Singapore watching events in Europe, US with concern: PM Lee

Supporters of Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump attend a rally in St. Augustine, Florida.
Supporters of Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump attend a rally in St. Augustine, Florida.PHOTO: REUTERS

We have to ask how we can prevent ourselves from going in that direction, says PM Lee

Singapore is watching with concern the political developments in the West, such as the rise of extreme politicians in Europe and Mr Donald Trump in the United States.

Said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night at a dialogue with Singapore Institute of Technology students: "We have to ask how we can prevent ourselves from going in that direction."

He added: "For 50 years, we've been very lucky we haven't gone in that direction. We are still united, still proud of the country, still moving forward.

"But another 50 years, can you be sure that somewhere along the way on that road the driver will not fall asleep and go off the road into trouble?"

Mr Lee was responding to a student who had asked for his thoughts on the developments, and their implications on Singapore as it moves to SG100.

Noting the emergence of such politicians as Mr Nigel Farage in Britain or groups like far-left Podemos in Spain, he said: "These are not actually groups with solutions. These are groups which are really protesting (and) saying: 'I'm letting you know I'm unhappy, please do something about it'. "

Mr Lee, in his first comments on the Republican presidential candidate, added: "Trump reflects the same sort of view in America.

"His focus is not to provide an analytical solution to a complicated problem. His focus is to make a simple message that will resonate with the ground, which is already very angry, and work them up so they vote for him and, hopefully, he becomes president."

The strategy could be risky. "If everybody takes that approach in a democracy, the president who is elected may or may not have a solution to the problems, and may or may not have the mandate to do the things that are necessary to do."

Mr Lee said extreme parties are partly a response to problems that have not gone away, which some quarters thought would happen with the end of the Cold War. As a result, some citizens "lose confidence in their traditional political leaders and parties, and vote for the extreme left, extreme right".

One way Singapore can prevent this is by having an elected president with custodial powers, so that "even if the Government turns out to be unwise, the president is there and can prevent some bad things from happening", he said.

Mr Lee was asked a range of questions, including whether women should do national service and ways to deal with the paper chase.

One student asked if Singapore would one day accept the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community.

Mr Lee said attitudes are more accepting, and the gay community is more open now than 30 years ago. But, he added, it is best to let the issue evolve gradually.

Noting the "strong pushback" from religious and conservative groups in countries with gay rights, he said: "If a society changes too fast, there is bound to be a reaction and resistance, and a sharpening of the conflict, which will make things worse.

"We are not in a bad spot, let us not push the issue and try to force rights or entitlements which I think the society is not ready for."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore watching events in Europe, US with concern'. Print Edition | Subscribe