP government, he stressed.
A new generation of voters want to see more debate and the questioning of established ideas, and Mr Lee said must rise to this and show that it is not afraid of opposing views or of being challenged.
But political discourse is not just a matter of accepting or marketing good ideas, he added.
Wrong views have to be rebutted: if possibly gently, but firmly when necessary.
Mr Lee said that this was the spirit of the recent 10-hour debates in Parliament on the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement and workpass holders in September.
“We have to expose those who, for their own reasons and political purposes, try to exploit issues to confuse people and make them unhappy,” he said.