'Govt must work at keeping people's trust'

Potong Pasir MP Sitoh Yih Pin credited the PAP's victory at last year's polls to the Government's mindset change and efforts to cut red tape and communicate directly with the people. He also proposed a shift in focus, saying it was more important for
Potong Pasir MP Sitoh Yih Pin credited the PAP's victory at last year's polls to the Government's mindset change and efforts to cut red tape and communicate directly with the people. He also proposed a shift in focus, saying it was more important for the Government to trust the people, than win the trust of the people.LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

Lack of trust can lead to divisive politics and gridlock which will hurt Singapore, MPs say

Trust between Singaporeans and the Government, once broken, can lead to divisive politics and gridlock, said several MPs yesterday.

They urged the Government to work at maintaining the people's trust, which they said has been the bedrock of the country's progress over the last 50 years.

On the first day of the debate on the President's Address, Mr Christopher De Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) said it was trust that led the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) to win 69.9 per cent of the vote at last year's polls.

The result was a 9.8 percentage point bounce from the PAP's worst post-Independence electoral showing in 2011.

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir) credited it to the Government's mindset change and efforts to cut red tape and communicate directly with the people.

Going forward, the Government should "reciprocate and do its utmost to maintain this trust".

But he also proposed a shift in focus, saying it was more important for the Government to trust the people, than win the trust of the people.

"Trust that the people will fully support the Government even when things are imperfect or when times are difficult.

"Trust that good communication is the key, that Singaporeans are discerning and able to accept the good, the bad and the ugly news," he said.

He noted that an absence of trust has led to political gridlock elsewhere, a theme that some other MPs also spoke about.

Two of them, first-time MPs Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC), said constructive politics can help Singapore navigate the challenging road ahead.

Dr Tan cautioned that if politics turned divisive, it could contribute to a "perfect storm" that can threaten Singapore's existence.

In Britain, Greece and Germany, divisive politics had led to a "fractured national consensus", he said.

Political parties in these "major economies", such as the UK Independence Party, Syriza and Alternative for Germany, "do not need to do exceptionally well to win", Dr Tan said.

"Just by becoming a political force, they hollow out and poison the political centre."

He added that a good, constructive opposition is needed for good politics and robust debate.

To that end, Singapore must have a contestable system where "you need not be a millionaire to step into the ring or have the right friends", and opposition parties should also be open about their position on contentious issues, he said.

Dr Tan added that there are also "poisonous forces" to guard against: money politics, where political parties feel the need to reward supporters with kickbacks, favours and contracts; politics built on anger, envy and hate, where politicians urge voters to "destroy what has been built over decades and generations... without a vision for what comes the day after"; and intellectual dishonesty, where politicians sell voters an ideal "without saying how they will get you there" or contemplating the risks and side effects.

With a review of the political system on the horizon, several MPs yesterday also spoke about how policies, such as the group representation constituency (GRC) system, have encouraged good politics .

Dr Tan, Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) and Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) said such safeguards in the political system are needed to preserve diversity and fairness in multiracial Singapore.

Dr Lateef listed three things she would like to see in a review of the political system here: smaller GRCs and more single-member constituencies, an expanded Nominated MP scheme to "offer Singaporeans more opportunities for political participation", and for the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme to be scrapped.

On the scheme, which offers parliamentary seats to the best-performing losing opposition candidates, Dr Lateef said: "I find it a little bit lacklustre."

She added: "Our political system can be better.

"We owe it to ourselves and our future generations to make the positive changes and evolve the system further."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2016, with the headline ''Govt must work at keeping people's trust''. Print Edition | Subscribe