Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat is contemplating whether or not the country should continue with the very “constructive politics” that Singapore has employed for the past 50 years. He believes that this kind of politics has been responsible for keeping Singaporean society cohesive and has enabled the country to achieve significant progress.
However, with the “known unknown” challenges that the country has to prepare for, he also asks how Singapore’s leaders can “mobilise all Singaporeans to take part in this process and, at the same time, to keep politics constructive, forward-looking … so we can tackle the many challenges, many interesting opportunities ahead.”
All these views of his were expressed during his first interview after becoming DPM, as he spelled out the many challenges that Singapore will need to confront and the many hard decisions that the Government will have to make.
Anticipated by many to be the next prime minister of Singapore, Heng underscored how his fellow fourth-generation (4G) leaders of the People’s Action Party (PAP) and him have been preparing themselves for working towards a “normative scenario” — one in which politics is kept constructive while the country builds more resilience and a tenacious unity amid social disintegration, and political deflections.
Heng anxiously reveals that many are very alarmed by the speed at which society is fragmenting: “So, many societies cannot have the political consensus to do the right thing. And, even more worrying is that many societies do not take painful measures which are necessary for the long term.
“Everyone promises that things will be easier, better and sometimes to the point of telling untruths. I think that is not the kind of politics we should have in Singapore.”
In his speech, Heng strongly highlighted the need for all Singaporeans, especially the country’s leaders, to be prepared in facing difficult realities.
“(We have) to face it squarely and say: “Well look, how do we go about resolving this, and how do we create a better life, despite these constraints, despite these problems?”” he said.
One harsh reality that Singapore has to face is the country’s ageing population which, according to Heng, is an area where the government has had to make hard decisions: “We’re going to have a very significant challenge in dealing with an aging population … but the key is we must be able to set aside resources, and plan ahead to build facilities to manage this.”
He even mentioned how Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has been spending significant time considering how to streamline existing healthcare schemes so that more seniors can age at home. Singapore’s aging population (coupled with a declining birth rate) presents other dilemmas such as how existing housing programmes will accommodate the elderly and how the social, and family development as well as health ministries will have to redesign community networks to enable shared care for the elderly.
Heng also cited what a hard decision it was for the government to raise the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in order for the government to have the necessary resources for all the restructuring within Singaporean society.
On the question of whether or not Singapore must accommodate differing views (especially from younger people) and on having additional political parties, the new DPM believes that in Singapore’s context, it is really a matter of how to include the views of as many people as possible in the governance process. According to Heng, it is “not a given” that having an opposition party, or having multiple parties, will “result in the best outcome for our society”.
Asks the 57-year-old “prime minister-in-the-wings: “So, the question is this: As our society becomes more diverse, as our people are better educated, better exposed all round the world, how do we harness the energies of everyone in a constructive way and to take Singapore forward, rather than spend time scoring political points, debating for the sake of debating?
“The world is moving really quickly and I think it’s important for us to understand the pace of change, the complexity of change, and for us to say: “Well, look, given these, how can you and I come together and agree to do X, Y or Z in order to take Singapore forward”?
“And it’s not just the leaders agreeing to do X, Y or Z, but it is that we have to mobilise our people at every level to say: “Yes we agree, we support this” because at the end of it, that will give us a better life”.” /TISG