Business Times: Thu, Apr 28
A STRONG contest from the Opposition will help voters crystallise issues and realise what is at stake, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
'It's good that we are contested, and contested strongly,' said Mr Lee, secretary-general of the People's Action Party (PAP), which will take on the opposition for all but five of 87 parliamentary seats in the general election on May 7.
'(The Opposition) have said they will fight to win, and we will fight to make sure they do not win,' said Mr Lee at a media conference yesterday, flanked by deputy prime ministers Wong Kan Seng and Teo Chee Hean as well as Education Minister Ng Eng Hen.
Still, a stronger Opposition will 'galvanise a response from the ground', 'force voters to sit up, pay attention and decide' what to do to make sure their future is safe, he said.
He thinks that this wider contest should drive voters' attention to the one issue that he himself urges voters to focus on, ahead of the many issues bound to arise in the nine days of campaigning kicking off today. And that is captured in the PAP's slogan: 'Securing our future together.'
Reiterating this, in reply to questions on opposition veteran Low Thia Khiang's move from his Hougang single-seat ward to Aljunied GRC, he said: 'What we would like to tell Singaporeans is that when you vote, think carefully because it affects your property value, it affects your neighbourhood, it affects your country, it affects your future.'
He dwelt briefly on the Workers' Party's slogan, saying that a 'First World Parliament' is something which 'does not exist anywhere - it's a slogan the Workers' Party has come up with and sounds good'. But a first-class system is one that has a Parliament with high-quality debate; a government which delivers responsible, capable leadership; and which encourages responsible participation in politics, he said.
In his view, constitutional changes allowing for up to 18 non-PAP voices in the next Parliament via the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament and Nominated Member of Parliament schemes, should 'hold ministers to account' while returning the PAP to power with a strong mandate.
'It will enable the government, I hope, to have a firm mandate . . . You want a government that is able to fly like a fighter pilot, not fly like an A380 Airbus.'
Tackling multiple questions on Steve Tan's abrupt withdrawal from the race yesterday, he said that Mr Tan's 'personal matter' cropped up at the last minute and the party decided that the change had to be made, 'awkward as it is'. Uncertainty is inherent in any process of choosing complex human beings, he said. 'There's no process which is 100 per cent accurate. And even if you're accurate now, something may happen later on and we'd have to revise our assessment.'
He stressed that Chia Shi-Lu's smooth ride into Parliament as part of the PAP's Tanjong Pagar GRC team does not tarnish the credibility of the GRC system, which is important not just to ensure minority representation, but also to 'make all parties focus on multiracial policies'. Dr Chia replaces Mr Tan.
Mr Lee added that it was the opposition candidates' failure to file papers in time that led to a walkover in Tanjong Pagar. He is also not worried about first-time voters, as Singapore is a 'property-owning democracy' with citizens who have a stake in Singapore. This gives him confidence that whether people have voted before or not, their motivations and incentives are 'aligned with good outcomes for the country'.
For the battle ahead, his advice to the PAP candidates has been to 'fight on the issues - this should be a clean fight'.
Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan was recently accused of 'smear tactics' by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) after he flagged a video of the SDP's Vincent Wijeysingha at a gay forum and questioned the SDP's agenda.
While not commenting directly on the matter, Mr Lee said: 'Character is not irrelevant . . . but this is not a matter of personal attacks on people; this is a matter of trying to decide who are qualified to represent the voters.'
The SDP issue is not an issue in this election at all, he said. 'This election is not about 377A or gays; this election is about the future of Singapore and how we ensure that future of Singapore.
'The fact is that people now have to take a stand and decide where they are, I think that emphasises how important this election is. It's not masak-masak (child's play); it's for real. It has very serious consequences.'