Parliament: Low Thia Khiang gives opposition view on constructive politics

Singapore - Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang on Monday said his party supported President Tony Tan Keng Yam's call for constructive politics, but questioned how this could be achieved.

The veteran MP argued for 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.

He said: "We must all remember constructive politics does not happen by the order of the Government. Nor does it happen through a national conversation or public consultation."

In his address to open the second half of the 12th Parliament more than a week ago, Dr Tan had warned against populist politics that would weaken Singapore, and lead to gridlock and paralysis.

He called for constructive politics that put the nation and the people first, so that at the end of vigorous debates among politicians and citizens, "we must come together again, to move ahead as one united people".

Mr Low started off by pointing to his party's tradition: All WP candidates recite the National Pledge at the end of their final election rally, to remind them that "despite our differences, we are all Singaporeans."

However, he called for a review of the National Education syllabus to enable students to understand their rights and obligations as citizens in a democratic society, and respect the Constitution, among other things.

"I believe Singapore will be a more stable and mature democracy if Singaporeans are in possession of democratic values," he said.

He also urged Singaporeans to decide through the ballot box the kind of political culture they wanted, and warned against certain styles of political engagement which would influence the kind of political culture Singapore eventually had.

"If the people continue to support the government party that uses high-handed tactics against its political opponents, we are endorsing a bullying political culture. If the people support a governing party that uses government resources, including civil servants, to serve its partisan goals we are condoning the abuse of political power as an acceptable culture," he said.

Turning to institutions trusted by the public, he pointed to the Thai people's respect for their king who in the past had played a role to prevent political gridlock in their country. Similarly, the Americans respected their Supreme Court's ruling on a vote recount in Florida during the US presidential election in 2000.

Mr Low said: "The key to the success of such institutions is public trust, not Government trust. Therefore, the institution must be seen to behave impartially and to be above politics.

"Such consistent and predictable behaviour over a long period of time will gain public trust to enable them to play a stabilising role in a political crisis."

On the other hand, he took aim at actions taken by the political leaders as inconducive to constructive politics. These include extending media licensing rules to online news sites, and subjecting citizens taking part in politics to detention without trial and making them bankrupt.

However, Mr Low, who entered Parliament in 1991, felt that Singapore was making progress in strengthening its political system.

" Our political system today is more competitive and the Government is more responsive to the people. This augurs well for the future of Singapore as the geopolitical environment around us is becoming more dynamic and the younger generation of Singaporeans are becoming citizens of a globalised world with diverse views."

chinlian@sph.com.sg

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