In a contested landscape, the competence and honesty of the Opposition is not an inconsequential matter

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"Tell the truth always, and do the right thing by Singapore, even when it is hard or awkward – in fact especially when it is hard or awkward. If something goes wrong, or something wrong has been done, own up and take responsibility – do not hide, dodge, or spin further lies, to obfuscate and cover up the original fib."

PM Lee

In a more contested political landscape where the outcome of each election is not about electing an to check a PAP Government, but about electing a political party to form the next government, it becomes crucial that every political party and every politician be held to the same high standards so that whoever is elected, standards are not compromised or sacrificed to the detriment of our lives and future.

This is a key takeaway for me, listening to PM Lee’s speech.

When the PAP was completely dominant, they could have changed the Constitution and made Singapore a one-party state. But they did not. As Mr Lee Kuan Yew explained at that time, he deliberately chose not to because he knew that without the need to contest and win elections, the governing party would over time become complacent and flabby, and that would be disastrous for Singapore.

And so the founding fathers took the more robust way and kept politics contestable, PM Lee said in his speeech on 15 Feb during the Committee of Privileges debate.

“They built up institutions – Parliament, the judiciary, the civil service, the and armed forces, and later the elected President and the Council of Presidential Advisors – to enable Singapore to operate on a more resilient basis, not dependent on a few key people pulling all the levers, pushing all the buttons, making everything work,” said Mr Lee.

Institutions alone are not enough for a strong and functional democracy.

The quality of a country’s democracy hinges on its people’s values: what they judge to be right or wrong, what they deem important, the causes they espouse, the ideals they embrace, PM Lee said.

Office of the Leader of the

Our political landscape has seen more contestation and PM Lee expects that this will be the way Singapore will go in the longer term. This is how every parliamentary democracy evolves, he said. He recognises the Singaporeans’ desire for more contestation and accepts this too. For this reason, when the WP won a second GRC in the 2020 election, he offered to make Mr Pritam Singh the Leader of the Opposition, and also equip him with the resources and support to play his role

“That is the way a responsible Government can help a credible, responsible to emerge, and contribute to the maturing of our political system,” said Mr Lee.

But the office of the Leader of the carries certain responsibilities – setting the tone for opposition MPs, enforcing standards of conduct on his own party, and above all, maintaining his own integrity and keeping himself beyond reproach. The Leader of the Opposition does not have a blank cheque.

Integrity is the linchpin of democracy

The stake today is higher than the days when the had a negligible presence.

Back then (from 1966 to the 1980s), the public generally had low expectations of parties and politicians. The PAP was overwhelmingly dominant. The tone of the country and its governance was set by the PAP, and the high standards that the PAP imposed on itself, PM Lee said.

“But with Singapore heading towards a more contested landscape, the competence and honesty of the is no longer an inconsequential matter,” PM Lee said. 

What are the right values? How should we uphold them?

These questions are of fundamental importance for both the and the governing party. Every election is about who wins the mandate to run this country.

Cannot assume the PAP will always continue in government

PM Lee said:

“We cannot assume that the PAP will always continue in government. Nor can we assume that the WP, or some other party, or any other opposition party, will always stay in the opposition.

I do not know when, or how, there will be a change of governing party in Singapore one day.

My job as party leader is to make sure the PAP governs well to the best of its ability, so that it retains the mandate of the people for as many elections as possible.

But my duty as the leader of the country is also to maximise the chances that whichever party wins future elections, it will uphold and be held to the same high standards of proper conduct and honesty as the PAP, so that our democratic system can continue to operate properly, whichever party is in charge, and would not go down the drain because a small island city-state like Singapore – the only one in the world like this – needs a strong, effective and good Government, whoever leads it.

With our lives and future at stake, everyone participating in the system must be held to the same standards. There can be no excuses, no double standards, and no pardoning of inexcusable behaviour, just because the offending party portrays itself as the underdog.”

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