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Ho Ching on PM Lee-Pritam Singh debate: A free rider is not a free loader

Former NMP Calvin Cheng: It has nothing to do with being a free-loader. It is definitely not an insult.

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Singapore – Ms Ho Ching, the CEO of Temasek Holdings and wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has taken to social media to weigh in on a term over which Mr Lee and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh had crossed swords in Parliament on Wednesday (Sept 2).

In the debate on the President’s Address to Parliament last week, Mr Lee touched on the issue of Singaporeans being encouraged to vote for the opposition, with the assurance that the People’s Action Party would still form the government of the day. He said that any political party that does so is a “free rider” and this tactic will eventually result in the system failing.

Mr Lee said: “If you say vote against the Government because somebody else will look after getting the PAP Government and you just become a free rider, and you vote opposition, no harm, the PAP will still be there, then I think the system must fail.”

“Because the system can only work if people vote sincerely, honestly, in accordance with what they really want, and to produce the result, which matches their true intentions, and if they vote tactically, the consequence must be one day, they will get the result, which they mark the x for, but which they did not intend.”

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In response, Mr Singh said people who voted for the opposition are not “free riders”.

“I don’t think the residents in Aljunied, Hougang for 30 years now, and even Sengkang, as a result of the results of the last election, would appreciate being called free riders,” he said.

“We are not just doing nothing, having been voted in. We are not just letting the other guy, the government of the day, do something,” Mr Singh added.

“We’ve got to do what we have to do, we got to run the town council which is why Mr Lee Kuan Yew conceived of the town councils in the first place. Because if you want to move forward in the system as an opposition member of parliament, you’ve got to prove your worth in the town council”, the Leader of the Opposition said.

Subtly commenting on the issue, Ms Ho wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday (Sept 3): “A free rider is not a free loader”.

Similarly, former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Calvin Cheng took to social media to weigh in on the issue.

In a Facebook post on Thursday, Mr Cheng wrote: “When I heard him use the term “free-rider”, I knew that people would not be able to understand the term. Mr Pritam Singh himself seemed to have misunderstood and got upset.”

“The concept of free-rider in social sciences (especially economics), is when someone wants a public good or service, but expects others to pay for it. This leads to market failure,” he explained.

“Some voters want the PAP to govern, but vote the opposition because they want some opposition. They expect other people to vote the PAP, so the PAP can remain the Government. But if everyone thinks like this, then the PAP will fail to become the Government. This is when free-riding leads to failure — the result opposite to the one intended, happens. When PM Lee talks about free-riders, this is the academic concept that social-scientists call ‘The free-rider problem’. It has nothing to do with riding, and nothing to do with being a free-loader. It is definitely not an insult”, Mr Cheng wrote.

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