National Day Rally 2016: Good politics, citizens' trust necessary for Singapore to succeed

People protesting against the Brexit in London on July 2, 2016. PM Lee Hsien Loong, in his National Day Rally speech, held up the Brexit as a reminder of the importance of having good politics.
People protesting against the Brexit in London on July 2, 2016. PM Lee Hsien Loong, in his National Day Rally speech, held up the Brexit as a reminder of the importance of having good politics.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE -Singapore must have good politics if its plans for the future are to work, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday night (Aug 21), citing the recent Brexit referendum as an example of how things can go wrong if citizens lose faith in politics.

Having laid out Singapore's economic and foreign policy plans earlier in his speech, Mr Lee noted that for all these plans to work, Singapore must have good politics.

If Singapore fails to produce good leaders whom citizens can trust and work with, or if Singaporeans are themselves divided, then the best laid plans will amount to nothing, he added.

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

The referendum result is already taking an economic toll, with the pound's value falling and jobs moving out of Britain. But the bigger impact, he added, is to deepen fault lines in British society: between the young and old, better-educated and working class, British and immigrants, and the English and the Scots.

The "Leave" campaign won because voters had lost faith in leaders and politicians as a whole, said Mr Lee. Large parts of the population felt they were not benefiting from globalisation, while high immigration made people anxious about their national identity.

Mr Lee also noted 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 said.

The anxieties and pressures surrounding the Brexit referendum are present in many other countries, noted Mr Lee. But Singapore can be different - provided we have good politics.

Politics must unite the country and uphold multi-racialism, while leaders must be attuned to the people's aspirations, he said.

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