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LO Pritam Singh “well-placed” to challenge the PAP’s longtime hold on politics in Singapore

HK professor, commenting on Singapore politics, not hopeful about information environment but somewhat optimistic when it comes to political debates

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Hong Kong — A pan-Asia online news platform has published an article that discusses how Workers’ Party (WP) chief and Leader of the Opposition (LO) Pritam Singh is “well-placed” to challenge the People’s Action Party’s longtime hold on politics.

The article, “The Changing Face Of Singapore Democracy”, was published in the Asia Times on Thursday (Sept 10).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged after the results of July’s General Election that Singapore showed “a clear desire for a diversity of voices in Parliament”. He also announced that Mr Singh would be the LO, after the WP won 10 seats in Parliament. In addition, the Progress Singapore Party, which had the best result among the losing parties,  in West Coast GRC, was able to nominate two of its leaders as Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs).

The article quotes Professor Donald Low, a professor of practice in public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, as saying that Mr Singh’s installation as LO, with its attendant salary bump and additional staffing, “acknowledges that the loyal opposition has a legitimate role in Singapore’s system of governance.

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“It is a step, even if it’s not a large one, towards establishing the norms of a fairer, more contestable political system.”

In response to being named LO, the WP chief said this signified  “a change in the narrative and culture of how politics and government is to be conducted”.

But the question remains as to whether the PAP, which has held the majority for decades, is willing to share power and “deepen political pluralism by helping the parliamentary opposition to exercise a more effective check or respond broadly to certain pressures for more democratisation”.

Case in point: While PAP leaders have asked the opposition to get past merely asking questions in Parliament and come up with alternative proposals, the WP has answered this by saying it relies on the Government, which is led by the PAP, to provide the data and statistics needed to form viable new policies.

The new LO said in his first speech on Aug 31: “As far as information is concerned, the opposition’s output will depend very much on whether we can get the input we asked for.”

Asia Times cites the example of WP MPs asking for clarity regarding the number of positions occupied by Singaporeans and permanent residents as well as those filled by foreigners. Those who posed the questions ended up being chided by senior PAP legislators.

Prof Low told the news platform: “It remains to be seen whether there will be more substantive changes in the way the PAP does politics and governance.

“I’m not hopeful we will see a significantly more open information environment in the near-term. But I’m somewhat optimistic that our political debates… will be conducted in a less one-sided, heavy-handed way, and in a way that doesn’t vilify or demonise the opponents – whether real or perceived – of the PAP.”

PM Lee warned in Parliament recently that more diversity could lead to more polarisation, as has happened in Western countries. “The adversarial dynamic that is inherent in the parliamentary system can go wrong. If this happens to Singapore, we will not just cease being an exceptional nation. It will be the end of us. We must not go down this path.”

He asked that the opposition and the Government work for Singapore’s good, not just for their supporters or parties.

The LO has said several times that the WP would get behind the Government in matters of national interest. Asia Times added that Mr Singh was “admired for his dignified demeanor during the election campaign”. /TISG

Read also: GE2020: WP’s Pritam Singh responds to being formally designated as Leader of the Opposition

GE2020: WP’s Pritam Singh responds to being formally designated as Leader of the Opposition

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