SINGAPORE - Singaporeans must learn to handle their differences constructively, and find common ground to build a broad consensus on issues core to the country's survival and future, said President Halimah Yacob.
Their expectations and choices will determine the kind of politics Singapore will have, she added, with the key question being how to forge common cause despite differing political views.
In her traditional address at the opening of the 14th term of Parliament on Monday (Aug 24), the President noted that more differences in views and interests among Singaporeans are to be expected, given the magnitude of the challenges and uncertainties.
"On some issues, we can agree to disagree. But on issues core to Singapore's survival and future, we must do our best to find common ground and build a broad consensus," she said.
The Government, she added, "will be open to constructive criticism and rational debate, and to new ways of doing things".
But having been elected by the people, it must also govern for everyone, she said.
"It cannot shy away from taking difficult and tough decisions in the national interest, or shirk the duty of winning support for such decisions."
Last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted in his speech at the swearing-in of the new Cabinet that Singapore's political system will have to evolve to accommodate the strong desire for greater diversity of views in politics.
In her address, President Halimah noted that one significant change is the appointment of Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh as the formal Leader of the Opposition, reflecting the larger number of opposition MPs in Parliament.
There are 10 WP MPs and two Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MPs in the new term of Parliament.
Madam Halimah said both the Government and opposition have roles to play to build trust in public institutions, and achieve good outcomes for Singapore.
Besides raising questions and criticisms of government policies, the opposition should put forth policy alternatives to be scrutinised and debated, she added.
"And when the situation demands, both the Government and opposition should set aside differences and work together to secure the safety and future of our nation."
She also urged Singaporeans to work harder at breaking out of their echo chambers and making genuine attempts to bridge the gap with those who think differently.
These must also be the guiding principles of politics in Singapore, she said, with Parliament the central platform to debate national policies and set the tone for the country's political discourse.
Singaporeans' expectations and choices will determine the kind of politics in Singapore, Madam Halimah said.
"We need to base our rhetoric on a responsible sense of the realities, and come to a shared understanding about our goals and constraints," she added.
"Our public debates should be honest and open about the trade-offs of different options, and what they will cost society. Only in this way will our system continue to encourage able and committed individuals to step forward to serve."
The ultimate goal is for Singapore to evolve in a way that engages the aspirations and creative energies of its people, the President added.
"Singaporeans aspire to make this a better place, and have interesting and diverse ideas to pursue. Such a diversity of views and ideas can be a source of strength, for us to navigate the challenges and possibilities ahead."
But to realise this strength, Singaporeans need a sense of common purpose and a readiness to act to make a difference for causes that they care about. This is the spirit of Singapore Together, and all Singaporeans are invited to partner with the Government on this journey, she said.
"Singaporeans must come together, in partnership, to pursue the greater good, united by a belief in Singapore and a desire to turn our vision into reality."