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PM Lee urges PAP activists to show up Opposition for 'missing in action' on controversial issues, stirring up resentment

SINGAPORE — The People’s Action Party's (PAP) secretary-general, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, on Sunday (Nov 6) criticised the Opposition for not taking a position on controversial issues such as the repeal of Section 377A, the law that criminalises gay sex, and stirring up resentment to gain political advantage.

People's Action Party members at the PAP conference on Nov 6, 2022.

People's Action Party members at the PAP conference on Nov 6, 2022.

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SINGAPORE — The People’s Action Party's (PAP) secretary-general, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, on Sunday (Nov 6) criticised the Opposition for not taking a position on controversial issues such as the repeal of Section 377A, the law that criminalises gay sex, and stirring up resentment to gain political advantage.

Mr Lee, who was speaking at the biennial PAP conference at the Resorts World Sentosa Convention Centre, said that it is the Opposition’s job to scrutinise what the Government does and highlight any mistakes it makes. But equally, when the Opposition fails to measure up, the PAP has to point this out. 

“Where is the Opposition on Section 377A? Are they critiquing the Government’s approach? Do they support or oppose what the Government is doing? Are they offering alternative proposals? None of the above,” he said.

“They have said nothing, so far. They have declined all comment. They refuse to even say whether they have a party position, or if they will lift the whip on their MPs (Members of Parliament) when Parliament votes on the amendments.”

Mr Lee stressed that governing Singapore is serious, and so is being the Opposition especially if it aims to win more and more seats, which may eventually mean taking over.

"You cannot just lie low and disappear when it suits you. And if the Opposition does that, it calls into question their fitness for Parliament, let alone to govern," he said.

Of biggest concern is politicians and parties who stir up resentment to gain political advantage, he added. 

“They tear relentlessly at fault lines — residents versus foreigners, citizens versus PRs (permanent residents), even old citizens versus new — (and) sometimes they veer into racist territory question after question, speech after speech. 

“They are not trying to obtain information or solve any problem. In fact, they are not interested in solutions. They are deliberately working up passions and exacerbating tensions, in order to create disaffection, divide society and thereby win votes.”

While Mr Lee did not name any opposition politician or party in his speech, government ministers had, during a parliamentary debate on Singapore’s foreign talent policy on Sept 14, 2021, labelled the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) racist and xenophobic.

The debate also saw Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam accusing the PSP’s Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai of engaging in “race-baiting” and “nationality-baiting” by linking Singapore’s free trade agreement with India to the issue of Singaporeans’ job security.

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, who also gave a speech at the conference, said many have become accustomed to the PAP forming the government that they assume that the party will “automatically continue to govern Singapore no matter who they vote for”.

“There is no such guarantee,” said Mr Wong, adding that after the last General Election, he noted a stronger desire among Singaporeans for checks and balances and diversity in Parliament.

Mr Wong said the Workers' Party (WP) is now an “established political force" with two group representation constituencies and one single-member constituency.

The party’s chief, Mr Pritam Singh, has been appointed as Leader of the Opposition, with extra resources and taxpayer-funded legislative assistants.

Noting that the WP contested in six constituencies and won three during the last election, Mr Wong said: “If you add up their votes across all six constituencies, the Workers' Party actually won slightly more votes than the PAP overall.

“What if the Workers' Party had contested more seats? Would the PAP still have won 61 per cent of the votes nationwide? Would we still have returned to power?"

“This is why from day one after being designated the leader of the (fourth-generation) team, I said that I do not assume the PAP will win the next GE, or that I will inevitably become the next Prime Minister,” he said.

In April, Mr Wong was named leader of the 4G team, paving the way for him to become Singapore’s next Prime Minister. He was also promoted to Deputy Prime Minister in June. 

Both Mr Wong and Mr Lee said every election from now on will be about which party forms the government. 

“While we put up good candidates and fight to win every seat, we have to be prepared that we will not win all of them, and nor can we assume that we will form the next government," said Mr Wong. 

Mr Lee said whether voters give the PAP a strong or weak mandate also makes a crucial difference and that the party needs to continue to become the clear choice for voters.

For this to happen, he added, party members must put across its political message, by crystallising what policies mean for Singaporeans when they make and implement them, among others.

Speaking to reporters after Mr Lee's speech, MacPherson Member of Parliament Tin Pei Ling agreed with Mr Lee's point about the importance of a strong mandate.  

"A strong mandate will give... our Government the confidence not just internally, domestically but also internationally to bring Singapore forward," she said. 

She added: "But it also means that we must not take the trust that people have given us for granted. In fact, because people have given us their vote, all the more we must cherish this trust they have bestowed on us," she said. 

Ms Rahayu Mahzam of Jurong Group Representation Constituency also called for PAP activists to step up in terms of understanding the challenges and how policies translate to the day-to-day life of Singaporeans. 

"We all have to do better using different platforms and different opportunities to show that we really care," she said. 

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHARLENE GOH

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