Seated together on a sofa in Parliament House on May 7 at the reopening of Parliament, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang had a quiet chat.
PM Lee asked Mr Low, who last month passed the baton over to Mr Pritam Singh: "What will change, now that the WP has a new leader?"
Nothing much, responded Mr Low. "We, the WP, have our role. These things should not change suddenly. Don't you agree?"
Recounting the conversation yesterday, PM Lee said that he agreed with Mr Low. "As an opposition party, the Workers' Party plays a role in our political system, whoever is their party leader," said the Prime Minister, who heads the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).
"Opposition parties keep Singapore politics contestable," added PM Lee. In other words, the PAP does not have a monopoly of power and does not have the right to rule Singapore indefinitely.
If it performs, it will retain voters' support and stay in power, and the opposition cannot gain ground.
"But if the PAP government becomes incompetent or corrupt, then of course the opposition will grow. So, our system gives the PAP government... the incentive to perform and to keep the opposition performing its role where it is, namely, in the opposition."
PM Lee stressed that the PAP is determined to do well, treating every election as a serious contest and taking every debate seriously. That is why the Constitution was changed in 2016 to ensure there will always be at least 12 opposition MPs and Non-Constituency MPs, whatever the outcome of elections, he said. This takes effect in the next general election.
Currently, the WP has six MPs and three Non-Constituency MPs in the House, which also has nine Nominated MPs.
Political parties, noted PM Lee, do not have a fixed lifespan.
Their longevity is contingent on whether they can renew themselves, serve the people and bring progress to the country.
"If the PAP can keep on successfully doing that, we can stay in government," said PM Lee. "But if we ever fail, we deserve to lose. So, my message to all PAP MPs is: Work hard, serve the people, hold the ground, and win elections."