Singapore — A news report from 2011 which quotes Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam as saying that a strong opposition is good for both Singapore and the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has resurfaced online in Facebook pages such as Singapore Election News Portal and Wake Up, Singapore and is beginning to be widely shared.
The timing of the reappearance of this report is likely due to the looming General Election (GE). While the Government has until April 14, 2021, to hold the GE, it has been widely speculated that the elections will be held next month.
This would explain the renewed interest in a story about Mr Tharman’s remarks, published in AsiaOne on April 3, 2011, as well as in other news outlets.
In a multi-party forum that was televised on Channel NewsAsia, the then-Finance Minister and PAP Treasurer, had said: “I think a strong opposition is good for the PAP, and for Singapore, as well.”
In that forum, Mr Tharman, together with MP from Bishan-Toa Payoh (GRC) Josephine Teo, faced off with Mrs Lina Chiam, the wife of Singapore People’s Party leader and Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong; Mr Nazem Suki of the Singapore Democratic Alliance; Dr Vincent Wijeysingha of the Singapore Democratic Party; and Mr Gerald Giam of the Workers’ Party (WP).
According to a report from Yahoo Singapore, then Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo echoed Mr Tharman’s views a day later, saying: “It is important to have a credible opposition so that should the PAP turn corrupt or become flaccid, there’s an alternative that Singaporeans can go for.”
And WP leader Low Thia Khiang commented on Mr Tharman’s remarks with approval. He said: “I think that shows quite a shift in the PAP’s mindset, that they now see that a strong opposition is positive and good for the future of Singapore.”
However, three days after Mr Tharman made his remarks, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at the National University of Singapore and said that a two-party political system was “not workable” in the country as there is “not enough top talent”.
Mr Lee told the audience: “This is the way to safeguard our common future — not to weaken the ‘A’ team in the hope of buying insurance, but to strengthen the ‘A’ team, to give it the best chance of succeeding.”
For him, a two-party system such as that of the United States would become a “worst-case scenario” that could spell “the end for Singapore” because it may split the country along racial, religious, or class lines.
He cited a hypothetical example of someone who wished to join a political party in Singapore: “He has two choices. First choice, join the Opposition, oversee the PAP, but really spend his life and quite a long time waiting and watching, just in case the PAP screws up, then he’ll be ready to take over.”
Option number two would be to “join the government, help it to make better decisions, implement good policies and avoid making mistakes and screwing up”.
Mr Lee then asked the audience: “Now, which makes more sense for him, and for Singapore?” /TISG