Tharman acknowledges occasional pushbacks, but says Singapore more liberal than before

Shanmugaratnam addresses the 1,500-strong audience at the inaugural NTU Majulah Lecture. PHOTO: NTU

SINGAPORE - Singapore has become a more liberal place compared to what it used to be, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Wednesday (Sept 20) at a dialogue with students.

He added that people now feel less fear and constraint than they did in the past.

But he acknowledged that at times there are still "pushbacks" which people "may not like".

He was speaking during the question and answer session at the Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Majulah Lecture, where he was asked about media control and whether he agreed with the "gutter politics" employed by People's Action Party leaders during the Bukit Batok by-election in 2016.

Mr Tharman, responding to this, said he did not want to minimise what the student had said but added that the country has "really changed".

Recounting his own experience as "someone who has lived through some of Singapore's history", having grown up in the 1960s and becoming politically active in the 1970s, he said: "It is a vastly different and more liberal place compared to what it used to be. The sense of fear, the sense of constraint is far less now."

While he does not "agree with every tactic by every one of my colleagues", he said, the PAP's insistence on character, honesty and being true to Singaporeans is something that defines the party and is a trait that "shows up almost all the time".

He added that the PAP had sometimes fallen short as well, and action was taken on these occasions against individuals who did not meet the party's own standards.

"So just bear that in mind, that's one of the colours of the PAP - that emphasis on character," he said.

On press control, Mr Tharman said that he believed Singaporeans are discerning.

He said that when people get news from the mainstream media, they "do not read blindly".

"They know some things are more likely to come up on page four than on page one; the headlines may be a slightly different size, but they read things," he added.

He also said that with the proliferation of social media, people also talk more openly and exchange views.

"I also have great faith in Singaporeans. Which is my second point. Singaporeans judge. Singaporeans judged us in Bukit Batok, Singaporeans judge at each General Election, and they will judge the PAP in the next Election. I don't think Singaporeans are fools," he added.

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