Well it depends on what kind of politics. PM Lee was probably saying that his PAP politics was the right politics for Singapore, and the best for GDP growth. In small Singapore, maybe, in the past, to an extent. However, shouldn’t it be get the policies, not politics, right then the economics is right? This has always been the PAP’s raison d’etre and raised every election – only the PAP style of global looking strong government politics can attract foreign investment as investors want stability and predictability. If an opposition like SDP gets into power and implements minimum wages, decoupling of the trade unions and government, xenophobia and encouragement of union activism, this woud drive foreign MNCs away to Vietnam or Thailand. Our loss is their gain in PAP’s appeal to our fear.
Yes, the strong government and firm politics worked well before until the 80s perhaps. But as manufacturing became less important for our econommy, investors in the knowledge and financial industries that Singapore is courting are more interested in intellectual property, corruption-free, transparent regulatons and predictability more than accomodating trade unions. If PM Lee was referring to growing dissatisfaction with his government, what has that got to do with scaring away investors and industries as long as the activism and complaints are lawful and peaceful?
Truth be told, the main competitor which is going to snatch at least East Coast GRC from the PAP is WP and so far it is so similar to PAP that investors won’t tell the difference and the economy would plod along just fine depending on global conditions. The current increasing popularity of the WP is fine and welcomed. Maybe that is why the PAP is worried. There is PAP lite just around the corner that can replace it soon and PM Lee better scare investors and voters alike again that it is the best party for the job.
He said what is important is for Singaporeans to think about where the country is heading in the longer term.
Speaking at a dialogue session at the DBS Asian Insights Conference, Mr Lee said the world out there is full of many new opportunities but if the country’s politics is not right, things could go wrong for the country.
Mr Lee said: “What can go wrong for Singapore? If you look at it in the long term, you can lose the specialness of this place, a place that people look at it an say, “wow, the economy prospers, the housing scheme is something special, the city is something special, the education is world class, even healthcare, low spending, good outcomes, let’s go and see what’s happening.”
“In 20 years’ time, if people are not interested in Singapore and we are not up there in terms of the quality of our services, in terms of the quality of our living environment, the kind of country we are, something different from what three or four or five million people are entitled to be just living in Southeast Asia, we are in big trouble. We are today exceptional, and if you are not exceptional and ordinary, I think you are in big trouble and it can easily happen.”
And that’s where everything starts with politics.
Mr Lee said: “It starts with politics because if your politics is wrong, then your economics is bound to go wrong. And the reason why so many countries cannot get the economies right is because if the politics don’t work, the benefits don’t get spread to the right people or broadly enough, or there are vested interests which have to be taken care of, or there’s some divide in the society which cannot be bridged, and you spend your time fighting over that, rather than working together productively.
“And I think we’ve got to be able to get the fundamentals right, and so far we have been able to do so. And if we can continue to get the politics right, then I think the economics can work out.”
He said it’s like helping Singaporeans achieve their fullest potential through training and skills upgrading, so that they can be well employed and improve their incomes.
Mr Lee said: “I don’t think it will make us a society where everybody is absolutely equal and I don’t think we want to do that. In fact if I can get another 10 billionaires move to Singapore and set up their base here… I think Singapore will be better off because they will bring business, they will bring opportunities, they will open new doors, they will create new jobs, and I think that’s the attitude with which we must approach this problem.”
He said governing a country must also evolve with changing expectations by involving people to focus on issues that concern and reach a consensus on what the country’s aiming for.
And that’s what the “Our Singapore Conversation” process is all about.
Mr Lee said there are things Singapore can do well which will make a difference to its people, but that will not make for a society that is absolutely equal.
He said this in response to a question on balancing growth and equity in Singapore.
He also said investment in overall infrastructure ensures a good business environment where things work, and policies to give less successful Singaporeans a leg-up are important too.
Mr Lee said: “I don’t think if you give up growth you will have a lot of equity. I mean if the economy was stagnant, it doesn’t mean everybody’s going to be happy, and it may be equally unequal.
“Part of the answer has to be skills and education – that we invest in our people and give them the ability to improve their standards of living. I cannot make everybody a billionaire, but I can make sure everybody can earn a good living for himself. I think that’s possible. But it takes effort and you have to be competitive.”