Brexit's negative campaign holds lesson for Singapore

In the lead-up to the United Kingdom's European Union referendum, the Leave campaign was long on playing up fears and short on substance ("Facts no longer seem to matter in campaigns"; last Wednesday).

Many of the emotionally charged messages were beset with lies, half-truths and misinformation.

These messages might have clouded minds and hearts about what is at stake for the future.

For example, there were blatant lies that millions of immigrants, including terrorists, murderers and rapists, will swarm all over the UK.

Immigrants, who have been net contributors to the economy, were accused of becoming a long-term burden on the country.

Besides fuelling xenophobia, Leave campaigners were also appealing to a narrow view of preserving traditional culture and promoting economic nationalism.

Playing up negative emotions are not uncommon tactics used by political opportunists in promoting their ideologies and winning votes.

The lesson that Singapore can draw from this somewhat unenlightening referendum is that we were not and will not be totally shielded from such misinformation and negative ploys during and between elections. We should also not believe that these negative issues will not rear their ugly heads in our communities.

While it is important to build on and strengthen our Singapore core, we cannot afford to be overly inward-looking in our nation-building process.

As a global hub and with an open economy, we have thrived and will continue to thrive by leveraging opportunities in an interdependent and interconnected world.

We need to continue to be outward-looking in collaborating with the right partners to grow our influence and economic space.

While we should be circumspect about allowing an appropriate number of foreign talents and organisations into our country, we should also improve and become better hosts to these guests on our shores.

We should also continue to do our part to educate these foreigners about our culture and help them settle down and enjoy their stay in our country.

Without the contributions of these foreigners to our economy and society, we will be hard-pressed to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.

Patrick Liew Siow Gian (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'Brexit's negative campaign holds lesson for Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe