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Singapore trying hard to guard itself against populism, says PM Lee

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, Forbes Media, attend a dialogue session at the Forbes Global CEO Conference at the Shangri-La Hotel on Oct 16, 2019.

POPULISM has become an issue in many countries and Singapore has tried hard to guard itself against this, by having a Government which focuses on the basic needs of its people, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

This is through equitable policies on housing, healthcare, and education, and also ensuring Singaporeans have opportunities to upgrade themselves and cope with new demands, Mr Lee noted.

“So, in many ways we have tried to make sure that people have (their) basic needs met, aspirations achievable, and a sense that this is theirs. This is their country... they have every reason to be proud of it, they will defend the system,” Mr Lee said.

If this is achieved and Singaporeans feel that the system works for them, they will not vote for a political team which will pull the system down, Mr Lee said during the  19th Forbes Global CEO Conference at the Shangri-La Hotel.

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Having such a system, however , calls for  political leadership and  a civil service of high quality, and leaders with  conviction, commitment, and  a belief that they  are doing this for a purpose, rather than to further their own careers and make a fortune, Mr Lee noted.

Mr Lee was participating in a  dialogue session  with Steve Forbes, the chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media, to wrap up the two-day conference.  The annual event brings together 400 business and thought leaders to discuss  issues of global concern and to build new partnerships.

Asked for his views on populism during a question-and-answer segment, Mr Lee said that it has become an issue in many developed countries, because there is a divide between the elites and the masses of population. The latter feels that the system has not been fair to them and that they have been left behind.

In Singapore, the Government guards against populism by focusing on the  basic needs of people - such as having a good healthcare system, with schemes to help the poor,  housing policies that give Singaporeans the opportunity to buy their own homes, and an education system which enables people to advance in life, Mr Lee noted.

During the hour-long dialogue, which covered a broad range of topics including the US-China trade tensions, political unrest  in Hong Kong, and Singapore’s role in Southeast Asia, Mr Lee  was asked whether Singapore has seen a trend of companies moving over from Hong Kong,PM Lee said that this has not been the case and it is not something that Singapore hopes to see.

Rather, Singapore hopes that the situation in Hong Kong will calm down and companies will be able to conduct business there peacefully, he said.

During the dialogue, Forbes Media chairman and editor-in-chief Steve Forbes also asked PM Lee what the implications of the protests in Hong Kong were on Singapore.“We thrive best in Singapore when the region is stable, when other countries are prospering and we can do business with them,” Mr Lee said.

He added that he does not see any easy way forward for Hong Kong, as the demonstrators’ demands “are not demands which are meant to be a programme to solve Hong Kong’s problems”, but “demands intended to humiliate and bring down the government”.

The issues bugging Hong Kong need to be progressively tackled, one of which is the one country, two systems policy, Mr Lee said.

“To put it very neatly, from China’s point of view, they must not only think of one country but remember this is two systems; and from Hong Kong’s point of view, you must not only think of two systems but remember that this is one country.”

“And this calls for wisdom and restraint on both sides,” Mr Lee said.

He also noted that one of the underlying causes of the unhappiness in Hong Kong are social issues such as housing.

The Hong Kong government has gone for conservative approaches in tackling these social issues, but the problems have not significantly improved and it will take time before progress can be made, PM Lee added.

THE STRAITS TIMES