ST: Greater openness here now, says WP chief (Nov 1)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

WORKERS’ Party (WP) leader Low Thia Khiang sees the Government’s handling of the recent debate on the law against male homosexuality as a sign of greater openness here.

He cited the Section 377A debate as an example of a more relaxed political atmosphere, as he gave the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) a “passing grade” for its governance.

“You don’t see very strong reactions from the Government towards criticisms and citizen initiatives,” he told The Straits Times last night.

“The environment has changed compared to when I just joined politics in the early 80s…People are more vocal and people are more comfortable to air their views in public. So I think it is an improvement.”

The highly charged debate over Section 377A took place both in and outside Parliament.

It was sparked by a citizens’ petition to the House to repeal it from the Penal Code and over two days last week, 16 MPs spoke on the controversial issue.

The WP is holding its 50th anniversary celebrations on Saturday.

In an interview with Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao ahead of the celebrations, Mr Low was asked how he would grade the PAP government. He said it was “definitely a pass”.

But at the same time, he criticised some of the Government’s policies, arguing that the recent Central Provident Fund (CPF) changes are unfair to the elderly.

He said that by delaying the draw-down age of the CPF Minimum Sum, the Government is essentially leaving older Singaporeans with no choice but to continue working.

While supporting the Government’s anti-terrorism moves, he expressed concern that they may increase the authorities’ power.

Still, the WP secretary-general - who said he hoped that he will not be the party leader when it celebrates its 60th anniversary - insists it is not right for a political party to oppose for the sake of opposing.

“The term opposition is a legacy of the Western parliamentary system, and I have never believed that an opposition party should oppose for the sake of opposing or to shoot one’s mouth off.

“Politics should be about responsible politics. The opposition should be a watchdog, not a mad dog. That should be the path for a political party.”

It is also not the job of the opposition here to offer alternatives to all government policies, he argued.

While the ruling party has specialists to study and research various issues, the opposition lacks the resources to come up with alternatives.

He pointed out that the WP is unlike the opposition parties in the West, which come up with alternative policies for everything.

The WP’s role is to revise and improve on government policies. Moreover, the opposition should not shoot its mouth off, and offer alternative policies on a whim.

“A political party needs to reach a certain stage before it can offer alternative policies, that is, at a stage where it is capable of replacing that government. And WP still has a very long way to go before reaching this stage.”

In fact, he did not think his party is ready to challenge the PAP for government in the “near future”.

Said the 51-year-old: “To become ready to take over the government is a very long-term goal. Every political party wishes to be ready to form the government and eventually become the ruling party. But to me, this is still very far, we need to take one step at a time.”