Comment: PM Lee's actions post-GE may kick-start path to new type of politics

PM Lee referred to WP as 'colleagues across the aisle".

Martino Tan | July 28, 2020, 12:00 AM

One of the calls that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made at the conclusion of Polling Day on Jul. 11 was to the Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh.

PM Lee, who is the Secretary-General of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), called the WP Secretary-General personally to congratulate him for WP's "strong performance" and formally acknowledged him as the Leader of the Opposition.

The WP won 10 seats during GE2020, making history in achieving a victory in a second Group Representative Constituency (GRC) in Sengkang.

PM subsequently revealed in the press conference in the early morning after Polling Day:

"I told Mr Singh that with 10 MPs, I think it is right that he, the Workers' Party leader, be formally designated as the Leader of the Opposition, and that he will be provided with appropriate staff support and resources to perform his duties. And he thanked me for this."

The gracious gesture made by PM Lee was one that was welcomed by politicians from both sides of the aisle.

This decision was, in the words of Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong, a "very significant move".

Goh urged opposition MPs to now put forward their alternative policies and solutions so that Singaporeans would know the choices available besides the government’s.

WP's Lee Li Lian said that the appointment of the leader of opposition has to be one of the best outcomes of GE2020.

As a former MP, she knew "how frustrating it is to try to get figures and statistics to support policy-making".

"Colleagues across the aisle"

During the swearing-in ceremony on Monday evening, PM Lee did something unprecedented in his speech -- he acknowledged the WP MPs as "our colleagues across the aisle".

This was what he said, at the swearing-in of the new Cabinet and political office-holders, which was held in two separate locations -- the Istana and Parliament House:

"I hope our colleagues across the aisle will step up to play their role of a responsible and loyal opposition. Their duty is not merely to raise criticisms and ask questions of the government, necessary as these functions are. But also, more importantly, to put forward serious policy alternatives to be scrutinised and debated. This way, we can help voters better understand the issues, choices and trade-offs."

By urging WP to play their role as a "responsible and loyal opposition" in the new 14th parliament, PM Lee may have in mind the opposition parties from other countries, such as the United Kingdom, where the main opposition party is referred to Leader of Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition.

In his address, PM Lee acknowledged that GE2020 has shown that Singaporeans want the PAP to form the government, but also want a more robust debate of policies, and said Singaporeans have a "strong desire" for greater diversity of views in politics.

PM Lee noted that "this trend is here to stay".

Hence, he said that the government has to give expression to it, and evolve our political system to accommodate it, while maintaining our cohesion and sense of national purpose.

He noted that the new Parliament will have 12 opposition MPs -- the largest number in recent history.

There are now 10 Workers' Party MPs from Aljunied and Sengkang GRCs, as well as the single-member constituency of Hougang.

There are also two Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs) from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), which garnered 48.32 per cent of the vote in West Coast GRC.

"More vigorous but constructive debates in Parliament"

In his speech, PM Lee reiterated his promise that he will formally designate a Leader of the Opposition, and provide him with staff support and resources to perform his role.

He also said that he looks forward to more vigorous but constructive debates in Parliament.

In the process, PM Lee hoped the debates will improve policies and plans, and deliver better outcomes for Singapore.

Singh, also took to Facebook earlier on Jul. 11 to share his thoughts on being named the official Leader:

"I look forward to serving as the leader of the opposition and will carry out my duties to the best of my abilities.

I will endeavour to ensure that The Workers' Party under my leadership will remain loyal to Singapore and all Singaporeans."

A new type of politics & a new tradition?

What is this new type of politics?

PM Lee is urging the main opposition party to be responsible and loyal to Singapore, and to put forward serious policy alternatives.

Interestingly, the call to be a responsible and loyal opposition is not too far off from the vision of a certain prominent leader from the WP.

In the last parliament debate on the NCMP seat, former WP chief Low Thia Khiang said:

"The Workers’ Party is a rational and responsible political party. We understand the political reality. We understand that the struggle for a functional democracy by a loyal opposition must be fought from within the existing system under the law legislated by Parliament even though we disagree with them (the NCMP scheme)...

It is the view of the Workers’ Party that the only way forward for a strong Parliament, one that can hold the government of the day accountable, is for the ruling party, in the position of strength, to create a political system that would allow both genuine loyal opposition parties to grow, as well as for the ruling party to perform and compete for seats."

Pritam Singh is careful, however, to manage the expectations by the government to put forth serious policy alternatives, saying that "the WP continues to be primarily reliant on its volunteer base for its political work", but will continue to advance forward-looking suggestions for the welfare of Singaporeans despite the constraints.

Following the conclusion of PM Lee's speech, Mothership understands that PM Lee greeted the newly appointed Leader of Opposition Pritam Singh, and exchanged some pleasantries.

And they took these photos that were provided to the media by the Ministry of Communications and Information.

Source: Ministry of Communications and Information.

Source: MCI.

It sure looks like a good start to the opening of Parliament on Aug. 24, if politicians from different political parties come together to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, which has been repeatedly labelled as the crisis of a generation.

Photos by the Ministry of Communications and Information.