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NEW PARLIAMENT

Improvement to political system under study

Aim is to assure clean, effective, accountable govt: President Tony Tan

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GOVERNANCE IN THE LONG TERM: The President said the government will look into whether and how the political system can be improved so that it assures clean, effective government in the long term.

Singapore

SINGAPORE is in a stronger position today compared to the country's founding generation's time, and there is a deeper sense of nationhood than before.

But whether it is the next five or 50 years, it is not possible to expect an easy journey ahead, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the opening of Singapore's 13th Parliament on Friday evening.

Before a packed chamber of 91 Members of Parliament (MPs), his 30-minute address to the House set out the government's agenda and plans for its new term.

Several hours earlier, all the MPs, led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, took their oath of allegiance and were sworn in.

In his speech, Dr Tan stressed that the fundamental realities of Singapore's existence would not change, given that the country is small and has no natural resources apart from its people.

"We earn a living only because we are useful to the rest of the world. And in a world where size and power still matter, Singapore thrives only because it safeguards its interests," he said.

The president noted that the region has already become more integrated, with the establishment of the Asean Community on Dec 31.

Singapore will prosper along with its neighbours if the region stays stable, but the country will suffer if Asean is fraught with tension or if the other countries stumble.

Dr Tan also made the point that Thursday's deadly bomb attacks in Jakarta serve as a reminder of how terrorism can strike so close to home. Even as Singapore remains fully on guard against this threat, it is not possible to rule out the possibility of an attack here in future, said Dr Tan.

On the state of the economy, he said that Singapore is at a "turning point" after 50 years of independence and that the current mature economy would grow more slowly.

"With limited land and labour, and more severe global competition, we must upgrade our economy to sustain growth. But upgrading means restructuring, which means our people and businesses will need to adapt and change," he said.

The need to renew the economy is one of five areas he outlined for the new government to tackle over the next five years of its term.

Referring to the Committee on the Future Economy chaired by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, which would develop strategies to ensure Singapore stayed relevant and competitive, he said: "Upgrading will entail restructuring. There will be winners and losers among companies, with some painful dislocation, but economic progress will ultimately benefit all Singaporeans."

Also high on the list of priorities for the government would be to ensure that Singapore remains a sovereign state that can chart its own path.

He later turned to the importance of fostering a caring society, the efforts to transform the country's urban landscape through major investments in infrastructure and the need to nurture strong bonds and partnerships among citizens.

Whether the government's programmes can succeed in the long run will depend on the ability to have good politics, said Dr Tan. Singapore must continue to have a "capable and honest" political leadership, something which he noted does not come about by chance.

Every generation of leaders must develop the next batch consciously and systematically, while every successive government must take leadership renewal seriously. He stressed that political leaders should always be held to high standards of ability and integrity.

Noting that the Republic's political system has delivered stability and progress over the years, Dr Tan added that the system has to be refreshed from time to time as circumstances change.

"The government will study this matter carefully, to see whether and how we should improve our political system so that we can be assured of clean, effective, and accountable government over the long term," he said.

As he wrapped up his address, he urged all MPs to do their part to write the next chapter of the Singapore story together.

"Let us build a Singapore that leaves a stronger mark on the world than its size suggests. Together, we will progress as an exceptional nation with a thriving economy, and a caring and inclusive society," he said.

Next week, the various ministries will lay out their plans in public statements, known as the Addenda to the President's Address. MPs will then debate the speech over five days, starting on Jan 25.