Singapore has succeeded because of good governance. A democracy needs political contestation, of course, but it has to be based on the contest of ideas and policies, not personality or populism. This is a key takeaway from the People’s Action Party’s biennial party conference this week, which highlighted the need for political stability in the formulation of economic and social policies that further the general interests of the nation and not the sectional interests of any particular group.
That idea had been put to the test during the coronavirus pandemic. The Government was able to impose tough measures such as the circuit breaker, mandatory mask-wearing, strict border controls and vaccination regimes because it had the trust and confidence of the people. Decisive action that helped contain the pandemic would have been far more difficult to undertake – or for citizens to respond cohesively and resolutely to – had the social and political system been weakened by divisions. The experience of other countries suggests that the price of political division is a half-hearted policy response to a crisis, one that seeks to assuage as many differing shades of public opinion as possible so as to shore up support for the party in power.