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Govt, Opposition must build trust in public institutions, achieve good outcomes for S’pore, says President Halimah

SINGAPORE — The Government and the Opposition have roles to play in building trust in Singapore’s public institutions and achieving good outcomes for the country, President Halimah Yacob said at the opening of the 14th Parliament.

Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh in Parliament on Monday (Aug 24).

Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh in Parliament on Monday (Aug 24).

  • President Halimah said the Government and Opposition must play a part in building trust in public institutions 
  • Besides raising questions and making criticisms, the Opposition should propose policy alternatives
  • When the situation demands, the Government and Opposition should put aside differences
  • The Government, for its part, will be open to constructive criticism, rational debate


SINGAPORE — The Government and the Opposition have roles to play in building trust in Singapore’s public institutions and achieving good outcomes for the country, President Halimah Yacob said at the opening of the 14th Parliament. 

A significant change in this new parliamentary term is the designation of Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh as the Leader of the Opposition, Madam Halimah said on Monday (Aug 24) night from Parliament House. This is to reflect the larger number of opposition Members of Parliament (MPs). 

Given the challenges and uncertainties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, she said that more differences in views and interests are to be expected among Singaporeans, and these differences must be handled constructively. 

“On some issues, we can agree to disagree,” said Mdm Halimah. 

“But on issues core to Singapore’s survival and future, we must do our best to find common ground and build a broad consensus.” 

In all, there will be 12 opposition members in the House this term — 10 elected MPs from WP and two Non-Constituency MPs from the Progress Singapore Party. This is the largest number of opposition members in Parliament in recent history. 

Shortly after the results of the July 10 General Election were made public, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Mr Singh would be named Singapore's first Leader of the Opposition.

He will receive confidential briefings on select matters of national security and external relations, and may be called upon to attend state functions, visits and meetings. As part of his duties, Mr Singh will also be expected to lead the Opposition in presenting alternative views in parliamentary debates. 

He will receive double the allowance of an elected MP — at about S$385,000 yearly — and be given an office and the use of a meeting room in Parliament House as well as other privileges. Mr Singh has said that he would donate half his salary increase to low-income residents, charitable or community causes, or his party. 

On Monday, Mdm Halimah said that aside from raising questions and criticising government policies, the Opposition should propose policy alternatives to be scrutinised and debated.

This point has also been made in the past month by leaders from the ruling People’s Action Party, including PM Lee. 

When the situation calls for it, Mdm Halimah said that the Government and the Opposition should set aside their differences and work together to secure the safety and future of the country.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament House on Monday (Aug 24). Photo: Ministry of Communications and Information


Speaking after being re-elected Speaker of Parliament, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin said that the presence of 31 newly elected MPs reflects a greater desire by Singaporeans for more choices and voices in the House. Among them is the largest number of opposition members in recent history and a formally designated Leader of the Opposition. 

Mr Tan said: “We can expect more contestation. This is a natural step forward. It is good for our country and our people, if and only if contestation leads to better outcomes for our people and our nation, for the present and for the future.”

Even so, he cautioned that MPs should “beware the wide and easy path towards polarisation and division, populism and short-termism”. 

Mr Tan challenged MPs to be exceptional by transcending political affiliations, interests and differences — to show that parliamentarians need not be factious and fractious in the face of robust debates on laws, policies and budgets. 

On Mr Tan’s re-election as Speaker of the House, Mr Singh noted that Mr Tan has sought to increase public awareness on Parliament and its work through new methods of communication, such as engaging younger Singaporeans through social media. 

This has helped to encourage Singaporeans to take an active interest in Parliament as an organ of state that is fundamental to democracy, he said.

His hope is that Mr Tan would continue to explore ways to “demystify” the work of Parliament and to better enable Singaporeans to understand the issues being debated and the trade-offs — all in the context of a small and multiracial society that has to balance and accommodate many different viewpoints and shifting norms.

Dr Jamus Lim taking his oath in Parliament House on Monday (Aug 24). Photo: Ministry of Communications and Information


For the Government’s part, Mdm Halimah said that it would be open to constructive criticism and rational debate, and to new ways of doing things. 

But the Government, having been elected by the people, cannot shy away from making tough decisions in the national interest, she said. It also cannot shirk its duty of winning support for such decisions.

Ultimately, the expectations and choices of Singaporeans will determine the kind of politics that Singapore will have, Mdm Halimah said. 

“The key question is how to forge a common cause together, regardless of our own political inclinations,” she 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.” 

Mdm Halimah said that public debates should be honest about the trade-offs of the various options on the table, and what they would cost society. 

“Only in this way will our system continue to encourage able and committed individuals to step forward to serve,” she said. 

The goal, Mdm Halimah said, is for Singapore to evolve in a way that “engages the aspirations and creative energies” of its people. 

“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.” 

For the first time in Singapore’s history, the opening of Parliament was held at more than one location. Monday night’s proceedings took place at Parliament House and the Arts House because of the need for social distancing during the pandemic.

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Parliament Leader of the Opposition Opposition Halimah Yacob

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