Not wise to purposely let the opposition grow bigger, says PM

It is neither wise nor workable for the People's Action Party (PAP) Government to "purposely" let the opposition grow bigger when most of the population supports the PAP, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He likened designing a political system to make life easier for opposition parties to creating a safety net for a performer.

"The more you have a safety net for the performer, the more dangerous the stunts the performer will do. Because there is no risk, so you will push further."

Mr Lee made the point at a dialogue when asked whether Singapore needed to relook its political system and consider proportional representation, a system in which parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for them.

The system has its pros and cons, he said, while stressing the current multi-party democratic system here was not specially designed to have one dominant party.

It came about over time, he told students and faculty at the dialogue, at which he was also asked about Singapore's progress to being a Smart Nation.

"It started out with very rambunctious parties... and it became like this through a series of accidents of history, as well as the effort by the PAP in the early years to stretch out and become a national movement,'' he said.

As for deliberately cutting back so that "somebody else can grow bigger", he said it is hard enough to build a strong team of leaders in a small country like Singapore. It would be shortchanged if he were to ask three ministers, for example, to switch sides just to boost the opposition, he added.

Citing the Non-Constituency MP scheme, which will ensure at least 12 opposition MPs after the next election, he said that with the right 12 people, "they will be able to hold the Government to account... and then in the next election, they will win more".

He added: "If you don't have the right team, you can have 20, 30, because of proportional representation, and it will not be of help.''

He noted that in 1955, the PAP won just three of the 25 elected seats in the Legislative Assembly. One of the three elected was Mr Lee Kuan Yew. "I think the colonial government was fully held to account. Today, they don't have such a person in the opposition."

On being a Smart Nation, PM Lee said that while Singapore should use information to improve people's lives, it must not be done in a way which is overbearing, intrusive or unethical.

For example, an artificial intelligence program should be able to identify clusters of a disease by combing through medical certificates and doctors' reports without breaching patient confidentiality, he said.

"We know what we want to do. How to do it in a way which people find okay and is in fact safe, (for) that we have to feel our way forward."

Joanna Seow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2018, with the headline 'Not wise to purposely let the opposition grow bigger, says PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe