Having a dominant party in politics is beneficial: Tharman

DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam (right) speaking at the conference.
DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam (right) speaking at the conference. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

One-party states with no political competition face a disadvantage, but having a dominant player in politics is an edge, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at a dialogue.

He did not, however, elaborate on the advantage.

Mr Tharman also said Singapore is not a one-party state and that the ruling party had to be subjected to serious competition, as it was.

His remarks prompted dialogue moderator Fareed Zakaria, a Washington Post columnist, to ask if the competition was serious as the People's Action Party (PAP) occupied most of the seats in Parliament. "That's an outcome, that's not a design," Mr Tharman said.

The PAP holds 79 out of 87 elected seats in Parliament, with the Workers' Party holding seven, and one seat is vacant after the death of Tanjong Pagar GRC MP and former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in March.

As he acknowledges that competition is useful, Mr Tharman was asked if there was some inherent virtue in having different political parties lead the country.

While such rotation makes for a meaningful debate in theory, he said, in practice, "do you put your citizenry at risk by saying, 'Look, let's try this out, and see how it works'?".

Mr Tharman said he would rather let others try it out, and that Singapore preserves its current system.

He also said the dominant party has to be accountable to the people, both through a vote that comes through an election once every five years, as well as in between. "People see results... Singaporeans are not fools at all. They know what's what, they know whether things are working and whether they are not. And they will have to judge."

He added: "So it only works if you're subjected to contest, and you're held accountable."

Mr Tharman said he spends about one-third of his week on the ground interacting with people by attending community events and visiting residents in their homes.

" It's not what you see in typical one-party states, not even what you see in a multi-party state," he said.

Wong Siew Ying

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2015, with the headline 'Having a dominant party in politics is beneficial: Tharman'. Print Edition | Subscribe