Low Thia Khiang and Indranee Rajah lock horns over "constructive politics"

Singapore - Worker's Party chief Low Thia Khiang's speech criticising what he saw as the Government's approach to "constructive politics" drew swift rebuttals from Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah and Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair.

Mr Low fired the first salvo, devoting his entire speech to the section of President Tony Tan Keng Yam's speech where he said politics must be constructive, put people and the nation first and eschew populism that could lead to gridlock and weaken Singapore.




Mr Low said this "does not happen by the order of the Government. Nor does it happen through a national conversation or public consultation".

Instead, he said, it would require inculcating political values in youth, building a political culture that is free from bullying, abuse of power or fear, and establishing institutions that are impartial and hence, trusted by the people.

To this end, the veteran opposition MP called for a review of the National Education syllabus so that young people understood their rights, obligations and values as citizens in a democratic society.

Noting that President Tan's exhortation was "unprecedented", Mr Low, who entered Parliament in 1991, also expressed cynicism over what the Government meant by "constructive politics". The recent actions of political leaders extending media licensing rules to online news sites, smacks of "compliant politics" instead, he said.

Mr Nair was the first to respond, observing that Mr Low had opened the WP slate by speaking almost entirely on one topic.

"It's actually a little bit tragic if the focus is going to be on politics and not on the policies that will help the people," Mr Nair said.

Next to take aim was Ms Rajah, who said the call for constructive politics was not just rhetoric.

"It is real because what we say and we do in this Parliament makes a difference to Singaporeans," she said.

To achieve constructive politics, political parties would have to put Singaporeans first, and offer practical alternatives that would "ultimately results in better lives". They would also have to be act responsibly, by admitting the "trade-offs" of their policies, instead of pandering to public opinion and saying what is popular.

It was not constructive for political parties to flip flop when convenient, she said, citing an example of the WP's stance on foreign workers.

"You don't ask for more foreign workers to be allowed in Singapore in 2012, and then in 2013, after the White Paper (on Population), say that there should be a complete freeze. And then a few months later, ask for more foreign workers again," she said.

Ms Indranee also spoke about the importance of integrity and said that was in short supply in a political party that would give out contracts worth millions of dollars a year to his own supporters, without first going through a tender.

Mr Low said in reply that the WP had not flipped flopped on the issue of foreign workers and challenged Ms Rajah to table a motion to debate the issue.

He also said that the WP town council had called a tender to award its contract for managing agent.

Ms Rajah also criticised Mr Low for focusing entirely on politics in his speech, saying:

"Perhaps Mr Low feels that our politics are not working or Mr Low has no constructive alternatives into the challenges that we face, or with the recent woes of his town council, he wishes to create an impression that nothing is wrong and that the Government is out to fix them."