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Diversity in Parliament and Cabinet for the future: PM Lee

Greater diversity in Parliament and Cabinet is part of Singapore's future, as the new government leads Singapore through the Covid-19 crisis and beyond, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a speech at the swearing-in ceremony for Cabinet and other appointments at the Istana.

GREATER diversity in Parliament and Cabinet is part of Singapore's future, as the new government leads Singapore through the Covid-19 crisis and beyond, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday evening.

Leadership renewal is a never-ending task, he added: "We continue to need more good people from every generation to step forward, stand for election, and serve our country."

The July 10 General Election, in which the ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) vote share fell to 61.2 per cent and opposition Workers' Party won an unprecedented 10 seats, showed "a strong desire among Singaporeans for greater diversity of views in politics", said Mr Lee, in a speech at the swearing-in ceremony for Cabinet and other appointments at the Istana.

This trend - wanting the PAP to form the government but also wanting more debate - is here to stay, he added. "We have to give expression to it, and evolve our political system to accommodate it, while maintaining our cohesion and sense of national purpose."

He said he looked forward to "more vigorous but constructive debates in Parliament", with the opposition not merely raising criticism and questions but also proposing serious policy alternatives for scrutiny.

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As for the Cabinet, Mr Lee said: "With your mandate, I have formed the strongest Cabinet I could, to take Singapore through this crisis and beyond." He noted the multicultural nature of the team, with seven out of 20 full ministers being non-Chinese, as well as its different generations of leaders.

Prior to Covid-19, more drastic leadership renewal had been expected, with Mr Lee having previously indicated his intention to hand over the Prime Minister role by the time he turns 70 in 2022. But any previous timeline must now accommodate the reality of the pandemic.

"My aim is to see through this crisis, and hand over Singapore, intact and in working order, into good hands who can take the country further forward," he said. "I ask Singaporeans to extend to the younger ministers the same support that you have given me all these years."

Calling for unity regardless of political persuasion in order to face the challenges ahead, he said: "The work of our new Cabinet and government has already begun."

President Halimah Yacob had made a similar call for unity in her speech at the event, saying: "If anything good has come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is the reaffirmation of our Singapore spirit."

"Our resilience as one people has brought us through this crisis so far," she said, highlighting the solidarity of citizens. "So for this next phase, I ask Singaporeans to similarly unite behind the government that we have elected, and give it our full support to see Singapore through this crisis."

Mr Lee noted that the global pandemic situation has taken a further turn for the worse, with new infections and deaths rising, and repeat outbreaks in cities that had initially brought the virus under control. This is why Singapore is ramping up testing and tracing capacity as economic activity resumes.

While four Budgets this year have staved off the worst of the economic damage, conditions will remain tough and Singapore must expect to lose many more jobs, even as the government does its best to save jobs and get displaced workers into new work, he said.

"We will also help businesses that have been shut down by Covid-19 to start up again," he said, noting efforts to clear migrant worker dormitories so the construction sector can resume work. Hard-hit sectors such as tourism and aviation are also receiving much support, with the government being "determined to help these sectors pull through, as they are linked to many other parts of our economy".

But he warned that some industries "will not return to what they were before", adding: "We cannot afford to prop up failing industries indefinitely, or trap workers in jobs that are no longer viable." Firms in declining industries must be helped to reinvent themselves or enter new fields, and their workers must be helped to reskill.

As before, the Prime Minister highlighted the need to prepare for a post-Covid world: "Our aim is not just to survive this storm, but also to set the long-term direction for the country." This includes transforming the economy, upgrading workers' skills, and building a better society.

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