Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that Singapore is not a one party state – the ruling People’s Action Party is a dominant but not unchallenged player in Singapore politics, so it does not suffer from the disadvantages of one-party states with no opposition.
Speaking at a SG50 dialogue, Tharman gave these frank views on Singapore politics in response to questions from the audience and other panelists, including Washington Post columnist and panel moderator Fareed Zakaria.
When asked if the competition was serious as the People’s Action Party (PAP) occupied most of the seats in Parliament, Mr Tharman said: “That’s an outcome, that’s not a design.”
The PAP holds 79 out of 87 elected seats in Parliament, with the Workers’ Party holding seven. 1 seat is vacant following the death of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in March this year.
As he acknowledges that competition is useful, Mr Tharman was asked if there was some inherent virtue in having different political parties lead the country.
While such rotation makes for a meaningful debate in theory, he said, in practice, “do you put your citizenry at risk by saying, ‘Look, let’s try this out, and see how it works’?”.
Mr Tharman said he would rather let others try it out, and that Singapore preserves its current system.
He also said the dominant party has to be accountable to the people, both through a vote that comes through an election once every five years, as well as in between. “People see results… Singaporeans are not fools at all. They know what’s what, they know whether things are working and whether they are not. And they will have to judge.”
He added: “So it only works if you’re subjected to contest, and you’re held accountable.”
Mr Tharman said he spends about one-third of his week on the ground interacting with people by attending community events and visiting residents in their homes.
“It’s not what you see in typical one-party states, not even what you see in a multi-party state,” he said.