TOKYO (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (pic) on Thursday (May 26) described the Republic’s brand of democracy as a system that works and has yielded results such as law and order, growth and efficient governance.
He was responding to a question by Nikkei Asia editor-in-chief Shigesaburo Okumura, at a discussion at the 27th International Conference on the Future of Asia.
Okumura, while lauding Singapore’s progress on many fronts since its independence, questioned the People’s Action Party (PAP)’s dominance and noted that the Republic was not invited by the United States to its Summit for Democracy last year.
Lee said: “We do what works for Singapore. You admire our law and order, our growth, our efficient government – I thank you for your kind remarks.”
“But I invite you to consider that perhaps it has something to do with the way our politics works – that the population of Singapore is united, is cohesive, understands where its interests lie, and votes for Members of Parliament and parties and leaders who will look after the interests of the country and look after their well-being in the future.”
“And because we have been able to deliver on this, in successive elections, the PAP has been able to win a strong mandate from the population. Therefore we have had the opportunity to serve the people and to do better together with them. And we hope that this will continue for as long as possible,” he added.
In reply to another question, Lee said Singapore’s system is one that elects a government with legitimacy, that has a mandate of the people, and that is “capable of delivering on that mandate, serving the people well and bringing the country forward”.
But he noted that political leaders in the Republic are also aware of the need to make adjustments where there are areas to be improved.
Using the analogy of a computer’s operating system, he said: “If you suddenly change to a totally different operating system, and it doesn’t fit your hardware, your computer will crash.”
Rather than reinventing the wheel entirely, what Singapore has been doing is to implement fixes to keep the system up-to-date and make it work better, and it does so constantly, Lee said.
“We really don’t pay attention to who is inviting whom to what conference. The answer is not who attends a conference, but ultimately, who is able to continue to make this country succeed,” he added.
Okumura, noting that Finance Minister Lawrence Wong is set to succeed Lee and be Singapore’s fourth prime minister, also asked Lee to look back on his time in office.
“It is not for me to give myself a report card,” Lee said. “I have tried my best to make Singapore work – and work well – and to improve the lives of the population and to keep them safe and secure.”
This, he said, will remain the task of his successors at a very general level.
“But they will also have to respond to new aspirations, new expectations, deal with new problems in the world, and continue to make Singapore grow and improve from what is already quite a high level,” he added.
He said that he is not planning his retirement, but rather to “make myself be in a position to step down and hand over as prime minister to my successor”.
“After which, I see it as my responsibility to do my best to help him succeed and to help Singapore continue to succeed. And whatever he thinks I’m useful to him for, I shall be happy to fulfil,” he said.
Lee also said that it was impossible to predict how Singapore’s political landscape might evolve.
“Every generation, the environment is different, the values and the influences on the children growing up are different and they come up with different expectations, different aspirations, and it will express itself in the politics of the country,” he added.
“Nobody can say how things will develop in two, three, four elections’ time, but for as long as we can, it is the responsibility of me and my team to govern Singapore well, to maintain the support of the population, and to keep Singapore united and cohesive,” he said.
“So that in a dangerous world, we make sure that we are safe, and we can look after ourselves, and have a future for our people.”
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