Lee vs Low: Who did better?

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By Tan Yong Heng, Pang Xue Qiang and Trinity Chua

The buzz phrase that defined the last parliamentary session is constructive politics, especially during the debate between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang.

But most Singaporeans we polled said Lee and Low could have done better in getting their points across. They were not in sync with both parties’ interpretation of the term constructive politics.

The Independent Singapore polled 100 Singaporeans at Raffles Place, Holland Village, Jurong East, Woodlands, Bishan, Toa Payoh and Aljunied.

More than half — 62 — said they did not care about the debate, let alone understood the difference between Lee and Low’s versions of constructive politics.

Of the remaining 38 who watched the debate, 18 saw PM Lee as the better speaker, while 14 favoured Low’s performance. Six others remained undecided.

However, the 38 respondents said they were more charmed by the charisma of the debater than by the topic.

Nurul, 22, a student said: “PM Lee won (because he) had a stronger command of English, making his points sound logical, reasonable and easier to understand.”

“Lee speaks with confidence,” said Yunhe, who is 26 and self-employed.

Business manager Doreen, 30, said: “The way Low spoke was a bit too direct. But I side with him because we need people like him. So that politics won’t be one-sided.”

Homemaker Lim Kia Fang, 52, said: “I think it was brave for Low to stand up for what he believed in, even though he wasn’t very eloquent in his arguments”.

On constructive politics, some respondents had quite a lot to say.

“I think they both could have taken communication courses. I understand them but if you ask me to repeat everything back to you, I really don’t think I can,” said Liyanna, 30, self-employed.

Student Adelyn Sng, 19, asked: “How is constructive politics constructive when both speakers are engaged in a somewhat petty disagreement?”

“Constructive politics should be the engagement of and dialogue between citizens and politicians to improve our lives. Definitely not slamming each other in Parliament,” said 20-year old student Ng Peng.

Timothy, 24, an undergraduate, said: “I thought both Low and Lee were out of point. To me, constructive politics is about doing what’s best for the people, and the majority must agree with it, even if it means making some decisions slowly.”