From the Gallery of Parliament House, ST’s Robin Chan, Asst Political Editor, reports how PM Lee’s & Low TK’s “Exchange raises questions on role of opposition” (ST 29 May). As objective observers who call either side to question as we see it, not as one given to fit any report to a predetermined or preferred perspective, let’s first deconstruct Robin’s report to see what he was trying to get at.
Three sentences into his report we read,
the exchange…raised important questions for both parties, and for voters about the role of the opposition in an environment of constructive politics.”
Another two paragraphs later,
the WP is a substandard party, with no alternative policies, and no clear stand.”
Instead, PM Lee insists WP has
a responsibility to say which direction are we going and that direction has to be set clearly. It has to explain to Singaporeans what the party stands for, and that cannot simply be what the People’s Action Party (PAP) is doing “and a little better…that means you have no stand,” he says.
(The debate) began with President Tony Tan’s call…for constructive politics that puts the interests of the nation and people first, and where after vigorous debates, opposing parties move on together.”
Then, a subtle insinuation inserted;
But WP secretary-general…turned it around, criticising the PAP Government for not creating the environment for constructive politics.”
“Turned it around” meaning ‘reversed the direction’ of ‘constructive politics that puts the interests of the nation and people first’ to instead criticize the PAP. This is certainly strange since Robin omitted Low’s retort that PM Lee’s 5-factor of ‘constructive politics’ as ‘more (like) constructive dictated on the terms of the PAP, rather than constructive politics in terms of the society that is moving forward’. Not only that, Low had further countered, WP is ‘a responsible opposition….after giving our view, debating it, allowing the Government to move forward, not to jam up the Government’. Exactly what the Doctor ordered, ‘after vigorous debated, opposing parties move on together’!
To Robin’s credit, he accedes that, the exchange notwithstanding,
what is less clear is whether the demands the PAP has made of the WP are ones that resonate with voters’.
To cut to the chase, he then concludes,
But eventually, the WP, to be a truly credible opposition in Parliament, must be held to the high standards of politics that Mr Lee spelt out. The question the WP has to contend with going forward, is how long more it has before voters too start to demand more of it.’
After deconstructing Robin’s report, can anyone be in any doubt at all that he is obediently taking his orders from his ‘bosses’? Whatever the PM says is it – what WP ‘has to contend with going forward’.
In other words, WP must stay within the narrative that PM Lee has prescribed. Anything less is less than ‘truly credible opposition in Parliament’, less than ‘the high standards of politics that Mr Lee spelt out’.
Comments – Strange Change
What can we make of this new development, why PM Lee appears rather anxious to dictate as the ‘politics’ of the final half of the 12th Parliament? He turned this new page two months ago when he told Malcolm Rifkind in London,
the opposition in Parliament has decided it’s politics for them not to propound policies or alternatives.” – (Chatham House, 28 Mar).
He then followed that up with ‘Upholding Constructive Politics’ in Tony Tan’s Opening Address. And, now, this debate.
There are three things I find strange about PM Lee’s new-found interest in WP and the role of elected Opposition politicians.
1. For as long as PM Lee has been in politics, we have not heard anything positive and can safely assume that the opposition is but a pain in the ass. A pain he has to waste time ‘fixing’ instead of time spent on governing Singapore.
Strange is it not that he should now want to involve WP in ‘constructive politics’ instead of fixing them? Or, is this a lure using WP’s own First Parliament tagline? A new strategy but nonetheless fixing renewed, repackaged?
2. Why ‘teach’ WP how to play their role in ‘constructive politics’? A foe generous with tips on how to win that same prize? When did PAP last sit on the opposition bench, 1959? How does that qualify Hsien Loong to teach WP what to do when he was no more than mummy’s 7-year old boy? Or did he consult his one MP, the only one in Parliament who shone as Opposition Leader, from 1954 to 1959.
Strange isn’t it to see how he thinks he’d be taken seriously advising how not to be a ‘substandard party’ in Opposition?
3. Finally, perhaps age or the pressures of office bearing on him, he appears to disregard President Tan’s counsel, ‘the hurly-burly of politics…will weaken Singapore’ when he so determinedly presses on Low that ‘in a serious Parliament, the Government presents its policies, the opposition presents its alternatives..and that is… a First World Parliament.’
But First World Parliaments, with the de rigueur Opposition shadow cabinets and their ‘alternative policies’ are the most likely main causes of ‘short-term populist measures, and sometimes gridlock and paralysis’ as sitting governments try to argue otherwise or co-opt some aspects of the alternative policies to win over doubters. If that fails, then gridlock and paralysis ensue.
Hence, so very strange that PM Lee looks hell-bent on shaping WP into such a role, no?
Conclusion: Consultative Politics
I am not qualified nor here to teach Low how to suck eggs; only my 2cents’ worth of 2 takeaways.
One, if my foe is helpfully trying to change my strategy, then I am probably doing something right. WP should continue to let the spontaneous rise of unhappiness work its own momentum and save their limited resources for only and when it’s most needed, not more.
Two, what of this rare, beautiful show of debate? But what’s the truth behind the beauty of it?
Sad to say, the truth is that BOTH PM Lee and Low have left out the 3rd person in their exchanges. The truth is that both are in Parliament because the 3rd person has put them there.
We the citizens are that 3rd person.
The govt and the opposition can lock horns in beautiful exchanges and parlances. But the truth is that we the citizens are your raison de’tre.
As such, whether it’s clean politics, confusing politics, compliant politics or constructive politics – what Singapore needs now and beyond is CONSULTATIVE POLITICS. No more ‘We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think’.
If you have gotten things wrong, it’s either because you have no 20/20 foresight upfront or your Feedback channels and grassroots are incompetent or less than honest.
So, CONSULT first. Our lives, our living and our livelihood must come first, not GDP figures – then go construct your politics constructively.