Strong opposition good for party and country

Tharman recognised the benefits of a “strong opposition”
Speaking just a month prior to the hustings of May 2011, Mr Tharman recognised the benefits of a “strong opposition”

“Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is also the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) treasurer, said that strong opposition is good for both PAP and Singapore during a multi-party forum televised on Channel News Asia,” the Straits Times reported him as having said.

His remarks drew approval from the leader of the WP, Low Thia Khiang. “I think that shows quite a shift in the PAP’s mindset,” Mr Low said, “that they now see that a strong opposition is positive and good for the future of Singapore.”

Has the PAP changed its position as espoused by Mr Tharman? One cannot be sure.

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Strong opposition good for party and country
Dominant But Not Dominating

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GE 2015: Opposition can continue to contribute to Singapore, says DPM Tharman
Mr Tharman greeting the crowd at the launch of the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations in Chinatown yesterday. He said Singapore must remain a society with diverse voices, not just during the elections.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

As Singaporeans reflect on the general election and move forward, the opposition can adopt a more reflective attitude and see how it can keep playing a constructive role in Singapore politics, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has said.

He told reporters that the opposition plays a critical role in advancing the country. "It is important for the opposition to reflect on what happened - not just in terms of whether the electorate didn't know better or the electorate made a mistake - but how they could have done better in their strategies," he said.

"We need a more reflective attitude after each election, and on how the opposition can continue to play a constructive and positive role in Singapore politics, as they must."

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Behind Singapore Ruling Party's Victory, A Rising Star

SINGAPORE, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Singapore's ruling party is celebrating a resounding re-election victory, thanks partly to its economic Tsar, an ethnic Tamil politician whose voter appeal poses an awkward question for its leaders: can a non-Chinese ever become prime minister?

As the People's Action Party (PAP) settles down to another five years in power, the guessing game of who will succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has begun — and the name of Tharman Shanmugaratnam keeps coming up.

The odds of Shanmugaratnam, who is deputy prime minister and finance minister, making it to the top job should be long.

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Although Shanmugaratnam himself had said in July that he was not keen on the job, he did say that Singapore should expect to have a leader from one of the minority groups at some point in time.

Eugene Tan, a law professor at Singapore Management University and a political commentator, said one obstacle for Shanmugaratnam is that he is seen as part of the prime minister's generation, when perhaps ideally a new generation would be coming forward.

"However, if it is assessed that a transitional prime minister is needed while the fourth generation is ready to take over, then ... Tharman is well-positioned to step up," Tan said.

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DPM Tharman’s rally speech is the only reason why people still have hope in PAP

So last night, we saw two seemingly inconsequential rallies from the People’s Action Party (PAP), in two constituencies we deemed “nevermind lah”, in our super awesome GE microsite (have you seen it by the way? If not, you should totally check it out).

The constituencies: Bukit Panjang SMC and Chua Chu Kang GRC.

Of course, it would’ve been easy to write off — after all, there were six other rallies we could have attended and covered heavily — and perhaps many people did, given that the crowd that showed up for this rally maxed out at about 2,000 only.

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Strong opposition good for party and country: Tharman
With the general election expected to be held soon, one of Singapore's ministers and a senior member of the leading party said on Saturday that a strong opposition is good for the country

Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is also the People's Action Party's (PAP) treasurer, said that strong opposition is good for both PAP and Singapore during a multi-party forum televised on Channel News Asia.

During the 45-minute session, Mr Tharman and his PAP colleague, Mrs Josephine Teo, exchanged views with members from four opposition parties. Mrs Teo is currently a Member of Parliament of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

Topics discussed included government policy on HDB prices, the goods and services tax, healthcare cost and rising costs, and the influx of foreign workers.

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More Singaporeans are now engaged, civil society is much more active since GE 2011, says DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam, as he answers the eighth most popular question as voted by Singapolitics readers.

