Parliament: MPs should not be pigeonholed as 'right' or 'left', says Christopher de Souza

As there is no pressure to fit a certain label in Singapore, there is freedom to decide the issues that come before Parliament based on what one thinks is best for the country, said Mr Christopher de Souza on Feb 28, 2019.
As there is no pressure to fit a certain label in Singapore, there is freedom to decide the issues that come before Parliament based on what one thinks is best for the country, said Mr Christopher de Souza on Feb 28, 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore's governing party must be able to draw from a broad slate of policies and reflect a range of views to decide on the best course for the country, and not be pressured to fit labels, be it liberal or conservative, said Mr Christopher de Souza on Thursday (Feb 28).

This is also the case for elected MPs. Rather than being labelled as right- or left-leaning, they must possess "political ambidexterity", meaning the ability to deploy policies from both sides, in line with Singapore's long-term needs, added Mr de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) on the third day of the debate on the 2019 Budget statement.

"A person can have different views on different issues... If we label people in this manner, the focus shifts from what is best for Singapore to whether or not a view conforms to a certain ideological view," he said.

He noted that some of his own views, like his hard stance against recreational drug use, can be characterised as right-leaning, while his stance against human trafficking is more "left".

As there is no pressure to fit a certain label in Singapore, there is freedom to decide on the issues that come before Parliament based on what one thinks is best for the country, he said.

Mr de Souza, a member of the ruling People's Action Party, raised the issue, citing "single-issue politics" in countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom. Such politics focus on polarising fault lines and exploiting them for a political purpose, deepening divisions in society.

For example, he said, the UK's Britain First party ran on an anti-immigration and openly nationalist agenda, while Germany's Alternative fur Deutschland "quite arguably ran elections on an anti-immigration, anti-Islam ticket".

 
 
 

To get bipartisan support to pass legislation, the United States tax code often contains loopholes owing to political bargains that needed to be struck between the Democrats who desire higher rates for richer Americans, and the Republicans who prefer to reduce taxes for the rich, he added.

"The better way is to focus on possibilities and persuasion, rather than loose compromises," he said, noting that "irreconcilable division breeds an environment of politics of extremes".

"Politics in Singapore should remain about possibilities and persuasion; always with a view on what is best for Singapore long term," he said. "It should be carried out under a broad umbrella where differing views can flourish and consensus (is) built on a foundation of ethics, stewardship and values."

He added: "It should never lead to brinkmanship, single-issue politics or hollow short-term compromise."

Stressing the need to refrain from such politics here, he added that Singapore needs to be able to collect a range of differing views under the umbrella of a single party, and expressed support for Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's Budget statement, which emphasised the nation's social compact.

"In the course of the debates, there will be times when we debate morality and our interpretation of it. That is important and we should not shy away from it," said Mr de Souza. "Nevertheless, it is important that politics in Singapore does not move into single-issue politics."

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson), the last of at least 55 MPs to speak on the Budget statement since Tuesday (Feb 26), also spoke on the need for strong and united communities, flagging challenges such as religious radicalism and social media's potential to aggravate fractures through fake news and fearmongering.

"The consequences are serious if we do not actively address these challenges," she said. "For example, if fake news or radicalism gains momentum, our social fabric, so carefully built and maintained over the past decades, could be torn."

This is why there is a need to invest more in public education "to inoculate our people from the poison of fake news and radicalism", as well as redistribute resources more to reduce gaps in society.

"We need to create opportunities and empower our people to participate in the community more," she said.