SINGAPORE: Workers’ Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC), one of the catalysts for Progress Singapore Party’s motion to reaffirm Parliament’s commitment for the Speaker to discharge his duties impartially and independently, offered his thoughts on the nature of Parliamentary debates, saying that allowing for “the robust, earnest, and animated exchange of ideas” is good for society.
In a video that was shared online last month, former Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin was caught on the microphone using an expletive after a speech made by Assoc Prof Lim, calling the WP MP a “f**king populist” after he called yet again for Singapore to establish an official poverty line. Mr Tan apologised after his hot mic moment, but less than a week later resigned over an extramarital affair with fellow PAP MP Cheng Li Hui, who also stepped down.
“While any call for censure of the former Speaker would appear to have been overtaken by events, I would like to offer some thoughts on two matters: first, on the reaction to the speech, and second, on the role of debate in policymaking in a modern democracy,” Assoc Prof Lim said on Wednesday (Aug 2).
He said he did not fault the ex-Speaker for having his opinion, but Assoc Prof Lim added: “I was speaking up for a group that, by definition, is a minority. It should not be seen as an effort to rally mass outrage, but an effort to flag concerns for a group that is often voiceless.”
The Sengkang MP then made a case for active debate in Parliament, saying that policymaking in a modern democracy is better when there is a “robust, earnest, and animated exchange of ideas” despite disagreements.
He added that Mr Tan’s remark could have only been made “in a Parliamentary setting where such differences of opinion are not only acquiesced to but actually welcomed.”
“Do we decide what we disagree with and dismiss it with a convenient label—or seek to score political points with ad hominem rebuttals—or do we at least seek to understand the premise of the other’s argument, giving them the benefit of the doubt, even if we may ultimately disagree with them? Can this occur anywhere but in a chamber where members feel that the freedom to air these alternative views, with an adjudicator that they feel is independent and impartial?”
He added that he hopes the government will not easily dismiss alternative policy proposals but offer counterarguments when rejecting them.
“This comes down to a competition in ideas, and I do not believe any single person in this House will always have the best ones.” /TISG