ST: In an interview in 2011 you said that a strong opposition is good for the PAP and for Singapore as well, and so having witnessed the change in the political landscape since the 2011 GE, do you think Singapore is now better off?

A: I think Singapore is better off because people are much more engaged now. Many more people are thinking about Singapore, expressing their views and also more people who are getting involved through their own initiatives, getting together with friends and people who feel the same way as them and doing something whether it's about heritage or environment or doing something with the poor, with the elderly, a lot more people are involved. So civil society is more active and people are just a lot more aware of issues and I think that's been a positive. I think, too, that the PAP has changed and continues to change. It's a very open party when it comes to listening to views and trying to gather views from people who don't necessarily agree with you. There's been a fair bit of shift in that regard, a fair bit of shift in that regard. You can't just go with the whims of the day, but in deciding on our basic policy objectives and our preferences for the long-term we've got to listen to people but also involve them in the thinking process because when you involve people in the thinking process, they become very aware of the trade-offs.

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ONLINE CRITICS: They cannot be ignored

What does DPM Tharman make of all the online critics of the Government? He says some bloggers are quite thoughtful, but there needs to be more balance still.

ST: What do you make of the harsh views of the Government and on its policies on so-called anti-Government websites and Facebook pages? Do you take them seriously?

A: Well, it cannot be ignored and I think so far, on balance, the fact that you've got an active social media is a plus. It'll go through phases. I think it's still evolving. We're still in a phase where it is overwhelmingly critical of Government, not all, but overwhelmingly, and that I think it is understandable. You know, that's the way it starts. And I think there are now more serious bloggers and some very thoughtful bloggers who have views of their own that are not just motivated by wanting to hit at the Government but they want to express their thoughts and they're worth reading and listening to. Over time, hopefully, there will be a bit more of a debate, an even debate in the online media. We don't have it yet but you can see it gradually emerging and that's a situation that I think we want to come to. It is a plus that you have social media because a lot more people are involved in commenting and thinking about issues but it's got to evolve further, so that it matures and you've got a more even-handed disposition.

ASK DPM THARMAN: The full transcript
ASK DPM THARMAN: Here are the answers
No more property cooling measures for now: DPM Tharman
LOCALS & FOREIGNERS: Developing local talent in the banking sector
ECONOMIC CHALLENGES: We've got to have cultural flexibility

PAP: To remain dominant without being dominating
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam gives his opening addressa the official opening of the School of Science and Technology on 13 April, 2013. The People's Action Party (PAP) wants to remain a dominant party anchored in society - without dominating in all areas, says Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. -- ST FILE PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

THE People's Action Party (PAP) wants to remain a dominant party anchored in society - without dominating in all areas, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

It can do this as an open political party, he said, that galvanises a diversity of views and ideas, including critical opinions.

"I believe we can play a dominant role, retain a dominant position without wanting to completely dominate," DPM Tharman said in an interview with The Straits Times.

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IS A STRONG OPPOSITION GOOD?: People are more engaged

Mr Tharman, who is second assistant secretary-general of the PAP, admitted that the party is, however, facing challenges on two fronts.

One challenge is that it is a natural part of human psychology to "want a check on the PAP", which has been in power with a large majority in Parliament since Independence.

A second challenge: it is becoming more difficult to raise the quality of life for Singaporeans at the same rate as in the past.

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Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam gave a wide-ranging interview on topics such as politics and the economy to The Straits Times last week for its current affairs website

The Straits Times: Singaporeans are asking how much more of a tightening will take place in terms of the foreign worker inflow, and how will the Government decide when the goal of restructuring has been achieved? Will it be by looking purely at productivity gains?

DPM Tharman: First, what's our objective? Our objective is to ensure that the proportion of foreigners in our workforce does not keep going up,  year after year after year. We've got to keep it at a steady proportion. And we decided in 2010 to go for one-third, to try and cap it at about one-third the workforce. From year to year you may get some bumps especially when the construction sector is surging, for infrastructural needs, you might get it going a little beyond one-third. But over the long term let's try and keep it at about one-third.

