Monday 27 May 2013

Low: I harbour no ambition to be PM

WP's chief believes details and strategic foresight matter in S'pore's development
The Sunday Times, 26 May 2013

Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang discussed the state of the opposition in a recent interview with two scholars from China studying in Singapore. Below is an excerpt of their dialogue, first published on

Q: What is the impact of Singapore's political environment on the WP's development? How does the opposition survive, develop and grow stronger?

Singapore politics has formed its own characteristics over decades of development.

On the one hand, it draws on the Western parliamentary democracy of one man one vote. On the other hand, it absorbs some Oriental political principles where the government exercises macro-control over social development.

It is difficult for the opposition to develop in such an environment where it is at a disadvantage as almost all national resources and information are in the hands of the government.

In addition, the Government has basically achieved good governance since independence. Even if the people are unhappy about certain aspects, they will not try to topple the government but seek help from the Government via acceptable channels. This is the edge enjoyed by the ruling PAP.

The one-party dominance here changed during the 2011 General Election; the opposition also made progress.

However, on the whole, we are still at the start-up stage, or in the words of Mr Deng Xiaoping, crossing the river by feeling for stepping stones.

As Singapore politics develops, the ruling and opposition parties will adjust their strategies to meet their development accordingly.

Q: Will the three constituencies under the WP become the party's strongholds and vote banks?

We have yet to consider if these are our strongholds. The WP may be managing Aljunied GRC, Hougang and Punggol East but their future development does not just depend on the party's development, it also depends on how Singapore develops.

Our wards are concentrated in the north-eastern part, we cannot say if these will be our strongholds or vote banks.

As I said after the Punggol East by-election, the results were unexpected as we were unsure of the swing votes. It is too early to say if these wards will become our strongholds or how much support we will get in future elections.

Q: How does the WP strengthen its team building in the light of a changing society and voter demographics? Is there any special focus on the elite and young?

We recruit members based on their talent, ability and knowledge, for knowledge is a basic criterion in deciding if a person has political vision and management ability. We also assess them holistically, such as their credibility and moral character.

Meritocracy has served Singapore well in the past decades but that is not to say it is perfect. The elite may not be all-rounders. They are smart, well-educated but may not be representative of all and may not do everything well.

We also cannot say the non-elite with grassroots background will not perform. Every profession is different; the elite are not proficient in everything.

We cannot generalise, we should explore and set strategies according to different needs.

Q: Has the WP thought of playing a bigger role in the future? Does it have clear guidelines?

Singapore voters have higher expectations of the WP but I harbour no ambition of becoming the prime minister.

We should be pragmatic and conscientious in serving the people, helping them through making political demands.

As for the WP ideology, it would be the "First World Parliament" we proposed during the 2011 General Election where we seek a more democratic, fairer country, where Parliament is able to monitor the government and where voters are represented at all levels.

Democracy is not a bad system but it is not flawless. We should work together to rectify, solve problems arising from political development.

When receiving his honorary doctorate from the NTU recently, Indonesian President (Susilo Bambang) Yudhoyono said Indonesia had broken the notion that democracy and economic growth could not go hand in hand.

Political transformation is not painless but all countries have to go through such a phase. Indonesia's development is generally successful despite its problems.

However, Indonesia is a big country and Singapore is small, so we have to be more cautious about our development. We have no room for mistakes, this is our disadvantage.

Q: What are the future challenges for Singapore and how should it tackle them?

Let's talk about the population issue.

Singapore has released the Population White Paper where it states a population of 6.9 million by 2030 is required to maintain economic growth of 3 per cent. This is worth scrutiny.

During the parliamentary debate, I pointed out population and economic growth must be sustainable, keeping in mind the big picture of how society evolved.

Singapore is small and if we have to keep relying on population growth to develop our economy and society, then do we need 10 million people or more for growth beyond 2030?

A macro-micro combination is important in development, both details and strategic foresight matter. Specific development may be important but there must be overall coordination, this is especially so for a small country.


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