SINGAPORE - Regardless of their political stripes, MPs should not forget that they are working towards a common purpose - to achieve better outcomes for Singapore and Singaporeans, said newly re-elected Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin.
And while there will be passionate and vigorous debates on policy issues and budgets, Mr Tan challenged MPs to show the world that such a robust contest of ideas can take place without being fractious.
Speaking on Monday (Aug 24) at the opening of the 14th Parliament, Mr Tan cautioned against the "wide and easy path" towards polarisation and division, populism and "short-termism".
Re-elected to serve a second term as Speaker, Mr Tan said Singapore is now in a situation where there are no textbook answers to fall back on.
He said: "There will be difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions to be made because there are very real and genuine trade-offs that need to be undertaken."
Will the focus be on solutions or politicking, he asked. "All of you, all of us, will determine what these possible outcomes would be."
The ceremony on Monday was split into two locations - at the Parliament House and The Arts House - as part of Covid-19 precautions.
Mr Tan noted that in this session of Parliament, there are 83 MPs from the ruling People's Action Party, and a record 10 opposition MPs from the Workers' Party - the largest number of opposition members in recent history. Of these, 31 are newly elected MPs.
There is also the newly created position of Leader of the Opposition, he added.
All of this reflects a desire by Singaporeans for more voices and choices in Parliament, Mr Tan said.
"We can and will expect more contestation. This is a natural step forward, it is good for our country and our people if and only if contestation leads to better outcomes," he said.
Urging Members of Parliament to uphold their roles in keeping the Government accountable, Mr Tan said he looked forward to seeing all MPs present in the House for every sitting, unless they were on official duties or on urgent leave.
He added that Singapore has been successful because it has been exceptional and different.
He said: "So my challenge to all of you and to all of us here in this House is, can we be exceptional? Because we are able to transcend our political affiliations, interests and our differences, so that even as we contest passionately and sometimes vigorously; even as we robustly debate and scrutinise laws, policies and budgets, can we show Singaporeans, can we show the world that we need not be... fractious?"
Mr Tan has been Speaker since September 2017, after Madam Halimah Yacob relinquished the post to run for the presidency.
On Monday, Mr Tan was elected unopposed, after Leader of the House Indranee Rajah proposed him for the role, seconded by Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir).
Mr Tan acknowledged the speeches made by Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh), Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) and Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang) in support of his re-election.
For the event, MPs were gathered at the Parliament House and The Arts House, seated at least one seat apart, as part of safe distancing measures due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Later, PAP and WP MPs, as well as the two Non-Constituency MPs from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), took their oaths of allegiance from the two locations.
Other than Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who took the oath individually, the MPs took their oaths mostly in groups of between four and eight people.
NCMPs Hazel Poa and Leong Mun Wai from the PSP were sworn in last.
The session was adjourned until 8pm for the President's Address, which will outline the priorities and policies for the years ahead.