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Cohesive society calls for everyone to build a ‘democracy of deeds’: Heng Swee Keat

SINGAPORE — Democracy is not just about voting in elections, but about every citizen chipping in, in ways big and small, to create a society that they can all be proud of, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Friday (June 21), as he outlined how Singapore has worked to build a cohesive society.

Democracy is not just about voting in elections, but about every citizen chipping in to create a society that they can all be proud of, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Friday (June 21) at the International Conference on Cohesive Societies.

Democracy is not just about voting in elections, but about every citizen chipping in to create a society that they can all be proud of, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Friday (June 21) at the International Conference on Cohesive Societies.

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SINGAPORE — Democracy is not just about voting in elections, but about every citizen chipping in, in ways big and small, to create a society that they can all be proud of, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Friday (June 21), as he outlined how Singapore has worked to build a cohesive society.

Speaking at the International Conference on Cohesive Societies at the Raffles City Convention Centre, Mr Heng added that the ability to draw unity from diversity is more important than ever, as the world faces unprecedented levels of trade, technological change and human migration.

At the same time, the world is grappling with challenges such as the climate crisis and security, he noted.

“Against this backdrop of anxiety, faultlines have deepened between different segments of society.”

However, he added: “These common challenges can only be tackled effectively if the global community work closely together. The foundation for this is mutual trust and respect, deeper understanding and harmony.”

Addressing the Singaporeans in the audience, Mr Heng said the Government is committed to working in partnership with citizens to build a future where everyone plays a part and feels a sense of belonging.

“I hope that we can build a democracy of deeds, where everyone chips in with our various strengths and passions to build a society we can all be proud of.”

Every society will need to find its own path to cohesion, one that is shaped by its history, context, culture and demands of the time, Mr Heng said to an audience of about 1,000 delegates, including religious leaders and inter-faith activists, from close to 40 countries.

Singapore learnt how to build cohesion the “hard way”, he said, adding that over the years, the Republic has done so in three ways:

1. Expanding common spaces and shared experiences

  • Using English as the working language for people to work and interact with one another

  • Ensuring diverse neighbourhoods through ethnic quotas in public housing

  • Creating common spaces for people from all walks of life to come together, such as hawker centres, community centres and civic spaces

  • Developing shared experiences such as National Service

  • Conserving cultural and religious landmarks, and celebrating festivals of various ethnic and religious groups in Singapore

2. Staying vigilant to guard against forces that can tear society apart

  • Having institutions such as the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, which ensures the non-discrimination of bills, work together and foster understanding within communities

  • Legislation such as the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act and Protection of Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, to deal with hate speech and prevent misinformation

  • Encouraging discussion while recognising demographic shifts, such as a growing number of interfaith families and a declining homogeneity of religion within ethnic groups

3. Working hard to provide Singaporeans with better lives

  • Ensuring continuous growth of the economy

  • Putting a special focus on creating good jobs for all Singaporeans, regardless of the community they belong to

  • Addressing social inequality by making sure fruits of growth are more evenly distributed, such as helping low-wage workers, providing for seniors in their retirement years, and giving children from underprivileged backgrounds a good start in life

MR HENG SAYS

  • "In many countries when they have democracy, they think of it just in terms of elections. But really, it is not just about free speech, but more fundamentally about what each of us can do in society,” he said, citing former foreign minister S Rajaratnam who coined the term “democracy of deeds”.

  • “What I encourage is that all Singaporeans continue to play a part in building Singapore, to make our contributions in whatever ways that we can, and to come together to continue to build Singapore together, whether in policymaking, in charitable works, in taking care of needs in our neighbourhood, in our community, or for people with particular needs and disabilities.”

  • “One important lesson to cap it all is the importance of self-determination… for us to stay cohesive as one community. If you look at societies that had broken apart all over the world, it is where people harp on differences, accentuate those differences and forget about what they have in common.”

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Heng Swee Keat cohesion society

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