A live debate “Singapore Votes 2020 — The Political Debate”, was held on Jul 1, with one member from the People’s Action Party (PAP), Progress Singapore Party (PSP), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and Workers’ Party (WP) taking part.
The representative members from each party showed that they were all extremely clear on their party’s policies, quick on their feet, and articulate.
Although all the candidates were good debaters in their own right, I found WP’s Dr Jamus Lim the most outstanding debater among the four within the English debate. Not only was he eloquent, he had a charm about him that made him likeable and easy to listen to.
This was particularly refreshing, especially in contrast to the seriousness of the debate — candidates were here after all, to convince viewers of their respective party’s stance on important issues. Furthermore, with the crackling tension between SDP’s Dr Chee Soon Juan and PAP’s Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the light-hearted approach with which Dr Lim took questions was even more welcome.
Where there is light-heartedness, there is also gravity. PSP’s Mr Francis Yuen took every question with seriousness, noting the views of the other side of the coin at a couple of junctures. Dr Lim and Mr Yuen thus were two moderate presences in terms of views with regards to the current system. They expressed their views by emphasising that they understood, but disagreed. This made for a genuine discussion which saw the opposition as a group that was not made of just ‘rebellious’ people, as some might still think.
Which brings me to Dr Balakrishnan’s measured way of debating. He addressed points brought up by other members at the table, appearing actively engaged throughout the debate. He was calm and worked through the questions in an organised manner, making it easy to follow, especially since he had the most time and thus the most risk of becoming confusing to viewers. Some of his responses seemed to be just him agreeing with and reiterating points brought up by the opposition, but his way of referring to the other members’ job backgrounds in his answers and addressing them directly, made up for it.
Adding some spice to the debate, was the tangible tension between Dr Balakrishnan and Dr Chee. I am sure some people welcomed the aggressive and targeted manner with which Dr Chee answered and questioned, but for me it left furrowed brows and occasional cringes.
Dr Chee’s online rally on Jun 30 was comprehensive and clear, something which I hoped Dr Chee would bring to the table at the debate. However, the big headline was definitely Dr Balakrishnan calling Dr Chee’s accusations that the PAP was aiming for a 10 million population, a falsehood. It did create a sense of confusion, as the “1N” in the “4Y1N” campaign that SDP is running in the 2020 elections, is saying no to the 10 million population aim of the PAP. Admittedly, that overshadowed the rest of Dr Chee’s performance in the debate.
Aside from the debaters’ personalities, which are arguably the most important thing in a live debate I would say, all four members raised similar issues, and similar solutions. The biggest difference among the four parties lay in the implementation and execution details of the solutions.
One issue that was raised by all four members was the importance of SMEs in Singapore’s economy, especially now during the COVID-19 period. Dr Lim summarised this well, saying that the difference between PAP and WP lay fundamentally in where they believe the tradeoffs for their policies should happen.
The debate certainly showed, again in Dr Lim’s words, that PAP does not have a monopoly on good ideas, and that there was definitely room for a good debate among the different parties.
It also showed that unlike a rally, where there would mostly be a back and forth of confirmation biases and be an echo chamber of views, a debate is a good way to keep voters informed and help them decide on the kind of Singapore that they want to vote for. And a debate like this is also something that should be seen in Parliament.