Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam with fellow Jurong GRC MPs (from left) Shawn Huang, Tan Wu Meng, Rahayu Mahzam and Xie Yao Quan during a visit to a hawker centre in Jurong GRC to thank residents after the election.
SINGAPORE – The outcome of the recent general election was good for Singapore, and reflects a desire among Singaporeans for a new balance in politics, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Sunday (July 19).
The country’s politics has changed permanently, he said in a Facebook post. “We will have to make this new balance work well for Singapore.”
That will happen if there is vigorous and informed debate between the People’s Action Party and the opposition on policies, “with both sides treating the other with equanimity”, he added.
Mr Tharman said the results were good for the PAP for two reasons. First, the ruling party secured a solid mandate with 61.2 per cent of the popular vote.
“Trust in the PAP to run government and do what is best for Singaporeans is intact,” he noted.
Second, the 8.7 per cent swing in vote share from the 69.9 per cent that the PAP secured in 2015 – which Mr Tharman described as an “unrepeatable high” – is leading the party “to review its own game so as to win the hearts, and not just the minds, of a changing electorate”.
Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, said the election results were also good for opposition politics, and not merely because they won more votes collectively.
“The stronger vote for the WP (Workers’ Party) than others, with its more reasonable brand and eschewing of campaigning around a single figure, reflected a discerning public and a political culture that bodes well for Singapore,” he said.
He noted that the opposition also fielded more candidates who were credible in the public’s eyes.
While the PAP had a strong cast, too, with several candidates who brought fresh perspectives, the opposition benefited from another major factor, he said.
Namely, that people hold the PAP – with its longstanding, dominant position – to different standards from the opposition.
“That’s human nature,” he said. “It also reflects a desire among Singaporeans for a new balance in politics.”
Mr Tharman is the second PAP leader to give his take on the election results over the weekend, a day after National Development Minister Lawrence Wong shared the party’s preliminary post-mortem with party activists and the media.
The Senior Minister said the aim of both the government of the day and the opposition must be to serve Singaporeans’ interest through policies that can stand the test of time, “rather than gain popularity today by telling people what they would like to hear, or promising benefits without revealing the costs and making clear who will bear them”.
Singapore has to do more to achieve social justice, he said, but in way that enables it to last.
It can do so by strengthening social mobility, raising the pay of the lowest-income workers without risking unemployment, and ensuring middle-aged Singaporeans continue to have good careers, as well as giving greater peace of mind to retirees and being able to sustain the benefits for them over time.
Singapore, he added, can never claim to be a model for anyone else in politics, as each society moves forward out of its own history and social circumstances.
There are three key challenges to democracies that the country must address, in a way that reflects the changing aspirations of Singaporeans, said Mr Tharman, whose PAP team secured 74.6 per cent of the votes in Jurong GRC to defeat the Red Dot United team.
First, Singapore must be a democracy with a strong centre and avoid the polarised politics that many other democracies have drifted into, even as its own politics gets more contested, he said.
He also stressed the need to keep working to promote multiracialism in society. “That’s already our strength, and it’s what evades most societies, but we must strive to build on it in the coming years.”
This must include efforts to breed closer interactions as children grow up, and reduce the soft or implicit disadvantages that minorities still face in many workplaces.
“And we must be a more tolerant democracy, with greater space for divergent views, and a more active civil society, without the public discourse becoming divisive or unsettling the majority,” he added.
Mr Tharman said that if Singapore can evolve in these ways, they will “help ensure stability in our democracy in the years to come”.
“And they will tap the energies and ideas of a younger generation of Singaporeans and their desire to be involved in public affairs.”