Where are the political changes?

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The President pressed all the right buttons to show that Singapore’s centre of gravity as far as social policies are concerned is shifting to the left.  But what about political changes? Zilch.

The only mention came when Tony Tan spoke of “divisive politics”. Now, where is this coming from? Definitely not in Parliament, which Speaker Halimah Yacob described as “constructive.”

We spoke to NMP Eugene Tan on this aspect of the Presidential Address. Here are his views:

“I would say that while there was little direct mention of politics; the premise and tenor of the speech was inherently political in that the government is laying out its plans for the rest of its term through the Address. They will constitute the key performance indicators by which many Singaporeans will assess and judge the government on its performance.

“From my observation as an NMP, I agree with the Speaker that Parliament, with the largest number of Opposition MPs since 1965, has the set the right tone in its debates and proceedings. The emphasis on constructive politics reflects a concern that the constructive nature in Parliament is vastly different from the tone of political engagement and contestation outside the House, particularly in the online sphere. There is naturally the concern with the tenor and tone of politics outside the House which can be divisive, unconstructive.

The disconnect

“This disconnect in and outside Parliament may reflect the perception that the parliamentary debates do not quite capture the sentiments in the public sphere. This is not accurate s the MPs, from the PAP and WP, and the NCMPs and NMPs, do articulate the range of views on the various hot-button issues. A look at  Hansard will confirm that this is so.

“Where Parliament may not do so well is with regards to the strident views and these views tend to be in their element in the online sphere. Due to the nature of the digital world, these views tend to dominate and acquire a following of their own. Because the online sphere is more accessible than Parliament, there could be the dominant view that divisive politics is the tenor of Singaporean politics today. This is far from accurate.

“In short, the divisive politics is largely seen in the online sphere. An example of the stridency, the divisiveness can be seen in the airing of view related to the immigration issues online.

“Should Parliament seek to capture and articulate these strident views? Probably not, if the views are unmeritorious. Instead, MPs and the government should rebut these views. But the challenge here is whether this would give such views more publicity than they already deserve. But the imperative is clear that divisive politics is not the pathway that we should take. It’s not an accurate reflection of the state of politics in Singapore.