PM Lee Refuted Student’s Claim That Singapore Is A “One-Party Democracy”

Here’s further proof, in case any more was needed, that millennials do care about politics and Singapore’s future.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spent his Thursday (5 Apr) afternoon rubbing shoulders with the next generation of Singapore’s nation-builders at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

He spoke to over 800 students and faculty members from SUTD and other universities, and also engaged them in a lively question-and-answer session after.


Given SUTD’s blend of tech and design, it was no surprise that Mr Lee’s speech touched on design thinking.

He also highlighted how this approach to problems had brought Singapore to its current state, noting that “nothing we have today is natural, or happened by itself”.

Students at the forum put forth an interesting range of questions, from the balance between data collecting and privacy to Artificial Intelligence and Singapore’s push to go cashless.

But one question inevitably stood out.

It addressed the People Action Party (PAP)’s longstanding dominance in local politics, and drew the afternoon’s most thought-provoking answer.

A happy little accident of history

First off, here’s the question posed to PM Lee by an enterprising student:

Do you think it is by design, for our country to have a one-party democracy? And given the increasing desire from the younger generation to have more diverse voices in the Government, is it time to reexamine our political system?

Clearly a question that would make a junior Minister sweat. Mr Lee, however, took things in his stride and delivered a measured response.

In case you don’t wish to burn through your data plan, here’s a breakdown of his response.

First off, Mr Lee sought to rectify the student’s perception of Singapore’s political system.

First of all, it is not a one-party democracy, it is a multi-party democracy. But it is a multi-party democracy in which one party is dominant.

But Singapore wasn’t always like this.


In fact, as PM Lee educated the undergraduate, Singapore initially had very “rambunctious parties”, contributing to a very “lively and intense” political scene.

The PAP’s rise to a near-monopoly in Parliament came about coincidentally. Or, as PM Lee put it, a series of “accidents of history”.

Will the PAP rule forever?

As it stands, said Mr Lee, the current situation sees one party (the PAP) in a “strong position”, with other parties (the Opposition) which are “trying to make headway”.

However, he does not think this will last forever.

The future of the situation surrounding the PAP and the Opposition depends on, well, the PAP and the Opposition.

According to PM Lee, it depends on:

  • How well the PAP can perform
  • How well the Opposition can convince people that they can do better than the Government, or that the Government is doing things wrong

As he put it:

One party is dominant as long as the population supports the party.

But this doesn’t mean that the Government should curtail its own growth to allow the Opposition to “grow bigger”.


On that front, Mr Lee also reiterated a previous announcement that the next General Election will see up to 12 Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) join the ranks in Parliament.

If they are the “right people”, he said, 12 NCMPs will be able to “make a lot of noise”.

Is the Opposition up to standard?

PM Lee paused briefly to ask the student what he thought, leaving him slightly flustered and drawing laughter from the crowd.

The student said he supported the NMP (ostensibly meaning NCMP) system as it meant that different parties have to work together.

But it also means the the Opposition has to be “good”, and you know of their standard… (laughter from crowd)

Taking back the floor, Mr Lee espoused the merits of having the “right people” in Parliament.

Pointing to the PAP before they came into power, he noted that they only had three seats in the Legislative Assembly, with the founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew was one of them.

With a laugh, he said that despite their small numbers, the PAP ensured that the “colonial government was fully held to account”.

Today, they don’t have such a person in the opposition.


Trying our darndest

One can’t help but to agree with Mr Lee that the quality of Opposition candidates can vary wildly.

Remember Mr Choong Hon Heng from the National Solidarity Party? He’s better known as the “thumbs up” guy.

The Government will have to be careful to toe the line between maintaining the balance between a one-party democracy and a multi-party one.

Like Mr Lee said in an analogy brought forth to explain a point:

The more you have a safety net for the performer, the more dangerous the stunts the performer will do.

Featured image from YouTube.