The Straits Times says

Make the most of political talent

Those who made Singapore-style democracy an exhibition of sorts last week - the candidates, activists and voters - deservedly won the admiration of external observers, like a Filipino lawyer who said he was "envious" of the values projected. In his country, a He Ting Ru would not be taken seriously unless she was politically well-connected, and a Tharman Shanmugaratnam (whose team got the highest vote share of all) would never get elected by talking about financial prudence, integrity and such. In marked contrast to the standards demanded here, it's not uncommon for even those under graft investigation to vie for high office in countries elsewhere.

All the more, Singapore should celebrate the way election candidates here stood up for their beliefs, despite the personal sacrifices and hardship involved. Unlike armchair critics of the system or social media snipers who take aim at official policies and personalities under the convenient cover of anonymity, the candidates were willing to subject themselves and their views to public scrutiny, even ridicule, and spirited counter-attacks by their opponents. They also reached out to people from all walks of life and demonstrated leadership qualities. Most of all, by offering themselves for election, they gave Singaporeans a choice, allowing a contest in all seats for the first time since independence.

Thus, it would be a shame if those who were not elected are sidelined and forgotten. If a successful enterprise culture forgives risk-taking, particularly when business leaders stumble on first attempt, Singapore's political culture likewise should not penalise the losers, so long as they possess personal integrity and are committed to building a better country. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman was not being merely conciliatory when he expressed a desire to see the opposition continue to play a constructive and positive political role. If good people leave the opposition because politics is ultimately about winning and not values, their place might be taken by opportunists, populists and xenophobes. Alternatively, a paucity of candidates could return Singapore to the days when a large number of seats were uncontested, handing walkovers to the incumbent party, which was denied, in the process, a chance to seek voters' clear backing for its platform.

In the spirit of inclusiveness, elected opposition politicians from all sides should be accorded due respect, as might those who become Non-Constituency MPs. Top leaders who've vacated their seats can play meaningful roles too, surely. And when a national swing leads to the electoral loss of respected leaders with fine records, they ought not fade away altogether. On the other hand, those who chose to stand and emerged victorious should uphold standards and decorum expected of the national leaders they aspire to be.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2015, with the headline 'Make the most of political talent'. Print Edition | Subscribe