Build political system that can withstand shock and turbulence: WP chief

Mr Low said yesterday that he hopes Singapore's political future will be built on the "all-inclusive" principle that guides SkillsFuture, which is for all Singaporeans regardless of their socio-economic status.
Mr Low said yesterday that he hopes Singapore's political future will be built on the "all-inclusive" principle that guides SkillsFuture, which is for all Singaporeans regardless of their socio-economic status.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

A political system needs to be resilient in the face of adversity, said Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang yesterday when he gave his party's perspective on the debate on what is good politics.

Such a system can "withstand shock and turbulence, including the unexpected collapse or slow corruption of the ruling party", he said.

To build such a system, he pointed to the SkillsFuture programme, which encourages lifelong learning among workers.

He expressed the hope that Singapore's political future will be built on the same principles that guide the programme, which is for all Singaporeans, regardless of their socio-economic status.

Mr Low noted the scheme trusts people to make the best choices for themselves. It does not measure value in narrow economic terms or adopt a carrot-and-stick approach. Instead, it "nudges" people towards self-improvement, he said.

Similarly, politics should be "all-inclusive", so that national interests can be agreed on by consensus instead of being "monopolised by the ruling party".

"The Government should recognise that there are many ongoing and independent national conversations and should allow for differences in opinions to flourish without marking these conversations as disloyal and divisive," he said.

He also said those with narrow political interests should be encouraged to engage in dialogue, which should be seen as "an educational process for Singaporeans to learn and to discern what is politics for the collective good of the nation and society".

Singaporeans should be trusted to be "independent, rational and wise social actors" who can build up institutions not affiliated with the Government, he said.

Citing Singapore universities, he noted they were tightly controlled for fear of their political influence. Yet they have achieved world- class status after their autonomy was protected, he noted.

Academics can criticise the Government and have even joined alternative political parties but "our political system has not been destabilised as a result".

Finally, politics cannot be defined just by good policies and the absence of gridlock, he said.

Excessive fears of political gridlock will lead Singapore to depend on just one political party, "waiting for it to rot to the point of no return before any alternative party can be formed to take its place".

"If this Government truly believes in preserving this shiny red dot, then the onus is on it to build a political system conducive to the growth of alternative parties as well as the renewal of the ruling party."

Mr Low's speech in Parliament came a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke on the need for Singapore's political system to evolve. Mr Lee had cited the example of political gridlock in the US as an undesirable outcome that Singapore needs to avoid.

Mr Low also called for SkillsFuture's "policy DNA" to be applied to education as well to foster a confident population.

Graduates of Singapore's schools must become "self-driven and unafraid to take risks to pursue their interest", Mr Low said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'Build political system that can withstand shock and turbulence: WP chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe