Crossing Swords with PM Lee: Non-PAP Voters are NOT Free Riders

During PM Lee’s address yesterday in Parliament, he shared frankly and openly the lessons he and his cabinet have learnt from their experience dealing with the pandemic. He did not shy away from admitting areas where they could have done better and I thank the Prime Minister for his frankness with Singaporeans. He also shared his concerns regarding the future of Singapore’s politics, in particular about Singaporeans who vote for the opposition being “free riders” and squandering of the reserves. And while I empathise with his concerns, I also differ in my thinking on these matters.

I believe that what Singaporeans seek is a better balanced Parliament and the desire for both a good government and a strong opposition and voting for such an outcome does not necessarily result in the slippery slope that the PM alluded to. Singaporeans who vote for the opposition are not resting on the assumption that other Singaporeans will vote in the PAP as government for them, but rather they are aware of the super-majority of approx. 90% that the PAP currently holds in Parliament and for them, it also represents leeway for them to increase the balance between a strong government and a strong opposition that can both speak for the whole spectrum of different voices in Singapore. (However, that does not mean that they are willing to vote in just anyone, they have still shown great discernment in who they vote in as the opposition.) And until the super majority drops to just over two-thirds, there is buffer for Singaporeans to increase the share of opposition in parliament but when that new balance is reached, Singaporeans will then be very careful about the PAP losing power and they will remain cognisant of what the country needs.

As for my point regarding social safety nets, I wish to emphasise that when we ask about the reserves, the intent is not to drain it completely but to seek out shorter term relief from the current financial situation. The claim that there will be a knock-on effect of continuous withdrawal from the reserves, year after year is misleading. Rather, financial relief today will provide Singaporeans the peace of mind they need to be able to plan for the future and improve their financial prospects independently. In crises like this, as the PM pointed, fears for the future abound and they are not without basis in today’s context. Even marginal financial relief can empower entrepreneurial Singaporeans, giving them a stable financial base to tide them through the early bumps in their journey to value innovation. In turn, this pool of creators, innovators and entrepreneurs will create value in the economy and they will be the founders of tomorrow’s Singapore, who have contributed back to the reserves just as they have once benefited from it. It seems to me that a false dichotomy has been struck between keeping the reserves intact for future generations and taking out money to look after the current generation and our pioneers, when it is in fact not the case that you cannot achieve both at once. So instead of seeing it as Singaporeans squandering away an inheritance, we can view it as using some of it in the present so that we can add to it for future Singaporeans.

In this first exchange with the Prime Minister, I was admittedly slightly nervous. But I will continue to strive to do better in speaking up for Singaporeans.

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