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THE key to Singapore staying united is for the country to get its politics right, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the lunch-time rally of the People's Action Party (PAP) on Tuesday.
He called on citizens to vote for the right candidates on Friday - people who could steer Singapore in the right direction for years to come.
"You do it wrong and wrong people are in charge, or you vote against good people and discourage good people from serving, the country goes wrong and it's very hard to come back again," he told the large crowd gathered outside UOB Plaza in Raffles Place.
He stressed that Singapore's political system must be an honest one, with clean and truthful politicians, and the politics had to serve the interests of the people both today and well into the future.
"If you're not honest and clean, if you have a black mark - whether people know it or not - please stay out of politics," he said.
At this point, Mr Lee, the PAP's secretary-general, said he was surprised to read the comments made by Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan at a rally held at the same venue a day earlier.
Dr Chee, a candidate for Holland-Bukit Timah group representation constituency, had said at his party's lunch-time rally: "The PAP sues us for defamation. I say, reputation is temporary. Character is permanent."
In response, the prime minister said: "I agree. I think Dr Chee has every reason to know that character is permanent (and) doesn't change."
Still on the issue of clean politics, Mr Lee said Singapore could not afford to be corrupt or to have wrongdoing in the government or other places of authority, and then alluded to the Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council, which has come under fire for how it has managed its finances and accounts in the last few years.
"We have the Auditor-General's Office to keep the government straight and keep our statutory boards straight, and once in a while, to find out if our town councils are straight or not," he said, adding that both the PAP and opposition should have the same high standards when it came to dealing with corruption.
He then recounted that the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had, during his 90th birthday celebration in Parliament House two years ago, told MPs from both the ruling party and opposition that it was crucial to keep the Singapore system clean.
PM Lee added: "You may be running the government or ministry, you can be in a statutory board or town council, it doesn't matter. Whatever level you are at, uphold high standards and keep it clean. And don't say 'I didn't go to jail, so I'm okay'."
He also emphasised that Singapore's politics had to take care of the people for the long haul, not just the present.
"I write cheques, tomorrow someone else can pay. Anybody can do that. But if I want to worry about tomorrow as well, then I have to balance, have trade-offs, sacrifice, plan and work hard. And actually, only the PAP does this. For the opposition parties, tomorrow is after the GE. Worry later."
The opposition parties have proposed many ideas during the campaign, ranging from free health care to S$300 in cash to the elderly and young people, as well as a minimum wage system.
Mr Lee said that, when asked who would fund all these plans, these opposition parties said companies and the rich would pay, and that it was possible to dip into the "hundreds of billions" of dollars in the reserves if the need arose.
"If it were so simple, why do you think the PAP was not doing all this? Are we so stupid?" he asked, to loud cheers and applause.
Singapore's politics was also about being able to have a good government in place, with the right people leading the way.
Mr Lee downplayed the claim by Png Eng Huat, the WP's incumbent candidate in Hougang, who said that the civil service would be able to run Singapore even in the absence of a sitting government.
"He says, 'Don't worry, look at Thailand, they have military coups, they're okay'," said Mr Lee. "If that's the WP's measure of good politics and success, and if ever the WP becomes the government of Singapore, I say liao (Hokkien for finished)," he said.
"Make no mistake about it, they aspire to be the government. Why should they not? But we are entitled to ask, 'What are you capable of? Don't go and write soft words in your manifesto and say you don't aspire to be the government but tell people, 'One day, I'll be the government, just give me a chance'."
Singapore needs the "best possible team" with a deep bench, not an opposition that claims it is not ready to form the government but asks for the votes as a form of "insurance".
Keeping up the insurance analogy, Mr Lee added: "Insurance is good, but you must buy the right insurance from the right company. But if your insurance company is an opposition party - no track record, or worse, doesn't know how to handle money, not interested in you and only wants your commission - you pay your premium now, you feel okay, but one day, you run into trouble and you look for the insurance company to pay out. Then, you know you're in trouble."
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