Now, there are sectors and industries which can't do without foreign workers. Construction is a very good example. The marine sector to some extent. Even some services industries like health care will need foreigners, will need foreign workers. But it's important that even in those areas  where you can't find enough Singaporeans to do the jobs, we reduce reliance on manpower.

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ASK DPM THARMAN: Here are the answers

You voted for the questions. And now DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam has answered them. In a nearly two-hour long interview at his office, Mr Tharman addressed your concerns about the economy, politics, social media and much more.

We are used to hearing Mr Tharman, who is also the Finance Minister, talk about taxes, inflation and the reserves. But in this interview he also shared a vision of a society he hopes Singapore will become in the future, where everyone is treated equally regardless of what school you went to or what job you do. He also talked about how he thinks the PAP can win the votes of the young.

The Straits Times and Singapolitics would like to thank everyone who participated.

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Two hours with DPM Tharman

Three journalists from The Straits Times interviewed Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam last week, and the videos are now online for all to watch.

In the wide ranging interview over two hours, Mr Tharman gamely tackled a slew of questions that had been chosen by readers of ST's current affairs website Singapolitics over a seven day period.

It wasn't easy for the Finance Minister. We made him switch from foreign workers, to politics, back to taxes and the reserves and then to more politics and social media.

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Dominant But Not Dominating
THE People's Action Party (PAP) wants to remain a dominant party anchored in society - without dominating in all areas, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam

It can do this as an open political party, he said, that galvanises a diversity of views and ideas, including critical opinions.

"I believe we can play a dominant role, retain a dominant position without wanting to completely dominate," DPM Tharman said in an interview with The Straits Times.

"It's in Singapore's interest that you do have a dominant party, but it's got to be one that's open to diversity, welcoming of a responsible opposition."

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OPINION: Tharman in the spotlight - Seah Chiang Nee
Malaysia Star, 27 Apr 2013

THIS month, the spotlight in Singapore – quite deservedly – falls on Second Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmu­garatnam. For two hours, Tharman, who joined the Cabinet only nine years ago, gave a polished performance befitting his title as a possible or potential prime minister.

He spoke about the gradual shift of ruling party’s ideology – from centre to centre left – to a new emphasis on social objectives, and more proposed taxation on wealth. Other subjects covered were wide-ranging.

The tone was firmer than the generalities and hedging that the public has been hearing from some leading politicians.

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A Deadly Serious Election: Social Media

So the People’s Action Party has started the election ball rolling. It’s framed the terms of the contest: First World Government, not First World Parliament. I wish though the MSM would make it clear that this is not the Prime Minister addressing the nation. Mr Lee Hsien Loong was speaking as the PAP secretary-general and he was speaking to the party faithful. A quibble you say? It isn’t. Because that is the line that MSM must maintain between the G and the party. Plus, it’s the truth.

I was a little flummoxed at how what he told party activists was suddenly elevated into a national issue. Perhaps it is, or even should be. But that’s the interpretation or analysis of the facts. And putting cart before horse. So what did the party chief say? Every media angled on how he said the GE would be a “deadly serious’’ fight. Deadly serious for who? Given that he was speaking to party activists, it would be deadly serious for them especially if the PAP loses. Extrapolate further, and you could say his message could also be directed to the population at large.

If the media treated it as a party message, then it could be interpreted thus: Wake up your ideas! You think we are going to sail through the next GE like we did the past? Better buck up and don’t get complacent or you may find that we’re not just out of some wards, but out of government!

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Next GE to be a deadly serious fight: PM Lee

Lee Kuan Yew points way forward for PAP.

THE People's Action Party (PAP) has stayed in power for more than 50 years because it has continually adapted itself to changes in Singapore's society and around the world, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew has said.
"We must keep the party dynamic, relevant and in sync with the times"
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