Parliament: Workers' Party has a role to play in Singapore's political system, says PM Lee

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared a conversation he had with former Workers' Party secretary-general Low Thia Khiang. When asked if things would be different now that WP has a new leader, Mr Low replied that nothing much would change.
A team from the Workers' Party, lead by former secretary-general Low Thia Khiang, acknowledging their supporters after polling day on Sept 11, 2015. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

SINGAPORE - In a conversation with former Workers' Party (WP) secretary-general Low Thia Khiang last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asked: "What will change now that WP has a new leader?"

Mr Low replied that nothing much would change, saying that the WP has a role to play and things should not change suddenly. Mr Pritam Singh had taken over as the party's secretary-general last month.

Sharing the exchange in Parliament on Wednesday (May 16), Mr Lee said that he agrees with Mr Low, adding that the WP plays a role in Singapore's political system.

Opposition parties keep the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) on its toes, said Mr Lee, on the third day of the debate on the President's Address.

These parties keep Singapore politics "contestable", he said, adding that if the Government becomes incompetent or corrupt, the opposition will grow.

"So our system gives the PAP government... every incentive to perform, and to keep the opposition performing its role where it is, namely in the opposition," said Mr Lee.

He stressed that the PAP is determined to do well, treating every election as a serious contest and taking every debate seriously.

"That is why we amended the Constitution to ensure that there will always be at least 12 opposition MPs and Non-Constituency MPs in the House, whatever the outcome of the General Election," he said.

Currently, the WP has six MPs and three Non-Constituency MPs in the House, which also has nine Nominated MPs.

Earlier in his speech, Mr Lee noted that Singapore is in a new phase of social and economic development. Leaders today, he said, have the responsibility of reimagining and rebuilding the nation over the next 50 years and more.

However, political parties do not have a fixed lifespan, said Mr Lee, who also said: "The PAP does not have a monopoly of power, (and) does not have a right to rule Singapore indefinitely."

Mr Lee said how long a political party continues in government or in opposition depends on whether "it can renew itself, continue to serve the people, and continue to bring progress to the nation".

"If the PAP can keep on successfully doing that, we can stay in government. But if we ever fail, then we deserve to lose," said Mr Lee. "So my message to all PAP MPs is 'Work hard, serve the people, hold the ground, win the elections'."

Mr Lee said this does not mean that the Government will shy away from difficult problems. Governing means having to make tough choices when needed, he said.

"Leadership means you have to explain, persuade, and convince people that you know what you are doing, and you are doing it for good reason," he said. "That is the way to maintain people's trust, and trust is crucial."

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