In remarks reminiscent of those he has made in the
past, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Government would go
“extinct” if it helped those who voted against it “first”.
“If we take the view that if you voted against me, I
should help you first (as) that shows my largeness of spirit, then
I think you will go extinct as a government,” Mr Lee said.
He made the remarks during a dialogue on Thursday
hosted by Washington Post columnist, Fareed Zakaria, at a Institute
of Policy Studies (IPS) conference titled, “Singapore at 50: What
Mr Lee was responding to Mr Zakaria’s opinion that
Singapore was one of the only developed economies in the world that
has not transitioned to a multi-party liberal democracy.
“We are a multi-party liberal democratic system,” Mr
Lee said. “The outcome is not what you would like to see, but that
is what Singaporean voters have decided.”
A month before the general election of 2011, Mr Lee
also made similar remarks about how those who voted against his
ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), would be left at the
back of the queue for government programmes.
A student at a ministerial forum at the National
University of Singapore (NUS) had asked Mr Lee, who was the guest
speaker, why residents in opposition-held Hougang were being
penalised when it came to upgrading programmes by the Housing and
Development Board (HDB).
“The answer is that there has to be a distinction.
Because the PAP wards supported the Government and the policies
which delivered these good things,” PM Lee told the 1,200 students
in the audience.
“Between the people who voted and supported the
programme and the government, and the people who didn’t,” he
explained, “I think if we went and put yours before the PAP
constituencies, it would be an injustice.”
Mr Lee’s remarks then created a huge uproar, with many
criticising his government for discriminating against Singaporeans
based on who they voted for, and for using taxpayers’ funds to
induce or coerce political support.
Singapore, April 2011
“I thought that as PM, he was there to represent ALL
the people, without favour or preference,” said one commenter
online. “He is not the PM of just those he voted for, but for each
and every Singapore citizen, including those who did not vote for
him or his party… How can the PM say that if you vote for PAP, you
get nice chocolate cake and coffee, but if you vote for other party
you only get water and biscuit?”
Another person posted: “Upgrading is not delivered
solely based on policies. It is driven by money from the reserves.
The money comes from the people and not from PAP.”
The PAP saw its vote share slide to its lowest ever at
the 2011 elections, which also saw it lose a group representation
constituency (GRC) for the first time. The party also subsequently
lost two by-elections following that.
The Government has had to tread a tight-rope since
then, especially when it came to discriminatory government
practices or policies.
Newsasia, April 2015
This could be seen just three months ago, in
April, when the Minister of Social and Family
Development, Tan Chuan-Jin, struck a seemingly different tune, and
said the Government “will work for the people, regardless of who
they vote for.”
“I think one of the things we have always believed in
is to try and do the right thing. It is really important for us as
a small country and I think we will continue to do that,” he said
while on a visit to the opposition constituency of Aljunied.
The theme of inclusiveness has been a recurring one in
government ministers’ speeches for the longest time.
In fact, on Tuesday, Mr Lee reiterated his government’s
commitment to building such a society which, he said, included
being gracious towards each other.
“We really want a society which is cohesive and
graciousness is an important part of this,” he said at another
dialogue at the Singapore Management University.
“Graciousness meaning we are about each other, we feel
for each other, we are not just in a rat-race, but we are in a team
He said that despite competing with each other, we also
have to “work together, we feel together.”
“I think graciousness therefore is an important part of
this,” he said. “You do not want to be a place where you are rich,
you live in one little circle, if you are poor, you are cut out
from that circle. We are all Singaporeans together, we all eat at
hawker centres from time to time, we all visit the same places,
even when we go on holiday, we do not go on such drastically
different places for holiday and we meet each other overseas. That
is the right sort of society we want to be.”