PM Lee's view of the opposition over the years, 2 he praised

He thinks opposition should be responsible.

Matthias Ang | May 14, 2024, 09:00 PM



On May 15, 2024, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will officially pass the baton to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, marking the end of nearly 20 years of leading Singapore.

During his last media interview as prime minister, he discussed his thoughts on the opposition's presence in Parliament and what it meant for the government.

He also used a football team analogy to explain why he thinks the "check the PAP" strategy wouldn't work as well as people think it should.

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A responsible opposition shouldn't shy away from addressing difficult issues: PM Lee

Over the years, PM Lee has never been shy about describing what he thinks a "responsible opposition" should be.

As he alluded to in the interview, PM Lee believes a responsible opposition shouldn't shy away from tackling difficult issues.

In recent years, one notable issue that had polarising opinions from Singaporeans was the repeal of Section 377A, a Penal Code law which criminalises sex between men.

Back in 2022, during the National Day Rally, PM Lee announced that Singapore would be repealing Section 377A.

He also said the government will amend the Constitution to protect the current definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman, so that it cannot be challenged in the courts.

From then until November 2022, the government had repeatedly explained its stance through media interviews, speeches and different forms of community engagement.

One such instance was when DPM Lawrence Wong and Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong spoke in an interview shortly after the announcement.

During the interview, DPM Wong said they understood they would not be able to please everyone with the law repeal and constitution amendments but explained that they believed it was "the right thing to do".

In November 2022, during the People's Action Party's biennial conference, PM Lee called out the Workers' Party (WP) for being "AWOL" and not commenting on the repeal.

During the debate for the bills to repeal the law and amend the constitution in parliament on Nov. 28, 2022, WP chief Pritam Singh explained that as his party's members had not come to a consensus, he lifted the party whip to allow each member to vote freely and air their opinions.

Some MPs had candidly admitted that they "found it difficult" to support the repeal.

The bills were passed at the end of the day, with all PAP MPs voting for them.

Two WP MPs and one Nominated MP voted against them.

"Honourable", "formidable", "patriotic": PM Lee on Low Thia Khiang

PM Lee has also praised opposition members previously.

If there is one opposition politician whom PM Lee has described as closest to the "ideal" opposition, it is the former WP Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang.

In March 2018, Low delivered a speech on the rise of China, which PM Lee praised as "cogent and balanced" and firmly based on Singapore's interests.

Such praise did not end even after Low retired from politics, with the Prime Minister describing Low as a "formidable political opponent" and "a patriotic Singaporean", who had set a different tone for the WP during the February 2022 Parliamentary debate on the COP's recommendations.

In February 2024, during a debate on a motion filed by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) to spend more of the reserves to "help Singaporeans" with current issues they are facing, PM Lee brought up Low as an example of a "responsible opposition".

He noted that at the time of the global financial crisis between 2008 and 2009, Low had questioned why the government wanted to draw down on past reserves instead of savings from the government’s then budget.

PM Lee said it was a "very reasonable question" and a "very polite objection", and Low was right to raise it.

When the government paid the S$4 billion back to the past reserves, PM Lee said Low spoke in parliament again, doing the "honourable thing" to commend the government.

Low said, "In conclusion, sir, the budget this year has done one thing right. It has prudently put back into the Past Reserves the $4 billion the government took in 2009."

“So this is how a responsible opposition conducts itself,” PM Lee said. “There was a common commitment to safeguard our past reserves.”

An opposition politician that understands Singapore's fundamental interests: PM Lee on Chiam See Tong

Other than Low Thia Khiang, PM Lee also thought highly of opposition veteran Chiam See Tong.

Chiam, who was Singapore People’s Party Secretary-General, was Potong Pasir’s MP for 27 years until 2011 when his team lost competing for a Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

He retired from politics years later, citing health issues.

In a speech during the annual S Rajaratnam lecture in 2015, PM Lee described Chiam as an example of an opposition politician who "protected Singapore’s domestic interests and policies" when he travelled overseas, either as part of a national delegation or as a parliamentary delegate.

“He (stands) up for Singapore and closes ranks, and that is really the norm that should prevail in the political scene in Singapore,” he said.

In the same lecture, PM Lee asked for Singapore to be united politically, with an opposition that “will understand Singapore’s fundamental interests in the world” and not seek to undermine the Republic’s interests “either to court foreign support or to gain political points”.

He explained that "political unity" does not mean no political opposition.

“It means that after elections, we come together, especially when dealing with other countries.”

Top photo via National Archives of Singapore & MCI