Good politics necessary for future plans to work

People hold banners during a demonstration against Britain's decision to leave the EU, in Parliament Square, in central London, Britain July 2.
People hold banners during a demonstration against Britain's decision to leave the EU, in Parliament Square, in central London, Britain July 2. PHOTO: REUTERS

Singapore must have good politics if its plans for the future are to work, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech last night, citing the recent Brexit referendum as an example of how things can go wrong if citizens lose faith in politics.

Having earlier set out Singapore's economic and foreign policy position and plans, he noted that, for these to work, Singapore must have good politics.

If Singapore fails to produce good leaders who citizens can trust, or if Singaporeans are themselves divided, then the best-laid plans will amount to nothing, he said.

He held up the Brexit referendum in June, in which a majority of British citizens voted for their country to leave the European Union, as "a vivid reminder of how important good politics is".

The referendum result is already taking an economic toll on Britain, he added. But the bigger impact is on social cohesion, with fault lines in British society deepening: between the young and the old, the better educated and the working class, British and immigrants, and the English and the Scots.

The "Leave" campaign won because voters lost faith in leaders and politicians, said Mr Lee.

Large segments of society felt that they were not benefiting from globalisation. High immigration made people anxious about national identity.

Mr Lee added that, in the lead-up to a vote, it is easy to make promises but these may not always be kept. The "Leave" campaign was not honest with voters and did not take responsibility for promises, he noted.

The anxieties and pressures in the Brexit referendum are present in many other countries.

But, he said, Singapore can be different if it has good politics - politics which unites the country and leaders who are attuned to the people's aspirations.

The political system must be sound and people must believe in it, he said. "People must feel that this is theirs... Then the system can work."

Janice Heng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2016, with the headline 'Good politics necessary for future plans to work'. Print Edition | Subscribe